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FOCUS: Chief Minister closes the book on long-running RNLI row

FOCUS: Chief Minister closes the book on long-running RNLI row

Friday 12 August 2022

FOCUS: Chief Minister closes the book on long-running RNLI row

Friday 12 August 2022


A long-running dispute over the provision of lifeboat cover in Jersey has reached a significant milestone with the new Chief Minister drawing a line under the matter following the official publication of a report.

From the Government’s perspective, it is time to move on, although Deputy Moore wants all agencies to work closer together, as the report recommends.

Whether it is does settle the matter is yet to be determined.

Currently, the island has two all-weather lifeboats in St. Helier Harbour, although one - the RNLI's Sir George Sullivan - is currently authorised to be called out to incidents. 

The Jersey Lifeboat Association's Sir Max Aitken III is back, having been repaired after it hit a rock last November. However, the JLA must go through an audit before the independent charity can be officially classed as a lifesaving asset by Jersey Coastguard.

The Calvert-Smith report was leaked in May, when Express covered its key findings and initial responses

After getting legal advice, Ports did not engage with it. Nor did the RNLI.

Ports was critical of the report when it leaked.

Sir David’s conclusions were that the States-owned entity “seemed to enjoy a status unbefitting a body which supplies crucial services to the public of Jersey” and the Government “could perhaps have done more to prevent the consequences of the RNLI action which left the island without all-weather lifeboat cover for significant periods and has resulted in the current situation of two such lifeboats.”

What started the dispute?

The dispute is complex and protracted but centred on the initial sacking and reinstatement of then-RNLI St. Helier coxswain Andy Hibbs by the charity in 2017.

It ultimately led to Mr Hibbs leaving the RNLI, with a significant number of crewmates following him, and setting up the Jersey Lifeboat Association in 2018. 

rnli.jpg

Pictured: The dispute has its roots in relations in and around the St. Helier RNLI Lifeboat Station.

The Calvert-Smith report highlighted some of the underlying reasons: tensions between crewmembers, tensions between RNLI managers and crew, tensions between the coxswain / crew and Ports of Jersey, and tensions around certain rescue responses, including a fatal incident in 2016.

The latest chapter of the saga is the current Government’s position on the matter. Its message is clear: it’s time to move on; it’s time to work together.

What is being said now…

Chief Minister Kristina Moore

Deputy Moore said that, from her perspective, the matter was now concluded.

“Having considered the preliminary report, and on the recommendation of Sir David Calvert-Smith QC, I have decided not to proceed to a full inquiry.

“I do not feel that a further inquiry would be a proportionate use of taxpayer’s money, nor do I feel that such an inquiry would realise sufficient further public benefit. 

“Our central priority is to ensure Jersey has a world-class search and rescue community, which ensures we meet our international obligations as a coastal state and keeps Islanders safe in our waters. 

“Ports of Jersey, as the appointed Harbour Authority, is legally responsible for search and rescue in Jersey territorial waters. 

 “Under the terms of its MoU with the Minister for Economic Development, Tourism, Sport and Culture, it is required to discharge that responsibility in accordance with international maritime law and established maritime procedures in relation to search and rescue at sea.

“What can be concluded, from this report, is that there is clearly mutual benefit in ensuring that the Government of Jersey and Arm’s Length Organisations, more generally, work together to consider the areas for improvement which have been highlighted. 

“During the election period, I made clear that trust and accountability would form a central part of any administration I led. 

“It is my intention to deliver on this approach during my term as Chief Minister.”

Report author Sir David Calvert Smith

The QC and former Jersey Court of Appeal judge sent his final report to the Chief Minister on 27 July, following a meeting with Deputy Moore that afternoon.

In a covering letter, he addressed the key issue of whether he thought a full public inquiry was needed. And his recommendation was ‘no’. 

Sir David wrote: “I would hope that the conclusions I reached as to the lack of accountability of certain parties in my report would mean that the lessons drawn from them could be learned and acted upon without the need for what would no doubt be a long drawn out and expensive inquiry. 

“It might be that with witnesses being compelled to give evidence about their actions or inactions during the period it would be possible to come to firm(er) conclusions concerning individual faults or the lack of them during the period 2016-8, but I doubt whether such a process or result would assist the island to move forward.

“Additionally, while the conclusions of such an inquiry would no doubt be considered by the RNLI, the principal ‘player’ in the events of 2017, the RNLI would be under no obligation to execute any recommendation made by it.

“And so, while of course the decision on this issue is yours, I would respectfully suggest that enough has been revealed by my inquiry and the many responses I received from witnesses to make the way forward clearer in terms of significantly increasing public accountability without the need for a another more formal inquiry.”

