MAIB report on the loss of CHEEKI RAFIKI and four crew during eastbound Atlantic crossing, May 2014

The MAIB has recently published their report on the loss of the UK registered yacht CHEEKI RAFIKI approximately 720 miles ESE of Nova Scotia in May 2014. Despite an extensive search encouraged by considerable social media coverage, her crew of four were never found and are assumed to have perished.

This was undoubtedly a sod to investigate. The yacht's upturned keel-less hull was seen just twice. Once, over 36 hours after the skipper's last voice call from high-sided container ship MAERSK KURE conducting a track line search . A second sighting was by personnel from USS OSCAR AUSTIN who examined the upturned and partially submerged hull, providing the only imagery on which the MAIB could base their report, but could not recover it.

Prior to losing contact, the skipper had expressed growing concern over water ingress, but had not identified the source. Thereafter, it is undeniable that the hull of CHEEKI RAFIKI suffered a sudden and catastrophic failure, causing her to capsize. The subsequent investigation has established a number of factors, supported by the image of the upturned hull, which points towards the yacht's keel becoming detached in adverse weather. Nonetheless, this painstaking report draws viable and reasonable conclusions and raises important recommendations.

The MCA again come into the line of fire. Complex and vague commercial vs pleasure craft definitions and the boat's ability to slip through a survey net are inexcusable. Clarity & enforcement are long overdue.

The report covers the construction of GRP hulls in considerable detail and highlights the hidden menace of the internal matrix detaching from the hull which can only be properly established with a thorough survey by an appropriately qualified person. Given the nature of life for this type of craft, grounding is not an unusual event but can lead to catastrophic loss if not identified and rectified. Beneteau come under uncomfortable scrutiny but have made their own improvements in construction since commencing building the Beneteau First 40.7. Nonetheless, the design makes it hard to detect when the bonding is starting to fail. I imagine they aren't the only manufacturer to which this might apply.

To identify synergies with the superyacht sector, the report should be a salutory reminder to all Captains and crews of the need for a measured and carefully considered passage plan, and that adequate preparations are needed to manage any emergency situation on a long ocean passage. At some point, when flooding was becoming an issue, preparation of the liferaft and EPIRB would have been prudent. Whilst it is embarrassing to sit here being smart, one can't but feel desperately saddened by the loss of this crew. Personal locator beacon transmissions almost two hours apart from a dark north Atlantic conjure up a desperately upsetting, hopeless and lonely image.

For those on board Watkins' managed boats, please ensure that all crewmembers are given an opportunity to read this and confirm so in your next HESS meeting minutes. I can be contacted at any time if anyone has any questions. We would welcome any feedback of course, and would be pleased to circulate any comments.