Yacht crashed and sank as skipper ‘became distracted’

A LUXURY 62-foot motor yacht slammed into a navigational buoy and sank off the south coast after the hired skipper failed to prepare for the voyage and became distracted, a report has found.

According to the document, compiled by Ports of Jersey, at 5.30 pm on 17 November 2017, the £1.8 million Italian-made vessel – called P6T2 – left Elizabeth Marina in darkness, bound for Guernsey.

Two people were on board at the time – a 35-year-old professional skipper, who had been certified to operate commercial vessels for 14 years, and the yacht’s owner who had intended to catch a flight to the UK from Guernsey the following morning.

After leaving the marina, the vessel made its way through the Small Roads at eight knots – three knots above the channel’s speed limit – before turning to the west.

At the same time, Penn Kalet, a French fishing vessel, was travelling into the Harbour from the west.

P6T2 was then seen to alter its course to travel south of Penn Kalet and it accelerated up to 21.1 knots, heading directly for the Ruaudière Buoy.

The marker’s green light was working properly and flashed every three seconds before the incident.

But a few moments later, the 45-tonne vessel smashed into the metal buoy, puncturing the yacht’s hull and causing it to begin taking on water at a rapid rate.

The skipper then issued a mayday call before the pair entered a life raft.

Minutes later, they were picked up by the Fire and Rescue Service’s inshore lifeboat and taken to La Collette Marina where they were met by the Coastguard duty officer. At the skipper’s request, he was breathalysed and the result was negative.

Around the same time, Ports of Jersey’s pilot cutter Rival arrived at the scene of the sinking vessel, by which point only one metre of P6T2 was still visible above the water.

As the cutter crew were concerned that the stricken vessel could block the main shipping channel, they attached a line around it and began to tow it northwards towards the coast to be beached.

However, owing to the force of the outgoing tide, it was instead towed towards the west before it became unmanageable and sank near La Moye.

Back on land, the skipper and vessel’s owner were taken to the Coastguard’s silver command room to warm up and debrief.

While speaking to the duty officer, although visibly shocked, the skipper was ‘keen to discuss’ the incident, stating that he had experienced difficulty in turning down the brightness of the screens in the vessel while making his way out of the Harbour.

He also admitted ‘being in a hurry’, added that he had turned too far west and, rather than making a sharp turn, had chosen to turn gradually to avoid ‘disturbing the owner’.

The skipper later submitted a written report of the incident in which he said that it was his first full-darkness passage on the vessel, although he had completed night passages on other boats.

He also admitted that his navigational lights had not been turned on at the beginning of the voyage.

The report said: ‘The owner returned to the seat beside the skipper and noted the vessel was picking up speed.

‘The skipper was looking out of the cockpit and checking the screens on the console.

‘He [the owner] recalls the vessel banking to the right before straightening up. At this moment there was an impact and he was thrown forward onto the console.’

In the weeks following the incident, a salvage rig and crew were brought to the Island.

However, operations were suspended after the vessel broke up and parts of it began washing up around the Island and in France – as far away as Cherbourg.

The skipper had his qualification to operate commercial vessels suspended but no further action was taken.

Ports of Jersey have now concluded that a number of factors caused the collision, including a hasty departure, a lack of pre-departure preparation, the distraction of adjusting the brightness on the vessel’s screens and checking to see if navigation lights were on while in transit.

A safety bulletin will soon be issued, which will include a number of recommendations for boat-owners.

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