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Old 02-04-2009, 22:19   #1
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Australian Yacht Builder Guilty of Manslaughter

Yacht builder guilty of manslaughter

Battling rough seas and high winds, the last thing the crew of the yacht Excalibur would have expected was that the keel keeping them afloat would break apart.
But the keel split in two, capsizing the boat and killing four of the six sailors on board.
The man in charge of the keel's construction, Alex Cittadini, was found guilty of four counts of manslaughter by a NSW District Court jury on Thursday.
The 15-metre racing sloop was hit by winds of up to 50 knots near Seal Rocks off the NSW mid-north coast in September 2002, on a voyage from the Whitsundays bound for Sydney.
The crew tried to change the sails and head to Port Stephens but the keel split and the vessel overturned, tossing all six people aboard into chilly waters.
Excalibur's skipper Brian McDermott and crewmate John Rogers spent about nine hours in five-metre seas before being rescued by a Swiss merchant ship.
Tracy Luke, 32, Ann Maree Pope, 30, and Christopher Heyes and Peter McLeod, both 51, lost their lives.
The bodies of Ms Luke, Ms Pope and Mr McLeod were never recovered.
At a 2005 coronial inquest it was revealed the keel had been cut horizontally and was held together only by "child-like" welding.
As a result, Cittadini, the director and engineer at Applied Alloy Yachts, which built the million-dollar yacht, was charged with four counts of manslaughter.
After three days of deliberations, the jury found Cittadini guilty on all counts.
As Cittadini looked down at his hands, shaking his head, the wife and brother of Christopher Heyes cried and hugged each other, shaking with relief at the verdict.
Cittadini's co-accused Adrian Presland was acquitted of the same charges on Wednesday.
He was the factory foreman in charge of welding the boat, but crown prosecutors failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he was to blame for the "shoddy" work on Excalibur.
Cittadini either knew about the keel being cut and welded back together, or he should have, the jury found.
Outside court, David Heyes said he considered Cittadini directly responsible for his brother's death and hoped he would face jail time.
"Why not? Why not? At the end of the day there's four very precious lives that have been lost - four wonderful lives," Mr Heyes said.
"This man needs to sit down in a box and reflect on his actions."
Auriol Saunders - who owned the boat with her husband Alan - said the verdict would end "six-and-a-half years of hell" for the close sailing community affected by the tragedy.
She said the case highlighted a need for change in safety standards for keels.
"They have racing rules, they have rules for wearing life jackets, and yet the thing that keeps us upright in the water doesn't have any set standards, and that's almost unbelievable," Ms Saunders told reporters.
"This accident didn't have to happen."
However, she said, the verdict was bittersweet.
"This verdict doesn't bring our friends back. It doesn't bring back two husbands and two daughters," she said.
"I can't say it's a victory. I just think that it might be able to close a door for some of us."
The verdict may have big implications for boat builders.
Chris Ayton, who owns a business specialising in stainless steel keels and rudders, said the ruling would have repercussions.
"It's a bit daunting," he told AAP.
"It sets a precedent and that will have repercussions."
Mr Ayton, who runs Seaspray Stainless Steel Fabrications in Warners Bay, near Newcastle, said most boat builders would know cutting a keel was "definitely a no-no", but there were some cowboys and "backyard builders" who might not know better.
Cittadini would not comment to reporters as he was led from court, flanked by lawyers.
Within hours of his guilty verdict, he announced his intention to appeal the conviction.
His sentencing proceedings are due to begin in the same court on May 15.
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Old 03-04-2009, 03:07   #2
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This is a very conflicting issue. While I agree 100% people need to be held accountable and I would like to say "Great, it's about time, let him rot", realistically this could have far reaching effects we may feel for a long time. Yacht/Auto/Airplane etc builders could be driven out of business by the insurance companies, who could take this as an opportunity to blow manufacturers liability rates through the roof.

