Weak bolts on the underside of a yacht which capsized with the loss of four British sailors could have been responsible for the tragedy.
Weak bolts on the underside of a yacht which capsized with the loss of four British sailors could have been responsible for the tragedy, an official investigation has concluded.
An accident report into the loss of the Cheeki Rafiki mid-way through a transatlantic crossing last May, found that undetected damage to fittings around the keel after a string of earlier groundings are among the likely causes.
Andrew Bridge, the 22-year-old skipper from Farnham, Surrey, and James Male, 22, from Southampton; Steve Warren, 52, from Bridgwater, Somerset; and Paul Goslin, 56, from West Camel, Somerset, were sailing back to Southampton after a regatta in Antigua when the vessel overturned 720 miles east-south-east of Nova Scotia in Canada on May 16.
A report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found that tiredness 12 days into the voyage could also have contributed to the tragedy.
It also found evidence that the men could have been attempting to access the life-raft which was stowed away behind the helm when the tragedy struck.
The report explains that although the life-raft was still on board when the hull of the Cheeki Rafiki was found days after the original alert, dashing hopes that the men had survived, the straps to the box where it was kept had been undone.
The disappearance of the boat was beset by controversy after the US Coastguard called off the search and rescue two days after the boat first went missing.
A second search was launched after a request from the British Government, which located and identified an upturned hull with the keel missing as being Cheeki Rafiki on May 23.
The search was again called off after it became clear that the life-raft was still on board and the hull later sank.
The report concludes that, in the absence of survivors and the remains of the boat, it is impossible to know the exact sequence of events but that it is likely that it capsized after its keel became detached.
“In the absence of any apparent damage to the hull or rudder other than that directly associated with keel detachment, it is unlikely that the vessel had struck a submerged object,” it notes.
“Instead, a combined effect of previous groundings and subsequent repairs to its keel and matrix had possibly weakened the vessel’s structure where the keel was attached to the hull.
“It is also possible that one or more keel bolts had deteriorated.
“A consequential loss of strength may have allowed movement of the keel, which would have been exacerbated by increased transverse loading through sailing in worsening sea conditions.”
The report details a stream of emails and calls between the crew and the yacht’s operator, Stormforce Coaching, in the days and hours before the tragedy in which it became clear that it had been taking in water.
They were given detailed advice on how to locate and stop the leak but to no avail.
In one of the last emails sent to the crew the night before the accident – but not received – they were told: “Loosen straps for life-raft. Check epirb [emergency position indicating radio beacons] and sat phone are accessible etc.
“Have everything ready in case of worst case.”
The report adds: “In the absence of key witness evidence, the extent to which those on board Cheeki Rafiki were fatigued at the time of the accident is uncertain.
“However, they were almost 12 days into the voyage, had been experiencing progressively worsening weather conditions, and had been attempting to identify and address a source of water ingress for up to 42 hours prior to the first PLB alert.
“It is therefore probable that they were fatigued and that their performance was impaired accordingly.”
by John Bingham