Clipper Ventures, which runs the Clipper Round the World Race, has said the safety of crew is and remains its 'highest priority'. The MAIB has just published the report into the death of 2017-18 crew member Simon Speirs

Clipper Ventures, which runs the Clipper Round the World Race, has disputed claims by the family of Simon Speirs that it ignored previous Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) recommendations.

The MAIB has today published its findings in the death of 60-year-old retired solicitor Simon Speirs. He fell overboard from the CV30 GREAT Britain around 1,500 miles west of Freemantle, Australia on 18 November 2017 during Leg 3.

It was the third fatality in the history of the Clipper Race.

In the 2015-16 edition, two crew on board the 70-foot CV21, IchorCoal died. Andrew Ashman, 49, was killed when he was accidentally struck by the boom. Sarah Young, who was not clipped on, died after she was washed overboard in the Southern Ocean. She was recovered after one hour and 20 minutes in the water, but never regained consciousness.

The subsequent MAIB report into the two deaths acknowledged that Clipper Race organisers had been proactive in mitigating the risks. But, it recommended that Clipper Ventures review and modify its onboard manning policy and shore-based management procedures.

The MAIB also made recommendations following its report into the grounding of  Clipper Race CV24 yacht, Greenings, on 31 October 2017 during Leg 3 of the round the world race.

Simon Speirs’ family claim some of these safety improvements were not put in place.

Simon Speirs and his wife, Margaret

Simon with his wife, Margaret. Credit: Speirs Family

‘The reason that Simon died was not just because a wave swept the deck and took him overboard. If the crew had more paid professional support, if there been more safe clipping on points, if equipment not failed, if dry suits been compulsory equipment, Simon’s life would probably have been saved,’ said Simon’s widow, Margaret in a media release.

The Speirs family believe fatigue and illness among the 16 amateur crew were factors in Simon’s accident.

Margaret Speirs said: ‘On top of the challenges of sailing in hugely testing conditions, the crew had to do repair and maintenance work including pumping water out of a perpetually leaking boat. In Simon’s case, he was not only watch leader and coxswain but designated sail repairer, in one instance spending 20 hours out of 24 in cramped cabin conditions repairing ripped sails.

‘As a result, the crew were immensely tired, more tired than they had ever been, putting not only themselves in danger but all the people around them as they are so dependent on each other. The way the race is run imposes on participants a reckless disregard for health and safety legislation that requires rest periods.’

The Speirs family also claim a nearby ship could have taken Simon’s body to shore for repatriation, rather than being buried at sea.

Clipper Ventures said there were ‘factual inaccuracies within both the MAIB report and associated statements’

‘It is factually incorrect to state that Clipper Ventures has ignored previous MAIB recommendations. Specifically, Clipper Ventures: Is installing navigation plotters on deck at the helming position; Implemented new passage planning procedures; Introduced a paid, professionally qualified ‘Additional Qualified Person’ (AQP) to aid each of the Clipper Race Skippers and Simon Speirs did have a dry suit, he chose not to wear it on 18th November 2017.

‘The reference to a nearby vessel, that could have taken Simon’s body, is factually incorrect. This was a mistake made by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which it subsequently admitted. The MCA confirmed to Clipper Ventures that they had informed the Speirs family of this mistake. The nearest suitable vessel to the Clipper Race yacht was a minimum of six days away. The MCA was notified four hours before the burial at sea,’ said the statement from Clipper Ventures

In its report into Simon Speirs death, the MAIB said the fatality happened during the lowering of the yankee 3 headsail during rough weather. Simon was one of five crew on the foredeck assisting with the headsail, all of whom were clipped on via their safety tethers.

CV30’s skipper was helming when a large wave approached from the port quarter, resulting in CV30 dropping into a trough, causing the bow to slew to starboard. The bowman on the pulpit went overboard, but was held by his short tether. CV30’s bow then slewed to port as the wave part, resulting in the yacht accidentally gybing. As per Clipper Ventures’ standard operation procedure, preventers were rigged, although the block attached to the kicker to the boom parted. This caused the boom to rise and all leach tension being lost.

