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‘Serious error of judgment’ in mishap

Report on the Ouzo-Pride of Bilboa incident says the sailors could have lived if the ferry had assisted

Report on the Ouzo-Pride of Bilboa incident says the sailors could have lived if the ferry had assisted

British investigators have determined that three sailors who died in the English Channel last summer could have survived if the passenger ferry that either collided or nearly collided with their sailboat had stopped to assist them.

Read the other story on this topic: Newport sail community keeps the faith

Officials with the Marine Accident Investigation Branch of England’s Department of Transport this spring released a 50-page report detailing its investigation of the Aug. 21 sinking of the 26-foot Sailfish, Ouzo, and the subsequent deaths of the three men on board. After investigators examined information from the 580-foot ferry’s voyage data recorder, they concluded that the Pride of Bilbao — a 2,500-passenger vessel owned by P&O Ferries that travels between Portsmouth, England, and Bilbao, Spain — either collided with Ouzo or passed so close that the sailboat capsized or was swamped in the ship’s wash.

“Ouzo probably passed within [65 feet] from the bow of Pride of Bilbao, and then passed close down the windward side of the vessel and out into her wake,” the report says.

Investigators also determined that the ferry crew made no attempt to communicate with Ouzo before continuing its passage. “The ferry did not stop to assist or attempt to communicate with the yacht after the incident,” the MAIB says in a statement. “Although the officer had seen a light astern, this did not mean that the yacht was safe; in fact, it is likely that her three crewmembers were in the water and in dire need of help.”

Investigators also pointed out that the ferry crew failed to inform the ship’s master, who had retired to his cabin, of the incident when it happened. “Whatever the views of the officer and bridge team concerning the safety of the yacht after the incident, in these circumstances the master should have been alerted so that at least he could provide a second opinion on the actions that were necessary. The fact that the master was not called represented a serious error of judgment,” the report says.

On Aug. 22 fishermen discovered the body of 36-year-old South London resident and Ouzo crewmember James Meaby floating in the English Channel about 10 miles southeast of the Isle of Wight. Police marine units and members of England’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency launched a search for the two men with Meaby: Rupert Saunders, 36, also of South London — skipper and owner of the boat — and Jason Downer, 35, of Kent. A Coastguard helicopter crew spotted their bodies the following day about five miles north of where Meaby was found. All three were wearing inflated PFDs; their sailboat hasn’t been found.

The sailors had set out Aug. 20 from Bembridge on the Isle of Wight and were headed to the three-day Port of Dartmouth Royal Regatta in Devon. They were familiar with the route and were “competent, qualified sailors,” according to a joint statement released by their families. The MAIB report indicates that Ouzo was equipped with a VHF, foghorn, radar reflector, eight PFDs, hand-held GPS, an inflatable dinghy stored in a locker and flares. The Ouzo crew didn’t have time to place a distress call or signal, the report says.

Conditions were calm on the night of the accident, according to investigators. Winds were blowing west-southwest at 4 to 5 knots, with gusts to 6 knots. Water temperature was 64 degrees.

Although the report gives no specific cause of death for the men, it does indicate that Downer and Saunders likely could have survived longer had their PFDs fit properly. The report estimates that they survived about three hours after entering the water, while Meaby, whose PFD reportedly did fit properly, probably remained alive for about 12 hours. This, according to the report, implies that if the Pride of Bilbao crew raised the alarm, even some time after the incident, the Ouzo crew would have been found alive.

MAIB’s report indicates that Ouzo

didn’t appear on the Pride of Bilbao’s radar, and that the ferry’s lookout didn’t see the sailboat until it was too late for the ferry to take proper evasive maneuvers. The lookout was wearing prescription glasses with photochromic lenses, which darken when exposed to UV rays, according to the report. The report says the glasses “effectively reduced his ability to see small lights by at least 20 percent.”

In February British authorities charged the senior officer who was on watch at the time of the incident — 61-year-old Michael G. Hubble, of Folkestone, England — with three counts of manslaughter by gross negligence in connection with the deaths. His trial is scheduled to begin in late October.