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FOCUS: Leaked lifeboat report... "poorly researched" and "partisan"?

FOCUS: Leaked lifeboat report...

Tuesday 24 May 2022

FOCUS: Leaked lifeboat report... "poorly researched" and "partisan"?

Tuesday 24 May 2022

The public-owned body in charge of Jersey's airport and harbours has raised “serious concerns” about a report commissioned by the Chief Minister which concludes it “seems to enjoy a status unbefitting of a body which supplies crucial services."

A critical report by a leading QC, who was asked by Senator John Le Fondré to review evidence to see if a full inquiry into the 2017 lifeboat row was justified, has not given a clear recommendation as to whether one should be held or not.

Failure to engage

A significant reason for this was that Ports of Jersey, past and present ministers and the RNLI chose not to take up Sir David Calvert-Smith’s invitations to provide him with evidence. 

It is understood that this is because these individuals and organisations were unhappy with the methodology used by the lawyer, which they say offered no opportunity for review before final draft nor assurances on how their evidence would be used.

Having seen the draft report last month, Ports of Jersey have also described its findings, which were leaked over the weekend by election candidate John Baker's Jersey Action Group, as “inaccurate, poorly researched, and highly partisan”.

The lack of PoJ’s engagement clearly frustrated Sir David.

andy hibbs protest rnli lifeboats

Pictured: A public protest was held in 2017 after the coxswain of the RNLI St. Helier all-weather lifeboat, Andy Hibbs, was sacked.

In his report, he writes: “The one part of the ‘jigsaw’ of this topic which may be amenable to further investigation/inquiry with a view to making PoJ more accountable to the government and people of Jersey than it now appears to be, is the role of PoJ or its employees in influencing the conduct of the investigation into the Regional Lifesaving Manager. 

“Thus far questions to PoJ have led to the erection of a ‘wall of silence’ allegedly created not by PoJ itself, but by the Freedom of Information Law/Data Protection rules.”

"Serious concerns"

Ports of Jersey have, however, hit back in no uncertain terms, arguing they received no guarantees on how information they sent Sir David would have been used.

In a statement, it said: “Ports of Jersey has serious concerns regarding Sir David Calvert-Smith’s draft report and the process followed in its creation. 

“In our view, the draft report, like the process followed in producing it, is flawed. We, like others, were advised not to participate having not received a response to our request for assurances as to how any information supplied would be used.”

It added: “Although individual employees were asked to contribute in a personal capacity, we were never approached. We then received the draft report on 5 April 2022, and were given six days to respond. 

“We immediately wrote to the Chief Minister, copying Sir David Calvert-Smith, setting out our concerns and pointing out the numerous factual errors contained in the draft.”

“We have reviewed the draft report with our advisors and consider it inaccurate, poorly researched, and highly partisan. It gives credence to baseless conspiracy theories and provides no evidence to support the assertions contained.”

Pre-election silence from Chief Minister's office

With regards to what happens next, a Government spokesperson said: "The Chief Minister has received the preliminary report, which will inform the decision as to whether or not to proceed to a more in-depth inquiry.

"To avoid prejudicing this final decision and in-line with the pre-election guidance, no public comment will be made at this time."

During the pre-election period, sitting Ministers are not supposed to make decisions where a newly elected Minister might have a different view, providing that any delay in making a decision is not detrimental to the island’s interests or wasteful of public money. 

The original lifeboat dispute

The division over the veracity of the Calvert-Smith report is the latest chapter in a long-running and, at times, deeply emotive and personalised dispute that erupted in April 2017 with the dismissal of the coxswain of the RNLI St. Helier lifeboat by senior management within the charity, after they had launched an investigation into his conduct.

A day later, the crew followed their leader out of the door and even though coxswain Andy Hibbs was reinstated that June, the relationship never recovered and, to cut a long and complex narrative short, Mr Hibbs and his supporters set up the independent Jersey Lifeboat Association, which formed in February 2018.

The JLA now has an ex-RNLI all-weather boat and a rigid-inflatable inshore boat, mirroring the service provided by the RNLI at the Harbour.

Why has the matter erupted again now?

Two events appear to have reignited tensions over lifeboat provision in Jersey. The first was the release on Friday of a Ports-of-Jersey-commissioned report into an incident which occurred last November, when the JLA all-weather lifeboat Sir Max Aitkin III struck rocks off Noirmont while travelling at 17 knots to attend to a non-urgent emergency. 

The report – which concluded that the coxswain had become distracted while discussing the setup of an electronic chart plotter behind him – was released after a Freedom of Information request.

The second event is the forthcoming election – or more significantly – a pledge by the Chief Minister to commission a report assessing the need for a public inquiry into the dispute during this political term.

With Senator Le Fondré's term as Chief Minister coming to an end, the report landed on his desk last month. It is understood that the Council of Ministers chose not to make the Calvert-Smith findings public, but copies had been circulated to those who had made submissions.

This may had been the source of the weekend leak, which meant the report was put in the public domain just hours after the PoJ-commissioned investigation had been released. 

The Ports of Jersey-commissioned report, by Marico Marine, made a number of recommendations, including that the JLA’s bridge management team receive training and is regularly exercised; and that all its equipment is set up and fully operational before sailing. It also suggested that Ports of Jersey consider extending their Drug and Alcohol powers.

Soon after the November incident, Ports of Jersey – initially with the agreement of the JLA – “froze” the JLA’s ‘declared facility framework’, meaning that the association’s two boats could not be called out as search-and-rescue assets by the Coastguard.

This framework had been agreed by both sides, and its conditions met by the JLA in early 2018.

JLA Jersey lifeboat association ben shenton paul battrick

Pictured: Former minister Ben Shenton (left) is chairman of the Jersey Lifeboat Association.

However, this weekend, in additions to the release / leaking of the two reports, JLA Chairman Ben Shenton published an ‘Open Letter’ to Ports (and others) calling on it to “unfreeze” the Sir Max Aitken III – which is still in the UK being repaired after the November grounding – and the JLA’s inshore boat Albert Pinel.

In his letter, Mr Shenton says that an “official complaint” by the JLA made to the Council of Ministers in March was ignored.

He added: “Ports of Jersey have no powers of regulation over search and rescue assets; your job is to coordinate the available assets.

“...By not utilising our services, you are putting lives at risk, and your failure to answer correspondence and refuse to meet is disingenuous to our many volunteers as well as island supporters of our locally registered charity.”

Ports, however, argue that it is fully prepared to reinstate the ‘declared facility framework’, which the JLA has already proven it can operate within, but only once it has demonstrated that it has incorporated the recommendations made in the Marico report.

In a statement, it said: “Jersey Coastguard is committed to working with all search and rescue partners to ensure that our search and rescue community maintains the highest standards, as part of Jersey Coastguard’s responsibility in law for search and rescue activity. 

“The coordination of search and rescue activity requires that assets and their crews comply with international standards. To achieve this, an internationally-recognised framework for declaring search and rescue vessels is used by Jersey Coastguard to ensure the safety of those who volunteer and those in need at sea.

“Jersey Coastguard’s role in managing local search and rescue provision was recently assessed by the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency, on behalf of the International Maritime Organisation, the findings of which were extremely positive.”

 It seems that Jersey’s lifeboat dispute, which flared up publicly in 2017 but has it roots stretching back as far as 2010, could carry on for some time yet.


‘Leaked’ reports put lifeboat crew walkout back in the spotlight

JLA coxswain 'distracted by chart plotter before hitting rocks'

Independent investigation after JLA lifeboat hits rocks

Jersey Lifeboat Association operations "frozen" pending investigation

WATCH: JLA lifeboat damage to be assessed

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