Yachtsman who collided with tanker found guilty

A Royal Navy officer whose race yacht collided with a tanker in the Solent, has been found guilty of impeding the passage of a vessel and failing to keep a proper lookout.

Lieutenant Roly Wilson, 32, who was skippering a 33ft yacht which collided with a 120,000 tonne oil tanker, Hanne Knutsen during Cowes Week, 2011, faced trial at Southampton Magistrate’s Court.

At an earlier hearing he denied three charges of flouting maritime laws by cutting his Corby sloop, Atalanta of Chester, across a narrow shipping channel as the tanker navigated the Solent.

One member of the eight-strong crew, Adrian Wheal, jumped overboard from the yacht before the collision and as the boat was dismasted one crewman was injured.

Footage of the collision, in the final legs of a Cowes Week race off the Isle of Wight, became an internet hit after it was captured on camera.

Wilson and his crew are all members of the Royal Naval Sailing Association.

They included former RN Commander Mike Shrives, an RYA Yachtmaster Examiner Instructor, who told Yachting Monthly after the collision: ‘I thought we were going to die – we were like rabbits in the headlights.’

Wilson, of Stanley, Perthshire, Scotland, denied one charge of failing to keep a proper look-out and two charges of impeding the passage of the 830ft long tanker.

Peter Handley, prosecuting for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, told the magistrates: ‘The incident occurred broadly in the middle of a channel.

‘The Atalanta of Chester is a racing yacht and at the time of the incident she was racing towards Cowes towards the end of the race. This was the second to last leg of the race.

‘The Hanne Knutsen is a large tanker carrying a load of crude oil to Southampton. The Hanne Knutsen was under guidance of two registered pilots.’

He added: ‘There was contact between the Atalanta of Chester and the Hanne Knutsen. This resulted in the yacht scraping down the port side of the tanker.

‘The rigging got caught on the anchor, bringing down the mast and one crew member was injured.

Mr Handley said: “We don’t say the defendant didn’t see the Hanne Knutsen at all – that’s obviously not the case.

‘We do say he failed to take a full appraisal of the situation.’

The hearing heard from 12 witnesses, including Stuart Quarrie, the chief executive of Cowes Week.

Presiding over the case was Anthony Callaway, 59, a district judge and a lifelong sailor, who cruises a Bavaria 36.