In the wake of a collision between Vestas 11th Hour Racing and a commercial fishing vessel in the final stages of Leg 4 to Hong Kong, organizers of the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race have commissioned an independent study into ocean racing at night in areas of high vessel traffic density to establish what steps race organizers may take to mitigate risk going forward.
A team chaired by retired Rear Admiral Chris Oxenbould, and assisted by celebrated U.S. navigator and VOR veteran Stan Honey and safety-expert Chuck Hawley, will lead the investigation.
Rear Admiral Oxenbould is a former deputy chief of the Australian Navy and an experienced ocean racing yachtsman with a particular expertise in navigation. He is also the former chairman of Australia Sailing’s National Safety Committee.
According to the VOR, the team will “examine all the issues associated with racing a Volvo Ocean 65, or similar racing boat, at night in areas of high vessel traffic density, drawing on the experiences in recent editions of the Volvo Ocean Race...any findings from the report that could benefit the wider sailing community will be released. It is intended that the [team] will make its report available to Volvo Ocean Race by June 2018.
VOR race director Phil Lawrence added, “Understandably, there has been a lot of reaction to this incident in the sailing community, but the fact is, it takes time to make a responsible assessment of what could be done differently to minimize risk and increase safety. Our sailors, as qualified professionals, understand their responsibilities under the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, Racing Rules of Sailing and the Rules of the Volvo Ocean Race. As race organizers, we will continue to evaluate safety as we race over the coming months and take the appropriate steps to minimize risk.” concluded Lawrence.
Beyond that, the VOR has released a Q&A with Lawrence, that provides some additional details regarding the collision that occurred between Vestas 11th Hour Racing and the other vessel on January 20, around 30 miles from the Leg 4 finish line in Hong Kong. The Q&A is as follow:
Could you please re-cap the particulars of the incident?
A collision occurred between Vestas 11th Hour Racing and a non-racing vessel on 20 January 2018. The incident took place around 30 miles from the Leg 4 finish line in Hong Kong.
Vestas 11th Hour Racing immediately stopped racing, informed Race Control of the incident, sent a Mayday distress signal on behalf of the other vessel and initiated a search and rescue mission, recovering one of the crew. Another boat in the area recovered the other nine crew.
Tragically, one of the fishermen lost his life in the incident. He had been recovered from the water and taken on board Vestas 11th Hour Racing and was transferred by helicopter to a hospital in Hong Kong where medical staff were unable to revive him.
It has taken some time to release more information about the incident. Why is that?
Sadly, a person died in this incident and in these circumstances an official investigation needed to be carried out by the relevant authorities. The casualty arrived in Hong Kong and the incident itself took place in Chinese waters. We have, therefore, been dealing with two official investigations.
While these investigations are underway there are cultural considerations that limit the amount of information we are able to share publicly.
We have now been informed that the investigations by the Hong Kong and mainland China authorities will be closed shortly with no further action to be taken.
Why did you finish the leg in Hong Kong Harbor?
Hong Kong harbor and the surrounding territorial waters are highly regulated with fishing boats subject to restrictions. We were confident that the risks in Hong Kong waters were always well managed.
This incident occurred 30 miles offshore, outside of Hong Kong territorial waters. The fleet still had to navigate the fishing traffic offshore but this is not an uncommon occurrence in these waters. Many different offshore races both professional and amateur, sail through areas of heavy traffic at times, or start or finish in busy harbors. To that end, we have commissioned an independent report to establish what steps race organizers should take to mitigate risk going forward.
Why was Dongfeng Race Team not diverted to the accident scene?
Vestas 11th Hour Racing communicated to us that this was not necessary – there were enough local vessels on the scene rendering assistance and this was told very clearly to Race Control as Dongfeng approached the area. As a result, we decided to release them to finish the leg.
By the time team AkzoNobel approached the area a couple of hours later, we considered that the Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew had been dealing with a crisis situation for more than two hours and might benefit from the support of a fellow competitor staying in the area, on stand-by, if needed.
AkzoNobel did stand by in support, at our request, but was not needed to render any tangible assistance, and was released to continue to the finish line when Vestas 11th Hour Racing began motoring towards Hong Kong following the conclusion of the rescue.
Why has there been so little information on the accident up to now?
I understand Vestas 11th Hour Racing are in a similar position to ourselves with regard to making public statements while authorities are still conducting their investigation. However, the team has issued a more detailed account of what happened today.
There was damage to the Vestas 11th Hour Racing boat in the accident that precluded them from racing in Leg 5 and 6, and the boat was shipped to New Zealand for repairs. Since the boat arrived in New Zealand the team has provided updates on the progress of repairs in anticipation of them re-joining the race.
Is the Volvo Ocean Race in direct contact with the family of the deceased?
Through legal representatives in Hong Kong, we are in contact with the family of the deceased. At all times we have taken advice from our counsel from a cultural perspective, in respect of expressing condolences, providing support and the treatment of those affected by this accident.