Watch officer charged with manslaughter

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British authorities this winter charged a senior watch officer of a passenger ferry in connection with the deaths of three sailors whose boat disappeared in the English Channel off the Isle of Wight in August 2006.

Michael G. Hubble, 61, of Folkestone, England, was charged in February with three counts of manslaughter by gross negligence, says Susan Rolling, Hampshire Police communications manager, in an e-mail to Soundings. The charges came after a joint investigation by the Hampshire Police Major Crime Department and England’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Hubble was employed by an agency to work on the Pride of Bilbao, a 580-foot 2,500-passenger ferry owned by P&O Ferries that travels between Portsmouth, England, and Bilbao, Spain. He was the officer on watch when the ferry is said to have been in the area where the 26-foot Sailfish, Ouzo, disappeared, Rolling says.

On Aug. 22, fishermen discovered the body of 36-year-old Ouzo crewmember James Meaby floating in the English Channel about 10 miles southeast of the Isle of Wight, Rolling says. Police marine units and members of the Coastguard launched a search for the other two men with Meaby: Rupert Saunders, 36 — skipper and owner of the boat — and Jason Downer, 35. The following day a Coastguard helicopter crew spotted their bodies floating about five miles north of where Meaby was found. All three were wearing inflated PFDs.

The British 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. Hubble was arrested in September on suspicion that the Pride of Bilbao had collided with Ouzo, and that he was on watch at the time of the accident.

Rupert Saunders’ brother, Jamie, has organized a fundraiser in memory of the Ouzo crew (www.justgiving.com/jamiesaunders). He’s hoping to raise about $10,000 to donate to England’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

For more on the incident, search the story archives at www.SoundingsOnline.com. Keyword: Ouzo.