Page last updated at 14:54 GMT, Friday, 9 November 2007

Sailors 'had 99% survival chance'

Pride of Bilbao
The 37,500-ton Pride of Bilbao ferry encountered a yacht

Three sailors who died when their yacht disappeared off the Isle of Wight would have had a 99% chance of survival if an alert had gone out, a court has heard.

Coastguard Mark Rodaway was speaking at the trial of Michael Hubble, who was officer of the watch on P&O's Pride of Bilbao, when it encountered a yacht.

Prosecutors claim the ferry narrowly missed or collided with the yacht Ouzo in the early hours of 21 August 2006.

Mr Hubble, 62, of Kent, denies manslaughter through gross negligence.

He also denies engaging in conduct likely to cause death or serious injury.

The trial at Winchester Crown Court has heard how the 37,500-tonne car ferry, Pride of Bilbao, had a collision or near-miss off the Isle of Wight with a yacht, which the prosecution claims was the 25ft (7.6m) Ouzo.

The three men who died - Jason Downer, Rupert Saunders and James Meaby
Left to right - Jason Downer, Rupert Saunders and James Meaby all died

The court has heard how at that time Mr Hubble and a lookout, David Smith, were the only two men on the bridge of the ferry, which was sailing from Portsmouth to Bilbao, Spain.

Mr Hubble, of Capel-le-Ferne, Folkestone, had decided not to stop after he and Mr Smith saw lights, which he believed showed the yacht had passed the ferry safely.

James Meaby and Rupert Saunders, both 36 and from Tooting, south London, and Jason Downer, 35, from Kent, all drowned when their yacht was lost.

Mr Rodaway, the rescue co-ordination centre manager at Portland Coastguard, told the court that had the Pride of Bilbao's collision or near-miss been reported, the search area was very small and could have been quickly searched by a coastguard helicopter.

Lifeboats from Bembridge, Isle of Wight, and Selsey, West Sussex, could also have been sent to search the area.

Had the incident involved the Ouzo, Mr Rodaway said he believed the three men - who were all wearing lifejackets - could have been rescued within about two hours.

The trial continues.

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