Former Chief Minister John Le Fondré

The recently ouster former politician, who commissioned the report in 2019, has commented on it, and stressed what he sees as five key recommendations.

The former politician, who lost his seat in June's election, said that Ports of Jersey and other ‘arm’s length organisations’ controlled by the States should come within the Freedom of Information Law; however, a direction to draft the required legislation has been made.

He also argued that there should be a Public Inquiries Law to give them and public investigations legal standing. There has already been consultation and a draft law is expected to be debated later this year.

Mr Le Fondré added that future Councils of Ministers “should take steps to ensure that the Government acts with appropriate impartiality if called to mediate in future disputes”.

John Le Fondré.jpg

Pictured: Former Chief Minister John Le Fondré, who commissioned the Calvert-Smith report, has made a number of recommendations.

Making an opaque reference to a Government decision to ask the then-Guernsey Harbourmaster to conduct a review, he said: “Sometimes it will not be sufficient in what is likely to be a small community even within the Channel Islands as a whole, to bring in someone from another Island to investigate and report. 

“Officials should expressly consider whether this is sufficiently impartial, and should also take account of who commissions a report, again from the perspective of being seen to be without bias.”

Fourthly, Mr Le Fondré called for a review of the regulations around maritime search and rescue, as set out in the law which incorporated Ports of Jersey in 2015, to “clearly demarcate the authority provided to PoJ”.

He added: “Furthermore, it may be appropriate for the responsible minister to consider the practicability of Ports of Jersey maintaining both a regulatory and operational function. 

“From the perspective of what is known as ‘segregation of duties’, I do not see how one body can perform both operational and regulatory functions. It could potentially mean that a body is in essence ‘marking its own homework’.

Lastly, Mr Le Fondré says it does “not feel right” that a report is produced in relation to a complaint about an individual and that person did not have the right to see the contents of the report and to comment on it.

He concludes: “The events detailed within [the Calvert-Smith] report are now nearly half a decade old, but I nevertheless believe it important for the Government to appraise its actions and take forward areas to improve.”

Ports of Jersey

Port of Jersey have been heavily critical of the Calvert-Smith report, raising “serious concerns” about its objectivity.

“We note the Chief Minister’s decision not to proceed to a full inquiry and we continue to work with Government in delivering our key public services for the Island community," it said in a statement.

“We remain committed to working with all the dedicated volunteers and professionals who do an outstanding job to keep the islanders and seafarers in our waters safe, helping us to ensure that Jersey fulfils its legal obligations under international maritime law. 

“We have serious concerns about the objectivity, accuracy and validity of this preliminary report and the process followed in compiling it. 

“It relies on the views of a minority of partial individuals and does not provide a full and verified picture of the breakdown in relations between the RNLI and the St Helier Lifeboat crew.

“The report’s author did not approach Ports of Jersey until the preliminary report was produced, but instead invited the Harbour Master and another Ports of Jersey staff member to participate in their personal capacities. 

“After receiving no response to questions about the process and how information would be handled, both were advised not to participate.  

“Significant improvements have been made by the search and rescue community since the Council of Ministers presented their official report to the States Assembly in 2018, and this preliminary report risks undermining the hard work and dedication of those who have helped develop a search and rescue framework of which the island can be proud.”

Jersey Lifeboat Association

The JLA has been highly critical of the Government, Ports of Jersey and RNLI and point to sections of the Calvert-Smith report which raise concerns.

Chairman Ben Shenton said: “The report highlights a ‘wall of silence’ from Ports of Jersey, and an attitude verging on the abusive. Certainly, there are serious deficiencies within an organisation making heavy losses whilst paying generous bonuses.

“The less-than-transparent attitudes of the organisation, its unwillingness to accept criticism, and its devious manner of operation should be of serious concern to all Jersey taxpayers. 

JLA Jersey lifeboat association ben shenton paul battrick

Pictured: The Jersey Lifeboat Association was set up in 2018 as a consequence of the dispute.

“For an organisation that itself needs significant oversight and control to be allowed to operate for so long without any meaningful political oversight is of a major risk to the Island.

"The Harbours and Airport are key parts of Jersey infrastructure and should be moved to the responsibility of the Infrastructure Minister. 

“Any audit of the Jersey Lifeboat Association assets must in future be carried out by independent bodies as to Coastguard is a co-ordinator, not an auditor. 

“As it currently stands, we have been told by [Harbourmaster] Bill Sadler that the JLA must undertake another comprehensive audit by him and his colleagues, and our very existence is in his hands.”

“We are independently audited by the YDSA Certifying Authority, and this should be sufficient for the Coastguard.”

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Posted by Martin on
I agree wholly with K Moore - this needs putting to bed & no more festering!

I hope the facility to leave us "without" a lifeboat again has been eradicated!
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