UK & World News
Navy Officer Guilty Over Yacht-Tanker Crash
A Royal Navy officer in charge of a racing yacht which collided with an oil tanker during the Cowes Week regatta has been found guilty of three counts of contravening maritime regulations.
Roland Wilson, a lieutenant in the RN Reserves, was convicted of failing to keep a proper lookout and two counts of impeding the passage of a vessel, following a five-day trial at Southampton Magistrates' Court.
Footage of the incident, in which one crew member suffered minor head injuries and another abandoned ship, was posted on YouTube and has been viewed more than 900,000 times.
Wilson was fined £2,000 for failing to keep a proper lookout and £500 for each of the two offences of impeding the passage of a vessel and ordered to pay a £15 surcharge. The maximum penalty was £5,000 on each charge.
He was ordered to pay the full costs of the prosecution - more than £100,000.
Charles Row, prosecuting, said to Judge Callaway in court: "As you made clear in your judgement, by the grace of God, there could have been an absolute catastrophe.
"It was a serious incident and it was carefully considered that it was a proper prosecution."
The court heard that the 32-year-old was in charge of the 33ft (19.8m) yacht Atalanta of Chester, which was in collision with the 869ft (265m) Hanne Knutsen on the first day of the sailing regatta in August 2011.
This was despite the married father-of-one, from Stanley, Perthshire, having seen the tanker from five miles (8km) away.
During the trial, Mr Row claimed that Wilson, who owned and skippered the yacht, sailed his boat, which had seven other crew members on board, "perilously" into the path of the 138ft-wide (42m) Hanne Knutsen.
Mr Row said Wilson failed to comply with local shipping bylaws which required him to maintain a moving prohibited zone (MPZ) of 1,094 yards (1,000m) in front and 109 yards (100m) either side of a vessel greater than 492ft (150m) long.
Wilson told the court that the tanker had sounded its horn to indicate it was to turn to starboard but then did not carry out the manoeuvre, leaving him in a dangerous position in front of the vessel.
The trial heard that a motor vessel, the Joy C, had lost power and caused the Hanne Knutsen to change its intended course.
District Judge Anthony Callaway said he respected Wilson and his crew, which included highly-ranked former RN officers, but ruled that the skipper had made the wrong decision and placed his yacht and the tanker in danger.
Wilson, a physics graduate from Durham University, told the court he joined the Royal Navy in 2006 and left in February this year but still remains a reservist.
At the time of the collision it was the fifth time he had raced at Cowes and he had a flat in the town which overlooked The Solent.
He said he had a short-lived position at financial services company Credit Suisse after he left the Navy until the impending court case came to light.
He is now working on new designs for inflatable boats.
Judge Callaway said: "The skipper has the ultimate say and carries responsibility accordingly and that is the position for time immemorial."
He said the accident was not a reason to criticise the Cowes Week event and said any calls to cancel or change it were "unjustified".