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One dead as accident mars fourth leg of Volvo Ocean Race

Elizabeth BROOMHALL
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All Vestas crew members were safe but the boat was damaged

A collision between a mainland Chinese fishing boat and the American-Danish team's yacht during the fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race left one man dead, police said Saturday, overshadowing a historic victory for the Hong Kong team as the city hosted the race for the first time.

Local group Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag triumphed despite some significant setbacks in the gruelling 5,800 nautical mile stage from Melbourne, Australia, closely followed by China's Dongfeng Race Team in second place.

But the finish was bittersweet for crew members as news rolled in about the accident involving American-Danish team Vestas 11th Hour Racing.

Hong Kong police told AFP that one man from the fishing boat had died after being airlifted to hospital while nine others were rescued from the sea.

In a statement organisers confirmed the death and said the incident happened about 30 miles from the finish, outside of Hong Kong waters at around 1:23 am Saturday.

"The Volvo Ocean Race is deeply saddened to inform that the collision between Vestas 11th Hour Racing, a team competing in the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18, and a fishing vessel has resulted in a fatality of a crew member of the fishing vessel," it said.

"We offer our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the deceased.... All involved organisations are co-operating with the authorities and are fully supporting the ongoing investigation."

All Vestas crew members were safe, the statement said, but the boat was damaged in the collision which tore a hole in its side, and the incident forced the team to officially retire from the fourth leg.

The fishing boat sank following the accident.

The Dongfeng team's website said the Vestas was in second place and being chased by Dongfeng when the collision occurred.

French skipper Charles Caudrelier had offered help to his Vestas counterpart Mark Towill but was told none was required, it said.

"Our first thought is that this is terrible news. We are of course very sad to hear it and very concerned about the fishing boat and await further news on that," Caudrelier was quoted as saying minutes after finishing.

"It is always very dangerous when sailing in these fishing areas when there are so many boats and some have no lights."

- Tough passage -

The seven boats had embarked on the fourth leg in early January, heading north up the east coast of Australia with the navigational challenge of dodging numerous islands.

Scallywag, skippered by Australian David Witt, led the flotilla into their home port at around 0145 am local time, crossing the line in 17 days, 14 hours, 30 minutes and 42 seconds.

A tough passage and time spent recovering a man overboard had challenged the team but Witt said they stuck to a plan to claw their way into the lead.

"I was really impressed by the way we operated over the past couple of days," he was quoted as saying on the race website.

"We had a pretty big lead and then through no fault of our own, about two-thirds of it got taken away. But we stuck to our guns, did what we thought was right and it’s worked out."

Dongfeng arrived just hours later to clinch the runner-up spot, with Caudrelier noting it was great news for Asian sailing.

Dutch group Team AkzoNobel came in third place while Spain's MAPFRE finished fourth, followed by Team Brunel and Turn The Tide On The Plastic.

The 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race is the longest in the competition's 44-year history, stretching over eight months and 45,000 nautical miles around the globe ending in The Hague in the Netherlands in late June.