Phil Lawrence, Race Director for the Volvo Ocean Race, gives an update on the collision between Vestas 11th Hour Racing and a non-racing vessel overnight on Friday.
Phil, what do we know about what happened on the night of Friday 19 January between Vestas 11th Hour Racing and a non-racing boat?
First of all, we know a man lost his life, tragically, after an incident with one of our race boats. We offer our deepest condolences to his loved ones and family. We are relieved that the nine other mariners on board were rescued and initial reports have them in good condition.
In terms of what happened, we know a collision occurred shortly before 1723 UTC (which is when Race Control received the first message from Vestas 11th Hour Racing) between Vestas 11th Hour Racing and a non-racing vessel. The incident took place around 30 miles from the Leg 4 finish line in Hong Kong.
Vestas 11th Hour Racing immediately stopped racing, informed us at Race Control of the incident (at 1736 UTC), sent a Mayday distress signal on behalf of the other vessel and aided in the search and rescue mission.
What happened then?
Hong Kong Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre informed Race Control that a nearby commercial vessel had rescued nine of the crew from the other boat, and a tenth was taken to hospital by helicopter after he had been rescued from the water by the Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew. We’re deeply saddened to report that Hong Kong MRCC confirmed the death of that airlifted crewmember later on Saturday morning.
What happened to the Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew and boat?
All Vestas 11th Hour Racing crewmembers are safe and uninjured but the boat suffered some damage to its hull. After participating in the rescue, the team was able to return to port without assistance and under its own power despite the damage. At no time did Vestas 11th Hour Racing request assistance for themselves.
What caused the collision? Was the other boat showing navigation lights, or using the AIS (Automatic Identification System)?
We don’t have answers to those questions yet but of course those are central question to the on-going investigation. Both Vestas 11th Hour Racing and the Volvo Ocean Race will cooperate with the relevant authorities to establish what happened.
Could Race Control have prevented this accident by informing Vestas 11th Hour Racing of an imminent collision?
No. While Race Control does monitor the position of the race boats for safety reasons, Race Control does not have access to the position of every other vessel at sea.
What do we know about the other vessel involved in the collision and its crew?
We are trying to find out more. We know the other boat was damaged significantly and understand that it sank as a result of the incident. We know that 10 crew were on board and that all 10 were recovered but tragically, one was later pronounced dead at the hospital. We at Volvo Ocean Race, along with Vestas 11th Hour Racing are working with the local authorities to learn more about the crew of the boat involved in the incident. In fact, that is our main priority.
Can you release the name of the casualty?
We are seeking confirmation of identity from authorities as well as the appropriate information to release as per local custom.
What happened with Dongfeng Race Team and team AkzoNobel in terms of them assisting with the rescue?
Dongfeng Race Team were the nearest race boat to the scene and they immediately offered to divert to assist. At 1821 UTC Vestas 11th Hour Racing confirmed by email to Dongfeng Race Team that additional assistance was not required as previously communicated by Race Control.
Later, when team AkzoNobel arrived near the area on its route to the finish line, Race Control requested they stand by to support Vestas 11th Hour Racing as a precaution. Neither Vestas 11th Hour Racing nor the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre requested this assistance and once it was clear they were not required, Race Control released team AkzoNobel to finish the leg.
How is the crew of Vestas 11th Hour Racing?
As you would imagine they are very shaken and deeply saddened by the incident. They are being supported by the rest of their team as well the Volvo Ocean Race organisation and have access to professional support should they request it.
What happens next?
Along with Vestas 11th Hour Racing, we are actively working with the Hong Kong Police and the Maritime Authority to support the on-going investigation.