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VOR: ‘Deeply saddened’ Volvo Ocean Race organisers supporting investigation into fatal Hong Kong cra

HONG KONG – Above is the headline in today's South China Morning Post, in follow up to their story yesterday (that we linked to here on SI), reporting the sad news of the collision between Vestas 11th Hour Racing and a fishing boat with ten crew aboard, one of whom died. Reportedly the death was the owner of the fishing vessel, a Mr Xu of mainland China not Hong Kong. Today's full SCMP story here.

The Asia bureau of the New York Times also ran a story on the accident, dateline yesterday.

Yesterday Volvo Ocean Race Media ran an interview with Race Director Phil Lawrence on their website.

Last evening, Scuttlebutt Sailing News (North America) ran a story entitled, "Volvo Ocean Race: The Blame Game." Quoting from the article, which does not have a byline and appears to deflect blame from the team to the race organization: "While it is the commercial component that brings the Volvo Ocean Race to this Asian city, Race Organizers now must deal with the consequences of this decision. With the tracker reporting Vestas was traveling at 20 knots in winds of 23 knots, this team was unable to find a clear path to the finish." The article goes on to quote a Scuttlebutt reader thus: "The death of the fisherman rests squarely on the shoulders of the Race Organizers,” contends Tim Patterson, an avid Scuttlebutt reader. “The sailors are risking their lives to do this race, there is no reason to risk the lives of others.”

Sailing Illustrated believes it is far too early to be assessing blame, especially considering the facts are still being gathered. We do mourn the loss of life, send our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends (and shipmates) of the deceased, and can only imagine how distraught and sad are all those associated with the VOR – including and especially Vestas 11th Hour Racing. Blame aside, by all accounts the team's actions in the hours after the accident were admirable.

Yesterday a source provided SI with photos and videos of the rescue mission conducted by the Government (HKG) Flying Service that sent a helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft to the accident area approx 28nm southeast of Hong Kong. We declined to publish them out of respect for the fishing vessel crew involved. While the New York Times did run one of the photos, it was not up close and personal. However, the videos are, and we were surprised and saddened to see those videos published by some sailing media.

One hears, no surprise, that Vestas has obtained maritime legal counsel in Hong Kong. We are reliably informed of the name of the prestigious law firm and, indeed, the esteemed law partner leading the effort. Less reliably, but no surprise, we hear that Team AkzoNobel is seeking redress for having been diverted by VOR Race Control to aid Vestas in the SAR efforts. There is no doubt in our minds that the jury will provide redress in terms of an adjusted finish time for AkzoNobel, correcting for the time lost as a result of their diversion. AkzoNobel did the right thing, as you would expect of such an experienced and professional team.

Questions remain as to why Dongfeng Race Team, who were behind Vestas and ahead of Akzo, did not divert. Reportedly Dongfeng offered to divert to Vestas but were advised by VOR Race Control not to do so (see the interview with VOR Race Director Phil Lawrence, link above).

We also hear from several sources, not yet officially confirmed, that Vestas will also seek redress from the jury. We do not know the basis for such a claim if one is in fact being filed, but it could be that Vestas are alleging that their finishing position was hurt by an action or omission of the race committee/organizers in setting the finish line in the famously crowded waters of HKG. Developing....

Six of the seven-boat VOR fleet at the Race Village dock in HKG. Meanwhile, Vestas 11th Hour Racing is on the hard in a marina in western Kowloon undergoing damage assessment while the authorities conduct their accident investigation. AFP photo / Vivek Prakash via the South China Morning Post.

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