Start of the 2017-18 Clipper Roundthe World Race

The 2017-18 edition of the race started from Liverpool. Credit: Clipper Round the World Race

It was during the accidental gybe that Simon went overboard on the starboard side of the yacht. The bowman, who had managed to haul himself back on board, heard a shout from Simon and saw him, with his lifejacket inflated, being dragged along by his long tether which was over the starboard guardrail. He also saw that Simon’s long tether was caught under the foredeck cleat attached to the secondary jackstay. He tried to haul Simon back on board but could not reach him.

At this point the yacht’s speed was 8.5 knots. Aware of a tethered MOB, the skipper tacked to a starboard tack to ensure Simon was on the high side. He tried to slow the yacht by heading into the wind, but this failed, due to the partially hoisted yankee 3 and the main sheet having developed a riding turn on the winch.

Three crew, who had been trapped between the yankee 3 and the staysail on deck during the gybe, managed to get free. Between them they eased the staysail halyard after unclipping it from the head of the staysail on deck. This was then passed down to Simon who tried to clip it to his lifejacket harness, but his tether hook released and he become separated from the yacht. At the time, CV30’s speed was between 6-9 knots.

The MAIB report found that the hook was caught under the starboard forward mooring cleat, resulting in it becoming loaded laterally, distorting and releasing.

Clipper Race yacht CV30

Simon Speirs was on GREAT Britain. Credit: OnEdition

Man Overboard procedures were immediately initiated, and after 32 minutes they recovered Simon, who appeared to be unconscious. They were unable to resuscitate him. The doctors on board believed he probably drowned. He was buried at sea on 19 November 2017.

In its report, the MAIB highlighted that during leg 3, the crew had experienced very rough sea conditions which left the the forward two starboard stanchion bases damaged (It was temporarily repaired with high modulus polyethylene lines and the skipper minimised work on the foredeck in rough weather, particularly when the damaged guardrail was on the leeward side) and two main sail battens and the vang strut broken.

CV30, which was on its third circumnavigation, also suffered from a leak in the forepeak space, which required it to be pumped out with a manual bilge pump, a problematic watermaker, and a starboard wheel with a significant amount of play.

Simon Speirs and his son Mike

Simon and his son, Mike. Credit: Speirs Family

It also highlighted that when the weather improved, Simon had decided to wear his foul weather jacket and sallopettes on deck, rather than his dry-suit. Simon was also one of two sail repairers on board and he had spent some time repairing the Code 3 spinnaker before the fatal accident. He had also resumed his previous role as watch leader after the current watch leader injured his hand.

The crew had also practiced MOB prior to their departure on Leg 3, although the MAIB highlighted that recovering a tethered MOB was generally taught not physically practiced.

In its conclusions, the MAIB has found that the ‘combined effect of Simon’s tether length and the hooking point location resulted in him being dragged alongside the yacht, preventing his recovery.’

It has previously issued a Safety Bulletin regarding the dangers of lateral loading of tether hooks, and recommended ‘that the method used to anchor the end of the tether to the yacht should be arranged to ensure that the tether hook cannot become entangled with deck fittings or other equipment’. Further recommendations have also been made in respect of reviewing and amending international standards for tethers and jackstays.

‘In view of this and previous MOB accidents, Clipper Ventures plc has been recommended to further review and, as appropriate, modify its risk assessments and standard operating procedures with particular regard to foredeck operations, reducing sail in rough weather and methods for recovery of both tethered and untethered MOBs. This must take account of any safety management guidance and direction provided by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in response to MAIB Recommendation 2018/116 following the
grounding and loss of CV24 (Greenings off South Africa in the 2017 Clipper Race).

clipper yacht holed and lying on a beach in South Africa after running aground

CV24 aground in South Africa. Credit: Clipper Round the World

‘Clipper Ventures plc has also been recommended to review and amend Clipper 70 yacht maintenance and repair processes to prevent potential additional workload falling on crew, contributing to fatigue and affecting their performance,’ concluded the MAIB.

