A YACHTING boss got sent an “urgent” email from four doomed sailors saying they were sinking – but he carried on drinking, a court heard today.
Douglas Innes ran Stormforce Coaching and was responsible for the Cheeki Rafiki, which capsized in the mid-Atlantic killing all four crew members.
He was said to have been in the pub when he received the message saying the crew was “taking on water” but didn’t think it was a serious problem.
The yacht lost its keel as the crew were returning the 40ft vessel from Antigua to the UK in May 2014 when it got into trouble more than 700 miles from Nova Scotia.
The 42-year-old today broke down in tears as he took the stand during his trial.
He likened the email to a call to a roadside assistance firm rather than an emergency call to 999, saying: “In sailing an urgent call has different definitions.
“If your house is on fire you call 999 but if your car has broken down you call for some assistance – that’s what we defined this issue as at the time.”
Winchester Crown Court heard how the businessman tried to moved on to another pub before getting a call from 22-year-old skipper Andrew Bridge saying the situation was getting worse.
He then decided to go home and ring the coastguard but Andrew, James Male, 22, Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56, were all doomed and died around 1,000 miles from the coast of the USA.
Innes sobbed as he revealed he was “horrified” and “really scared” the search for the Cheeki Rafiki would be called off by the US Coastguard after days of trying to locate the sailors.
He explained how he received a final call in the early hours of May 16, 2014, from the skipper saying: “This is getting worse”.
Later that morning, Innes contacted the four sailors’ next of kin.
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He told the court: “That’s not something I was ever prepared for.
“The first phone call was very difficult, the hardest.
“I called James’ mum and I couldn’t get the words out.
“I just said ‘I think there may be a problem, your son may be in a life raft’.”
Innes, a married father-of-two, denies four counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.
He and his company Stormforce Coaching, also both deny failing to operate the Cheeki Rafiki in a safe manner between 18 March 2013 and 18 May 2014.
The trial continues.