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
to Port Stephens but the keel split and the vessel overturned, tossing all six people aboard into chilly waters.
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
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.
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.