FAMILY and friends of four men lost at sea when the Cheeki Rafiki sank in the middle of the Atlantic have made tearful tributes in court – as a ‘cost-cutting’ yacht company boss was given a suspended prison sentence for failing to ensure their safety.
Douglas Innes, of Southampton, Hampshire, and his company Stormforce Coaching Limited, were sentenced at Winchester Crown Court for failing to operate the yacht in a safe manner contrary to section 100 of the Merchant Shipping Act.
He was given a 15-month prison sentence suspended for two years and the firm was fined £50,000.
The 43-year-old was acquitted at retrial of the manslaughter of the four men.
Nigel Lickley QC, prosecuting, claimed that Innes failed to have the yacht inspected, did not comply with licensing and failed to support the crew during the fatal voyage.
The judge, Mr Justice Teare, supported a call by the jury at the end of the trial, which sent a note calling for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to tighten up regulations.
Sentencing the father-of-two, the judge told him that ‘cost-cutting’ had led his actions and added: ‘This was a small yacht about to cross the Atlantic alone, having not been independently examined for over three years.
‘Those circumstances give rise to a risk of death.’
He added: ‘Nothing the court can say today and no sentence the court can pass today can properly reflect the loss of four lives or the enormous tragedies suffered by the families of those who lost their lives.’
The Cheeki Rafiki, named after a character in the Lion King, lost its keel as the crew were returning the 40ft yacht from Antigua to the UK in May 2014 when it got into trouble 1,000 miles from the United States.
The four crew members who died were skipper Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham in Surrey; James Male, 22, from Southampton; Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56, both from Somerset.
The US Coastguard was criticised for calling off its search after two days, but following protests from family and friends and intervention by the British Government, the search was re-started and the boat found but without any sign of the four men.
Fighting back tears, Adele Miller, girlfriend of Mr Male, said: ‘He was my best friend, the man I planned to spend the rest of my life with, the man I wanted to have children with, when James was taken away from me, my life crumbled.’
Claire Goslin, daughter of Mr Goslin, said that a ‘massive part of her died’ with her father.
She added: ‘Despite being a strong character, losing dad in this way has crushed me and I have to live the rest of my life with an emptiness that I can never fill.’
A statement read on behalf of Mr Male’s father Graham said: ‘He was the light and soul of the family, he was always smiling with a positive outlook that was infectious.’
Gloria Hamlet, partner of Mr Warren, said in a statement: ‘Life as I knew it when I was happy and fulfilled no longer exists and never will again, my life will always be overshadowed by a deep sorrow from the loss of Steve.’
Karim Khalil QC, defending, read a letter written by Innes saying: ‘To the families, I am truly sorry for the tragedy that occurred on 16th May 2014 resulting in the loss of your dear ones.
‘Nothing I can say will bring back your loved ones but I think of them every day.’
He said that the defendant, who now faces a potential civil action, was a ‘decent, honest, hard-working’ man who had in 1994 helped rescue two children from a house fire.