In its statement, Clipper Ventures said: ‘We were and continue to be very saddened at the death of Simon Speirs and our thoughts are with his family. The safety of our crew is our highest priority and has been since the race was established in 1996. Every crew member undergoes four weeks of intensive, rigorous training, specifically designed for ocean racing, of which safety is at the core. This includes sea survival training which is carried out to industry (RYA) standards. All safety equipment on board is industry leading with every crew member equipped with a personal AIS beacon in lifejackets.

‘Each yacht is fully crewed and crew members are ‘off watch’ for between ten to fourteen hours in each 24 hour period. The watch system is designed to ensure each crew member has enough rest during the race.

‘We have followed previous safety recommendations from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), and not “ignored” them as previously stated in the MAIB report. We have had our safety system independently reviewed, as the MCA has not been able to allocate the resources to do so.

‘During eleven editions, 5000 people have taken part in the Clipper Race, organised by parent company Clipper Ventures. Every measure possible is taken to ensure the safety of our crew,’ concluded the statement.

After publishing their statement, Clipper Ventures as released an additional response to the MAIB Report:

Clipper Ventures Response to MAIB Report issued 20 June 2019

The MAIB report issued on 20 June 2019 was written in response to the sad death of crew member, Simon Speirs, aboard the Clipper Race Yacht CV30 on 18th November 2017 following a freak failure of a tether safety clip.

The MAIB report makes three recommendations to Clipper Ventures, none of which concern the safety clip.

With regards to report section 2019/113, Clipper Ventures has been asked to take account of any safety management guidance and direction provided by the MCA – The Maritime Coastguard Agency has been unable to find the resources so far to provide Clipper Ventures with guidance and direction and we have been waiting for them to contact us to look into maritime safety issues for 18 months. However, in view of this delay, we have had our systems assessed by two outside auditors.

Regarding the two recommendations that form report section 2019/114, to review and amend Clipper 70 yacht maintenance and repair processes to minimise additional workload on crew during the Race, what the report is unable to recognise is that damage will occur on boats sailing in the more demanding waters of the world and crews have to be able to make repairs when at sea. Clipper Race crews are taught a number of additional skills, like sail repairs, engine maintenance, etc so they can deal with such incidents immediately, while at sea. To support this, and ensure that the boats are ready for their next leg, Clipper Ventures sends a strong, experienced maintenance team to every stopover to attend to more complicated repairs, or brings in local experts.

The ingress of water into the Lazarette, mentioned in the report, caused by a leaking rudder gaiter, was fixed in Punta del Este. The leaks in the forepeak from the bobstay chainplate were attended to by the Maintenance Team in Punta del Este at the end of Leg 1, seven weeks before the accident.

It is also important to highlight that the report contains a further number of factual inaccuracies.

The report states that at the time of publication (20th June 2019) a number of previous recommendations had not been implemented. This is inaccurate as the following actions have been implemented:

– An Additional Qualified Person was added to all boats in Fremantle during the 2017-18 edition and have been recruited for the forthcoming race. The MAIB report actually acknowledges this elsewhere in its content, so we do not understand why their report states we have not responded to this recommendation.
– A plotter (an electronic navigation aid) at the helm position is being fitted.
– A new detailed passage plan form has been introduced for the next race
– With regards to report section 2.7.2 serious damage has always been reported to the IIMS surveyors as they have to approve repairs. This is not made clear in this report

This is not an exhaustive list of the actions taken. Clipper Ventures continues to investigate any new ideas that might improve safety aboard its boats from its tough training regime to sailing in rough waters.

Clipper Ventures’ investigation into safety tethers, (please note- which had the MAIB in attendance onboard during said investigation), and subsequent introduction of a double tether system that exceeds the ISO standard, is acknowledged in this report.

Accidents and incidents are always investigated by a team of experienced circumnavigators within the company.