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Ocean rower avoids jail after crew member lost overboard in the Atlantic

Chalk was sentenced at Bristol Crown Court on Tuesday (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive) (PA Archive)
Chalk was sentenced at Bristol Crown Court on Tuesday (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive) (PA Archive)

An experienced ocean rower has been given a 12-month suspended prison sentence after a crew member was lost overboard from his vessel in the middle of the Atlantic.

Simon Chalk, 51, of Astley Burf, Stourport-on-Severn, was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work at Bristol Crown Court on Tuesday, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) said.

Michael Johnson, from Zimbabwe, was on board the rowing boat the Toby Wallace, of which Chalk is the owner and skipper, when he was washed overboard just after midnight on February 15 2016.

The crew were making a world record attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 32 days, with the incident occurring on the 16th day.

The court heard there was hardly any training for the eight-man crew attempting the challenge, there was no requirement to complete sea survival training, and there was minimal time to be acquainted with the Toby Wallace, the MCA said.

No safety briefing had been given to the crew about the vessel’s equipment, including personal floatation devices and beacons.

Chalk pleaded guilty to failing to take all reasonable measures to ensure the safe operation of his vessel.

He was charged under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 following the lengthy and complex investigation.

MCA lead investigator Jay Staff said: “At this time, the MCA is mindful of the family and friends of Michael Johnson, who have seen justice served in this tragic case.

“The MCA will continue in its work to ensure everyone going out on the water is appropriately protected and knows what to do in an emergency, to avoid incidents of this nature in the future.”