Lifeboat coxswain ‘drank wine’ before hitting rock

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THE Jersey Lifeboat Association’s coxswain ‘declined’ a breathalyser test after admitting to having ‘two glasses of wine’ on the same evening that the all-weather vessel hit rocks while he was at the helm, according to a report into the incident.

However, JLA coxswain Andy Hibbs and the charity’s chair, Ben Shenton, have hit back at the report – by independent marine consultancy firm Marico Marine – which investigated the incident involving all-weather lifeboat Sir Max Aitken III off Noirmont when it went to the aid of a French yacht on 10 November.

The document, which the JEP has seen following a Freedom of Information request, states that while en route to the sailing boat – which had become entangled in fishing gear – there was confusion over the route on the chart-plotter.

According to the report, Mr Hibbs ‘became distracted’ and ‘lost his spatial awareness’ when he turned around 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,’ it said.

It also says that once the crew had returned to the Albert Pier, the delegated Harbourmaster ‘offered the coxswain a breathalyser test to rule out the possibility of alcohol as a factor’ – but that Mr Hibbs ‘declined’ the suggestion.

‘The coxswain explained that it had been a long day and he was physically exhausted. He was also travelling to France early the following morning, and would rather not wait any longer to take the test. This was duly acknowledged by the delegated Harbourmaster,’ it said.

A statement from the delegated Harbourmaster included further down in the report claims Mr Hibbs told him he’d had ‘two glasses of wine with his dinner’ and ‘confirmed that he didn’t want to take a breathalyser test’.

Speaking to the JEP, Mr Hibbs said that he’d had ‘a glass of wine’ with his dinner, but claimed Ports of Jersey staff had ‘taken over the investigation’ and that it included ‘false statements’ in a direct attempt to discredit him and the JLA crew – before the results of an inquiry into the charity’s 2017 dispute with the RNLI was released.

Addressing the comments regarding the breathalyser, he said: ‘I didn’t “decline it” – he didn’t have one [on him] and he actually said there was no legal requirement to do so.

‘We had already waited around 50 minutes for [the delegated Harbourmaster] to come down – around an hour and a half after the accident – and he said he would understand if I didn’t. It’s not law and none of the other crew were asked so I said if I didn’t have to then I was going home.’

Mr Shenton said: ‘The reason it was released under an FoI [Freedom of Information request] was because proper procedure was not followed in relation to the compiling of the report,’ adding that it was actually ‘the Coastguard’s report’ and not Marico Marine’s.

‘We have raised the alcohol issue with the States of Jersey police because Ports has no proper alcohol policy – they can choose who to breathalyse. This is a deliberate attempt to besmirch the name of one of our crew.’

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