Jersey's St Helier lifeboat crew are planning to set up their own independent station in the latest twist in the ongoing dispute with the RNLI.
The row blew up in April over the actions of the St Helier coxswain, Andy Hibbs. It was alleged that he had broken the RNLI's code of conduct, but after the crew walked out in support of him, he was reinstated.
The crew says it will still operate the lifeboat, while it works out how to set up an independent operation, and the action doesn't affect the RNLI lifeboat at St Catherine, which remains unaffected.
In a statement posted last night to his Facebook page, Andy Hibbs wrote: "It is with a deep heart that myself and our entire crew have made the decision tonight to step away from the RNLI and to pursue the option of setting up an independent lifeboat in St Helier. The way we have been treated over the last year is unacceptable, this is not just a local problem but a national one, many UK stations have been in contact saying the treatment we have received is not an isolated problem and that other stations are also going through this treatment."
He alleged that the St Helier crew feel they can't "go on like this any longer," and that they deserve "a lot more respect from an organisation for whom we risk our lives, give up our evenings, weekends and our family time." He concluded: "At the end of the day we never started any of this."
Pictured: Andy Hibbs was reinstated by the RNLI in June after he was sacked in April for "serious breaches of the charity"s Volunteers Code of Conduct."
Paul Battrick, a former RNLI crew member, is acting as spokesman for his former colleagues. He says while the charity promised to "undertake to work with the crew to rebuild the good working relationship built on trust and respect which both sides had enjoyed in the past," the interim station manager appointed, "had no real interaction with the crew and because of his role within the RNLI is frequently away for weeks at a time."
Furthermore, he alleged that an official complaint lodged against the person "directly responsible for the miss-handling (sic) of the whole process," wasn't upheld. "The crew made it clear to the RNLI that they had lost all faith in him and went so far as to lodge an official complaint. On learning that the complaint has not been upheld, and the manner in which it was delivered, we feel that there has been no evidence of the proposed ‘working with the crew to rebuild the relationship’ and we are now simply being threatened with RNLI policies and procedures and told to in effect ‘do as you are told’. This has left us in a very difficult position."
Pictured: Paul Battrick addressing the crown at a protest held in support of Andy Hibbs in April.
Mr Battrick said that the crew has already discussed the setting up of an independent lifeboat station with some of the Jersey stakeholders but that that it won't happen overnight. "Therefore we confirm that we will continue to operate with the RNLI under your policies and procedures to provide Search and Rescue for the Island of Jersey, until such time as Jersey has its own independent operational lifeboat service."
Leesa Harwood, Director of Community Lifesaving and Fundraising at the RNLI said: "After listening to the volunteers at St Helier lifeboat station, who have said they would like to explore the option of setting up an independent lifeboat station, the RNLI is now considering the best way forward. Representatives from the RNLI will return on Friday to agree next steps."
Jersey's Harbourmaster, Captain Bill Sadler added:
“The RNLI has served Jersey for over 100 years and the Island is indebted to the charity and its volunteers for saving hundreds of lives during that time. It has a proven track record, invested heavily in boat design and technology, and its training is second to none. Equally, I have a huge respect for the local volunteer crew, support staff and fundraisers.
"Since becoming Harbourmaster in June 2017, I have made it a priority to strengthen relationships between all organisations involved in search and rescue (SAR) and I’m pleased we’ve made significant progress. As Harbourmaster, I have a legal responsibility to coordinate search-and-rescue operations in Jersey’s territorial waters and will therefore, continue to work with existing SAR partners, both volunteer and full time to give the most comprehensive provision of search and rescue coverage for the Island as we can and will look to work positively with any new proposed service.”
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