When a person is in charge of a group of people or appointed to be in charge, he or she had to take reasonable steps to ensure that those that are under his or her care are not exposed to an unnecessary or an unwarranted risk and a failure to do so may result in a conviction for manslaughter.
In R v Litchfield (1998) the captain of a ship who took an unsafe route and relied too heavily on his engines despite knowing that the fuel that was used to operate the engines was contaminated was convicted of manslaughter when the ship capsized off the Cornish coast and three crew members died as a result.
It is an offence to negligently endanger a ship under s. 58 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 which regulates conduct with regards to endangering ships, structures or individuals. The section reads as follows:-
58 (1) This section applies—
(a) To the master of, or any seaman employed in, a United Kingdom ship; and
(b) To the master of, or any seaman employed in, a ship which—
(i) Is registered under the law of any country outside the United Kingdom; and
(ii) Is in a port in the United Kingdom or within United Kingdom waters while proceeding to or from any such port.
(2) If a person to whom this section applies, while on board his ship or in its immediate vicinity—
(a) Does any act which causes or is likely to cause—
(i) The loss or destruction of or serious damage to his ship or its machinery, navigational equipment or safety equipment, or
(ii) The loss or destruction of or serious damage to any other ship or any structure, or
(iii) The death of or serious injury to any person, or
(b) Omits to do anything required—
(i) To preserve his ship or its machinery, navigational equipment or safety equipment from being lost, destroyed or seriously damaged, or
(ii) To preserve any person on board his ship from death or serious injury, or
(iii) To prevent his ship from causing the loss or destruction of or serious damage to any other ship or any structure, or the death of or serious injury to any person not on board his ship, and either of the conditions specified in subsection (3) below is satisfied with respect to that act or omission, he shall (subject to subsections (6) and (7) below) be guilty of an offence.
As per the act, a captain of a ship can be found guilty if he or she willfully puts his or her passengers or crew at risk or omits to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of his crew and passengers. The captain can be found guilty either by way of commission or omission.
However, whether the conduct of the captain amounts to negligence or otherwise is for a jury to decide. In this instance the captain was found guilty of gross negligence and convicted accordingly for manslaughter arising out of gross negligence or gross negligence manslaughter.