Pleads Not Guilty to three COLREGS charges

A Royal Navy officer who was skippering a yacht which crashed into a 120,000 tonne tanker during Cowes Week, appeared before magistrates today accused of negligence.

Several people jumped overboard from the yacht as it was dismasted and one crewman was left injured following the collision which happened during the final stages of a high-profile sailing race.

Lieutenant Roland Wilson denied three charges of flouting maritime laws by cutting his 33ft racing yacht across a narrow shipping channel as the tanker navigated the Solent.

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 was the skipper of the Royal Naval Sailing Association’s vessel Atalanta of Chester when it allegedly crossed the path of oil tanker Hanne Knutsen on August 6, 2011.

Magistrates in Southampton heard that the racing yacht skipper ignored a 3,300ft (1000m) exclusion zone leading up to the collision at sea, which sparked a rescue operation to pluck yachtsmen out of the water.

Wilson, of Stanley, Perthshire, Scotland, today 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.

“The incident achieved some notoriety on the internet.”

Wilson, who was dressed in a grey suit with a red and blue striped tie, sat quietly as the case was outlined against him.

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 was told 12 witnesses, including Stuart Quarrie, the chief executive of Cowes Week, will be called to give evidence at the five-day trial, which was fixed to begin on October 7 this year.

The magistrates released Wilson on unconditional bail after informing him of the date of the trial, which will be held at the same court.

***A Belgian fisherman was today fined £840 pounds and ordered to pay £1,500 pounds costs after his boat smashed into a tanker in Bristol Channel in the dead of night.

Jeffry Demeester, aged 39 years, admitted not keeping a sufficient look-out when his vessel Deborah collided with the tanker Sea Transport shortly before 2am on January 8 last year, leaving the ship with a deep gash on its stern.