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America's Cup regatta to go on following fatal accident

By Noel Randewich

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The America's Cup sailing regatta will go ahead, organizers said on Tuesday, following concerns about safety due to the death of a sailor in a training accident last week.

Regatta organizers said they hope within two weeks to complete an investigation of last Thursday's accident that led to the death of British champion sailor Andrew Simpson, a two-time Olympic medalist. Simpson was trapped underwater after the Artemis Racing team's 72-foot catamaran capsized and broke apart in a training run.

"The America's Cup remains on track and racing will take place this summer," Tom Ehman, vice commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, told reporters. "We have every reason to believe all four teams will be continuing."

Artemis' accident followed numerous warnings about the safety of the sleek, high-tech catamarans, called AC72s, and it marked the second time that one of the boats, estimated to cost around $8 million each, foundered amid the heavy winds and rip currents of San Francisco Bay.

Among other factors, investigators will look at the structure of Artemis' "Big Red" yacht, which Regatta Director Iain Murray said differed significantly from the catamarans of other competitors.

Teams in the America's Cup are required to stay within rules governing the design of their yachts but they also have leeway to customize their vessels with hydrofoils and other technology.

"It doesn't get up and foil like all the other AC72s. It was obviously different to all the other boats," Murray said of Artemis' catamaran. "The design and structural concept is undertaken by the teams, and the reward and risk is on the teams."

Artemis' previously suffered a damaged sail and earlier this year made modifications to the yacht after performing poorly compared to Oracle's team in San Francisco Bay.

Citing safety concerns since the accident, a German sailing federation has withdrawn its support for a German youth team competing in a regatta that uses smaller versions of the AC72s alongside the America's Cup. But Murray said the youth team members want to compete and are looking for new backers.

While Artemis and Oracle Team USA, backed by Oracle Corp chief executive and billionaire Larry Ellison, have been sailing the boats in San Francisco Bay for months, other teams are only just establishing the bases they will use as they practice and compete through the series of races that begins in July and goes into September.

In October, an Oracle Team USA catamaran flipped and was swept under the Golden Gate bridge and out to sea. No one was hurt in that accident, but the boat required millions of dollars and months to repair.

Artemis has a second yacht that it has yet to launch in San Francisco Bay. Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Challenge, the other two teams, have only one boat each, and a mishap could knock them out of the competition.

(Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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