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JLA: 'No Legal Or Factual Basis' To Freeze Operations

Six months after one of its vessels crashed into rocks off Noirmont, there's still no certainty on when the Jersey Lifeboat Association will start rescue operations again.

But in an open letter addressed to the chairman of the Jersey Harbour Authority John Mills, the board of the Ports of Jersey and the Economic Development Minister, the JLA says there is no legal basis to 'freeze' its operations.

Operations were frozen back in December pending a review, which Ports of Jersey said would allow the JLA to review its obligations and maintain its duty of care to help ensure safety at sea.

The results of that review have been published under the Freedom of Information Law.

It said the crash happened after the coxswain of the Sir Max Aitken III was distracted whilst the chart plotter was being set up behind him.

"At this time (10:05pm) the coxswain asked the navigator to set up a full route to obtain an accurate ETA. The navigator tried to build up a fuller route to the destination but the functionality of building a route on the chart plotter to the casualty was not given as an option which rendered him confused. The navigator therefore attempted to set the waypoints in manually and build up a route from the beginning.

During this time the coxswain became distracted and lost his spatial awareness as he turned round to discuss the situation with the navigator. It was at this point that the coxswain made two unintentional small turns to starboard that went unnoticed. The chart plotter was turned to face forward so the coxswain could observe the chart plotter, the chart plotter was set to day mode therefore the glare of the plotter further restricted the coxswain’s night vision.

It was at this point that the Sir Max Aitken III made contact and grounded on the Pierre au Poisson rocks."

Ten recommendations have been  made - which include repositioning the chart plotter in front of the coxswain and making sure all crew members understand their roles and responsibilities through a toolbox pre-departure briefing.

In response, JLA president Ben Shenton has accused the Harbour Authority of exceeding its powers, making life as difficult as possible, and putting lives at risk by not using the JLA services on offer.

"By not utilizing our services you are putting lives at risk, and your failure to answer correspondence, and refuse to meet, is disingenuous to our many honorary volunteers as well as Island supporters of our locally registered charity.

As you refuse to reply to our correspondence, as you refuse to meet, and as you refuse to reply to legal time limits, we have even employed a lawyer to endeavour to get a response. Again you fail to respond. It is clear there is no legal or factual basis to “freeze” either the Max Aitken or the Albert Pinel. We, therefore, invite you to confirm in writing the alleged “freeze” of both the Max Aitken and the Albert Pinel will be lifted such that the JLA will be used as a SAR asset with immediate effect.

Hopefully, after the next election, The Harbour Authority and Ports of Jersey may actually have some political oversight that works in the best interests of the public - rather than a culture that closes ranks, suppresses the truth, and acts without integrity or legality. The behaviour, and performance, of the Coastguard, William Sadler, demands immense scrutiny, as does the performance of Ports of Jersey."

Mr Shenton told Channel 103 in December 2021 that he expected the rescue charity to be back up and running in 'weeks, not months'.

In a statement, Ports of Jersey says it remains committed to working with the JLA to restore its status as a declared facility.

"Ports of Jersey, as the appointed Harbour Authority for Jersey, has statutory powers and duties for a range of maritime matters, including coordinating search and rescue in Jersey’s territorial waters. 

Following the grounding of the Sir Max Aitken III, one of the Jersey Lifeboat Association’s search and rescue vessels, on 10 November 2021, Ports of Jersey commissioned a report into the serious incident.

Reports covering incidents at sea are shared with the Minister for Economic Development, Tourism, Sport and Culture and published so that the broader maritime community can learn from the findings and implement any recommendations to help to avoid similar situations in future.

We remain committed to working with the Jersey Lifeboat Association to restore their status as a declared facility. An internationally-recognised framework for declaring search and rescue vessels is used to ensure the safety of those who volunteer and those in need at sea."

The current tensions have reignited the furore that led to the JLA's formation.  The independent charity was created after the RNLI closed the St Helier lifeboat station in November 2017 following a dispute with the crew.

Those volunteers went on to make up the JLA, which became officially declared in 2019, having raised hundreds of thousands of pounds in the community to purchase an All-Weather and an Inshore Lifeboat.

The JLA is demanding that a report into the circumstances of the events of 2017  by Sir David Calvert-Smith QC be published in full.

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