A SHIP'S captain who boasted he was the 'dog's badoodahs out on the Solent' said he will sue ferry company Red Funnel after he was cleared of causing a terrifying crash which left sailors fearing they would be crushed.

Capt Ian Drummond was at the helm of the 4,000-tonne ferry when it ploughed into a yacht, putting a family of sailors in 'mortal danger' as the smaller vessel dramatically tilted to one side.

Prosecutors alleged the smash could have been avoided if Capt Drummond had kept a 'proper lookout' by moving from the chair on the bridge he was keeping watch from.

But he was cleared of any wrongdoing after a judge declared he was not to blame for the crash between the 305ft Red Funnel vessel and the 32ft motor cruiser.

After the case, the 63-year-old revealed he will take legal action against the ferry company because bosses dismissed him following the collision — with an employment tribunal expected to take place next February.

Capt Drummond, of Southampton, said: "I'm just really relieved. As a Christmas present, I could not have asked for anything more.

"I have never been in this situation before. This has been hanging over my head, and my family's, for a long time. It's going to be a lovely Christmas for us now.

"I no longer work for Red Funnel, I was dismissed at the time so I am now taking them to a tribunal."

When the vessels collided, smashed glass was flung across the Phoenix yacht, hurling the four terrified sailors to the ground as it tipped about 70 degrees and almost capsized.

Capt Drummond remained completely 'unaware' the Isle of Wight-bound Red Falcon had almost crushed the yacht during its 11.7-mile journey across the Solent from Southampton.

The court heard he only learned of the crash just before his vessel — carrying 202 passengers and 79 vehicles — reached Cowes.

District Judge Anthony Callaway said sailors onboard the Phoenix had been put in 'mortal danger' and Drummond's career was in 'jeopardy' following the crash.

But he added that Peter Jackson. who owns the yacht with wife Julie, made a 'huge failing' when he did not see the oncoming ferry.

District Judge Callaway added: "Unfortunately, this was to be a journey the defendant and others are unlikely to forget and which concluded in circumstances which gave rise to this prosecution.

"It is likely, as I find, that Mr Jackson simply did not see the oncoming ferry. This was a huge failing on the part of this skipper.

"I am satisfied the defendant did keep a proper lookout at the material time in the prevailing circumstances and conditions and was not to blame for the resultant collision.

"In my judgement, to move [from the seat] is likely to have hampered certain aspects of the lookout."

During the three day trial at Southampton Magistrates' Court, Capt Drummond claimed he had no reason to leave his seat on the bridge.

He recalled an early sighting of the 'slow-moving' Phoenix after setting sail but discounted it, believing there was no risk of collision as there was 250m between the two vessels and it did not appear to be heading towards the Island.

The Phoenix later entered his blindspot — caused by modifications made to the 18m-wide Red Falcon ferry — about a minute before the crash.

Capt Drummond, who had made the round-trip about 6,000 times, said any mistake made had not been his.

When quizzed by the coastguard following the incident, Drummond said: "I don't know what to feel guilty about. I'm as good as it gets. I'm the dog's badoodahs out on the Solent."

Capt Drummond was cleared of a charge of misconduct of master likely to endanger ships, structures or individuals, and being the master responsible for the conduct of a vessel contravening the Merchant Shipping regulations on September 29 last year.

Mr Jackson has since received a caution for failing to keep a good lookout on the Solent but a prosecution was not brought as he was not a professional master.

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