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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 December 2007, 17:18 GMT
Q&A: Ouzo mystery

The 25-foot yacht Ouzo disappeared in August 2006 with the loss of three lives. A ferry officer was charged over the incident, accused of "turning a blind eye" and failing to raise the alarm after the Pride of Bilbao was involved in a near-miss with what was alleged to have been Ouzo. He was subsequently cleared of all charges.

WHAT DO WE KNOW HAPPENED TO THE OUZO AND HER CREW?

Rupert Saunders, 36, James Meaby, 36, and Jason Downer, 35, set sail from Bembridge, on the Isle of Wight, onboard the 25ft (7.6m) yacht Ouzo on the evening of Sunday 20 August 2006.

They were en route to take part in the annual Royal Regatta in Dartmouth.

The exact time of their departure is not known but is thought it was about 2030 BST.

At 1110 BST on Tuesday 22 August 2006 a fishing vessel found a body floating in the sea about 10 miles south of the Nab Tower, off the Isle of Wight.

An air and sea search subsequently found the bodies of Mr Saunders and Mr Downer, on the evening of Wednesday 23 August 2006, five miles south of the island.

They were all wearing lifejackets.

Post-mortem tests showed all three drowned.

Mr Meaby suffered hypothermia first, suggesting he survived for some time in the water.

DID OUZO SAIL CLOSE TO THE FERRY?

There is no doubt that P&O's Pride of Bilbao was involved in a close encounter with a yacht at about 0107 BST on 21 August 2006.

But it may never be known if it was Ouzo.

The ferry's "black box" recorder revealed a conversation between the officer of the watch, Michael Hubble, 62, and his 60-year-old lookout, David Smith, as the encounter took place.

Mr Hubble was later charged with three counts of manslaughter and engaging in conduct likely to cause death or serious injury under the Merchant Shipping Act.

However, Mr Hubble always maintained the yacht was not Ouzo and he was able to see the boat sail off in another direction.

He has since been cleared of all the charges.

WHAT MAY HAVE CAUSED OUZO'S LOSS?

This may never be known.

During the trial, Mr Hubble's defence produced data analysis from the maritime college in South Tyneside, which showed Ouzo would have crossed the path of an oil tanker.

According to the data, Crescent Beaune and Ouzo would have reached the same point at 0140 BST on 21 August 2006.

The captain of the tanker, Alistair Crichton, admitted to jurors he was not on the ship's bridge at the time and broke the law by not having a lookout on duty.

WHAT INVESTIGATIONS HAVE TAKEN PLACE?

An investigation into Ouzo's disappearance was published by the Marine Accidents Investigation Branch (MAIB), which investigates all maritime accidents but does not apportion blame, in April.

It concluded Ouzo was almost certainly affected by a collision or near-collision with a large vessel.

It also said it was of the "firm opinion" that Ouzo was the yacht involved in the close encounter with Pride of Bilbao.

The MAIB investigation looked into the possibility that Ouzo had hull failure or suffered an explosion but dismissed the theories.

The MAIB report was not presented to jurors during Mr Hubble's trial because the Merchant Shipping Act does not allow them to be used as part of any prosecution.

Mr Hubble was arrested on 20 September 2006, one month after Pride of Bilbao's close encounter with a yacht.

He has since been cleared of all the charges against him - which he always denied.

The Crown Prosecution Service said there will be no retrial and that from their point of view, the matter was now closed.

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