Integrity of investigation questioned
Published on August 9th, 2019
The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race was conceived in 1996 by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston who founded Clipper Ventures plc as a company to run the race. There have now been 11 editions taking amateur crew around the earth in a pay-to-play system, but the program is facing adverse attention in advance of the 2019-20 contest.
But it’s been a bumpy ride as of late, with two fatalities during the 2015-16 race and the 2017-18 edition having one boat destroyed along with another fatality. When you are selling adventure, even the most gung-ho have limits.
By all accounts, Knox-Johnston has run a successful business, providing good boats and training for the sailors and good value for sponsors. Whereas other round the world races hem and haw, the Clipper Race stays in the sunlight as a formula that works. However, there has been conflicting opinion with regard to the conditions of the latest fatality.
First came the opinion on June 20 of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), which is a UK government agency authorized to investigate maritime accidents on board UK vessels worldwide. Clipper Ventures claimed the report had factual inaccuracies, and the Practical Sailor publication also found flaws in the MAIB report.
Clipper Ventures remains dissatisfied and has issued this statement on August 9, 2019:
Following an investigation into the tragic death of Simon Speirs, Clipper Ventures has called on the Department for Transport to hold an independent inquiry to establish the full extent of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) investigatory teams’ failure of professionalism, impartiality and honesty.
On the 18th November 2017, Simon Speirs, a 60 year old retired solicitor, fell overside whilst helping to reduce sail. The yacht, CV30, owned by Clipper Ventures, was participating in an around the world race and was experiencing increasing winds and sea state in the Southern Ocean.
Mr Speirs was tethered to the boat but fell overside due to a freak failure of a tether safety clip. Mr Speirs was recovered but could not be resuscitated. The accident was investigated by both the MCA and MAIB, and their conclusions are the cause of considerable concern.
At a meeting between Clipper Ventures and the new CEO of the MCA held on July 25, 2019, it was revealed that, after a new enquiry into the actions of the MCA Enforcement Official who had initiated and headed up a number of investigations concerning Clipper Ventures, multiple errors and distortions of the truth had been discovered, as follows:
1. The MCA claimed there was a vessel within 60 miles of the yacht that could have taken the body home for burial. They have now admitted this was not true. The nearest vessel was 1500 miles away, or 5-6 days.
2. It was an MCA Enforcement official who told Mrs Speirs of this non-existent nearby vessel.
3. The MCA admitted that Clipper Ventures had advised the Department for Transport and the MCA prior to holding a burial at sea, but their official did not respond.
4. The MCA have admitted that in the circumstances Clipper Ventures were right to hold the burial at sea.
The MAIB report issued June 20, 2019 contained a number of errors, including stating Clipper Ventures had not carried out any of their recommendations, which is inaccurate. All recommendations in the report had been implemented, except for the inspection by the MCA which was due to the MCA’s lack of resources. Clipper Ventures, therefore made the decision to have its systems assessed, and approved, by two independent auditors.
The freak failure of the safety tether on November 18, 2017 is being examined by the sailing industry. The MAIB report acknowledged Clipper Ventures’ investigation into safety tethers (which was carried out with the MAIB onboard), and its introduction of a double tether system exceed industry standards. However, the industry learnings have been diluted by a number of factual errors in the MAIB report.
The MCA and MAIB investigations followed remarkably parallel courses and it has to be suspected that significant and improper influence was applied to the MAIB investigation by the MCA team. Clipper Ventures has often complained of lack of impartiality at the MAIB, a belief now held more strongly than ever. The safety of its crew is the highest priority for Clipper Ventures and has been since the race was established in 1996.