Vestas in the Volvo Ocean Race : Where’s the accountability?

Three years ago, the scene was Cargados Carajos Shoals 240 nm north east of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.  The sailing vessel Vestas Wind had driven themselves onto a charted reef after failing to adequately use both electronic and paper charts.  In a Cinderella story, the boat was salvaged, rebuilt and took part in the last legs of the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race (VOR).  

Returning for the 2017-2018 edition of the VOR, the same boat (update : the current Vestas 11th Hour Racing is the former Alvimedica boat from the 2014-2015 race) , now named Vestas 11th Hour Racing was approaching Hong Kong in the early morning hours of Saturday, January 20th.  As the sailing yacht proceeded at close to 20 knots in these notoriously crowded waters, they collided with a local fishing boat.

Vestas - post collision
source : South China Morning Post

The collision damaged the port bow of Vestas 11th Hour Racing and sank the fishing boat.  Nine of the ten fisherman onboard were rescued by other vessels, but the tenth was seriously injured and confirmed dead several hours later at a local hospital.

The risk assessment and mitigation skills of the sailors on the Vestas racing team(s) (update : the current Vestas crew includes members from the 2014-2015 VOR Alvimedica crew) have been challenged in two VOR races in a row now.  Running your boat up on a charted reef and the associated possible crewmembers’ injuries/fatalities is one thing.  Racing these high-speed/high-tech machines through crowded waters and risking the general public is quite another.

Rule 6 Safe Speed

Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions. In determining a safe speed the following factors shall be among those taken into account:

(a) By all vessels:

(i) the state of visibility;

(ii) the traffic density including concentrations of fishing vessels or any other vessels;

Rule 6 of the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREGS) addresses safe speed by all vessels.  As has been noted in many mainstream and social media posts concerning this collision, the area around Hong Kong is known for the large fleets of fishing vessels.  It could be questioned whether the speed of this yacht was prudent or safe in this case given the known hazards.

While we would no more have a Formula 1 or NASCAR race on a public highway, the routing of a professional sailing race through congested waters is a questionable practice.  The investigation into this incident will likely be by the local port state – Hong Kong and their Maritime Accident Investigation Board (MAIB).  The subsequent accident report is likely to not be as forgiving as the one conducted by the Volvo Ocean Race into the grounding of Vestas Wind in 2014.

Additional Reading and Links

Volvo Ocean Race – S/V Vestas Wind – Grounding – November 2014

Fishing Vessels : Avoiding them means avoiding the consequencesmaddenMaritime

Risk Focus : Reducing the Risk of Collisions With Fishing Vessels : UK P&I Club

USCG – Collision Regulations (COLREGS)

3 thoughts on “Vestas in the Volvo Ocean Race : Where’s the accountability?

  1. Accountability is important but seems like you’re missing some crucial facts. While Vestas is the sponsor for both of these boats, that’s where the relationship ends. Both of this year’s Vestas crew and boat sailed in 2014/15 as Alvimedica. Since your thesis is that the same sailors have now been involved in two serious incidents you should probably update to reflect the facts. It’s tragic enough as it is without these erroneous claims.

    1. Thank you for this information which was confirmed by the VOR race organization. The post has been updated and disseminated. While Vestas is the sponsor and certainly not in control of the boat, they are also the beneficiary of all press – both positive and negative – as a result. Sponsors of sporting events must weigh the risk of negative press.

  2. There are a few issues with this article.

    First, there is zero — none — overlap between the boat sponsored by Vestas in the last edition of the race and this year.

    Second, there is zero overlap in the crew (personnel) sponsored by Vestas in the last edition of the race and this year.

    The only thing in common between these two unrelated incidents is the name of one of the sponsors of two different teams racing two different vessels in two different editions of the race.

    Third, the author lambasts a lack of accountability, but the facts are not yet known. For example, nothing has yet been reported publicly about the fishing vessel such as whether it was displaying lights in compliance with COLREGS, or whether it was engaged in fishing as defined under COLREGS which is a very limited definition speaking to limited maneuverability due to trawling with nets, etc., thus with significant implications of determining the give way boat. Leaping to the conclusion that all of the accountability or blame should be directed at the sailboat in this incident is reaching a judgment prior to having the necessary facts. While it is likely the sailboat may share at least partial blame for failure to maintain an adequate lookout, if it becomes known that the fishing boat was unlighted or was not limited in its maneuverability, the ‘accountability’ answers will be different. The facts are not yet known.

    Last, the author suggests the sailboat’s speed of 20 to 22 knots was reckless, likening it to running a Formula 1 race on a public highway. If the unnamed author of this article were familiar with maritime traffic in this area of the world, he or she would know that massive (and significantly more dangerous) commercial vessels routinely transit this very same area at similar ~20 knot speeds as the sailboat in this incident. A simple glance at the AIS data for marine traffic in this area would show this. In short, the speed of the sailboat is similar to the speed of other boats navigating these waters.

    What happened was a tragedy. A man died. Instead of rushing to judge, seek first to understand. Let’s wait for facts to come out.

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