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'No unnecessary risks', says yacht skipper who crashed into tanker
The skipper of a racing yacht which collided with a giant oil tanker today told a court he took ''no unnecessary risks'' in the run up to the incident.
Roland Wilson, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy Reserves, said that his boat, the Atalanta of Chester, was on course to pass port-to-port with the 260-metre Hanne Knutsen on the first day of Cowes Week in August 2011 and that was always the plan.
But he explained to Southampton Magistrates' Court that the tanker sounded a signal to say it was turning to starboard but then did not do so.
''This situation develops from being a safe situation to being an unsafe situation in a short time scale... because of the unexpected manoeuvre of the Hanne Knutsen after the starboard sound signal,'' the 32-year-old said.
Under cross examination by prosecutor Charles Row, Wilson was asked: ''You had no clear idea how quickly she was going to turn?''
Wilson, an experienced sailor, replied that he has seen hundreds of such ships turn at that point - prompting Mr Row to suggest that Wilson had assumed that was what the tanker would do and he had not observed properly.
The physics graduate denied the claim and said he was watching and had seen the tanker from five miles away as his yacht raced.
''Was it wishful thinking on your part, wishing to apportion blame on someone else than take responsibility yourself?'' Mr Row asked.
Wilson replied he did not want to apportion any blame.
Mr Row: ''You had all the time in the world to avoid this ship.''
Wilson replied: ''It remained a safe situation up until a couple of minutes before the collision.''
Wilson is alleged to have been negligent and faces three charges of contravening maritime regulations - charges he denies.
Footage of the incident, in which one crew member suffered minor head injuries and another abandoned ship, has been posted on YouTube.
The court has heard that the Atalanta sailed ''perilously'' close to the 120,000-ton vessel.
Wilson said that the pilot boat Spitfire, which was assisting the Hanne Knutsen at Fawley oil refinery, approached the Atalanta to warn the crew.
Wilson said that the marine officer aboard Simon Lusty had shouted, asking what he was doing there.
Mr Lusty earlier told the hearing of the Atalanta's position close to the Hanne Knutsen: ''It hadn't occurred to me that it would have carried on that track having spoken to it.
''When I first saw the yacht it could have done anything it wanted to, apart from what it did - it could have gone east, west, north.''
But Wilson told the hearing that he would have lost speed if he had turned starboard when the danger became apparent and that a collision could still have occurred.
He also explained he was worried about moving into a area full of spectator boats.
Another boat, the Joy C, was in difficulties after its engines failed close to the Hanne Knutsen which the tanker managed to clear making the situation more complicated, the court has heard.
An air pressure wave from the tanker after the vessels closed then made the yacht lose wind and it collided with the tanker becoming dismasted with its sail almost becoming entangled in the anchor.
Married father-of one Wilson from Stanley, Perthshire, denies failing to keep a proper lookout and two counts of impeding the passage of a tanker.
The prosecution claim Wilson, who owned and skippered the 33ft racing yacht, sailed his boat, which had a crew of eight, into the path of the 42-metre wide Hanne Knutsen.
Mr Row said Wilson failed to comply with local shipping bylaws which required him to maintain a moving prohibited zone (MPZ) of 1,000 metres in front and 100 metres either side of a vessel greater than 150 metres long.
Wilson told the court he has joined the Royal Navy in 2006 and left in February this year.
At the time of the collision it was the fifth time he had raced at Cowes and he had a flat in the town that overlooked The Solent.
He said that he had a short lived position at financial services company Credit Suisse after he left the navy until the impending court case came to light.
He is now working on new designs for inflatable boats.
The trial is expected to end on Friday.