I really don't know which way to fall off the fence on this one. I guess it's tough to tell without 100% of the story from both sides.
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Old 03-04-2009, 05:15   #3
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Don't expect me, or anyone else, to work on your boat in Australia if this doesn't get reversed on appeal.
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Old 03-04-2009, 07:07   #4
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Having been victimized by pathetic, slip shod work in the early days of my sailing that could have cost the rig and possibly more, I have to say it's time for some accountability in this industry and business in general. There are many good industry people out there, but there are a lot of really bad ones that for too long have been able to escape liability largely without penalty. Only the rich can afford to sue someone nowadays. The rest of us just take the beating and, if lucky enough to still be physically on the planet, move on.
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Old 03-04-2009, 07:57   #5
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Don't expect me, or anyone else, to work on your boat in Australia if this doesn't get reversed on appeal.
Mate, not a good idea to be issuing threats to potential customers. You're simply scaring us off. It reads like you're afraid to stand by the quality of your work.
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Old 03-04-2009, 09:09   #6
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It's right to have people held accountable. I'm shocked the prosecutors weren't able to convict the foreman. But then again it indicates how little I know about the case.
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Old 03-04-2009, 13:13   #7
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If the facts are he was un-aware that the welds were "child like" and convicted of manslaughter, then I think this is a harsh sentence.
While building my own steel boat in a boat yard in California, I was asked by a fellow building if he could borrow my welder. An hour later he asked for help welding, which I did. His design was totally flawed and was told that by the whole yard. Of course his design failed and guess who he tried to sue for $5000...ME!!! It was thrown out of court and he re-sued. The 2nd judge ordered me to pay $100. When I asked why...he told me so he doesn't try to sue again...some justice!
I sympathize with the families but if it was not obviously intentional, why destroy another's life and his family. Yachting and especially yacht racing is a dangerous activity. You sign up and take you chances.
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Old 03-04-2009, 13:56   #8
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The way I see it from being in the construction industry there are standards of design & construction(implementation of those designs) If I build a house & it burns down due to faulty wiring I'm held responsible as well as my electrical sub.
If someone dies in that fire there could be criminal charges of manslaughter for me & the sub if it was shown that the wiring was done in a manner well outside industry norms.
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Old 03-04-2009, 13:57   #9
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I obviously know nothing about the evidence that was tendered, but it strikes me that prosecuting people criminally for knowingly producing life-threatening products is perfectly sensible - indeed, it is likely only prosecutions like this that will deter such practices in the future. Consider those at Ford Motor Company in the 1970's who refused to issue a recall on the Pinto after doing a cost/benefit analysis comparing the likely settlement costs of cases where people were killed/maimed versus the recall cost - the huge punitive damages issued against the corporation did little except punish the shareholders. Similarly, McDonnell-Douglas who failed to send out recall notices to small charter carriers concerning the faulty doors on the DC10 - leading directly to the huge punitive damages from the case in re: Paris Air Crash.

There is, however, a substantial difference between shoddy workmanship and criminal negligence, which at least in my country, requires averting your mind to the dangers and continuing nonetheless.

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Old 03-04-2009, 15:23   #10
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Originally Posted by Celestialsailor View Post
If the facts are he was un-aware that the welds were "child like" and convicted of manslaughter, then I think this is a harsh sentence. .


Manslaughter isnt a sentence. Its a conviction. Minimum sentence for Manslaughter is no jail time, so he could walk.

I personally think its a good thing builders can be accountable. It should make the bosses inspect the work they are charging out at $90 per hour. And a keel on a racing boat would have been charged premium.

I want to be able to go into a chandlery and buy safety equipment that is backed by a bosses jail time if the EPIRB was filled with chewing gum by a drunk after lunch on a friday.

The death of those 4, and the extraordinary story of the 2 survivors being run over by the cargo rescue ship is shocking......... and was unnecessary.


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Old 03-04-2009, 15:40   #11
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Why on earth would someone have cut a Stainless Steel Keel in two? The report doesn't shed any light on why they cut it in the first place..anyone know? An might not the owner questioned "Child Like" Welding on a Keel that is suppose to be smooth and one piece??

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Old 03-04-2009, 16:10   #12
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Consider those at Ford Motor Company in the 1970's who refused to issue a recall on the Pinto after doing a cost/benefit analysis comparing the likely settlement costs of cases where people were killed/maimed versus the recall cost

Brad
The Pinto stuff was media driven. The Pinto was no more prone to exploding than any other car. The films shown for all to see and judge showing the explosion were set. The car did not ignite in the example but it did have an incendiary device that was used to make sure they got the result to show you.

Sorry for the drift.
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Old 03-04-2009, 17:41   #13
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Why on earth would someone have cut a Stainless Steel Keel in two? The report doesn't shed any light on why they cut it in the first place..anyone know? An might not the owner questioned "Child Like" Welding on a Keel that is suppose to be smooth and one piece??

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Most likely for transportation. I know of another boat which had it's keel cut off for shipment back from Osaka to Australia, after a Melbourne-Osaka race. It's keel actually fell off later too, but fortunately nobody was hurt.

it's an intersting finding though. The yacht "Rising Farrster" also lost it's keel causing deaths, but IIRC although inadequate construction was blamed, no convictions resulted.

This case sets a different precedent.
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Old 03-04-2009, 20:22   #14
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Not all the builders fault
If I were spending $1m plus on a yacht for offshore racing surely you would have the boat hauled and checked before any major race.Dodgy welds [unless covered with filler] would be detected and rectified.Not saying the builder isn't to blame but the owner must share some responsibiliy.I own a boat and I know whats below me and what condition its in as would most people on this forum.Just seems too easy to find one person to blame,lock him up and everyone else stands back and points the finger. Just my opinion
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Old 04-04-2009, 02:20   #15
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Why on earth would someone have cut a Stainless Steel Keel in two? The report doesn't shed any light on why they cut it in the first place..anyone know? An might not the owner questioned "Child Like" Welding on a Keel that is suppose to be smooth and one piece??

Cheers
The available reports seem conflicting but wasn't only one side of the keel cut and re-welded to take out some woof , by an unknown employee, after-hours to hide a mistake.

Didn't the child like welding refer to the weld penetration. The resultant join was polished back.

Aren't lot of high aspect bulb keels fitted into a cassette or a case for easy removal for repairs/mods/transport etc.
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