On 30 July, Island Voyager – a ten-metre RIB operated by Island RIB Voyages – left St Helier bound for Sark with two crew and 12 passengers.
Due to the conditions, with forecast 1.3-metre waves and 17-knot winds from the south-south-west, the 48-year-old skipper decided to travel north of Elizabeth Castle through a section of more sheltered and calmer waters.
According to the report, the vessel was travelling at about 20 knots through St Aubin’s Bay, but as it approached Noirmont Point, the conditions worsened and the skipper adjusted the boat’s speed and course before encountering four large waves.
‘Witness reports vary, but the first wave is reported to have covered everyone with water and the next two were also significant, before the fourth wave in the pattern caused the bow to drop and Island Voyager to slam heavily,’ the report said.
‘One witness estimates the height of the first wave as three to four feet, the next pair as five to ten feet and the last as more than ten feet. Another witness reports that, as Island Voyager landed from the largest wave, the vessel was hit by a wave from the side.’
The drop caused two adult passengers – one male and one female – to land heavily into their seats with the man ‘calling out in severe pain’.
Subsequently, the skipper reduced the vessel’s speed and drove it into Portelet, before passing control to his 17-year-old crewman. He then began checking the passengers.
The skipper decided that it would be best to turn back to St Helier at low speed rather than disembark the passengers at Portelet, owing to the steep steps from the nearest road to the beach.
While passing Elizabeth Castle, the injured female passenger began hyperventilating.
The St Helier Vessel Transit Service was then informed about the situation and two ambulances were called. On arrival at the Harbour, the vessel passed through the St Helier pierheads at 10.7 knots – over double the five-knot limit – causing it to roll while berthing alongside Albert Pier.
Both casualties were taken off the RIB by paramedics – the female casualty in a wheelchair and the male patient on a stretcher.
According to the report, the woman hurt her back and showed signs of shock but was released from hospital after a short time.
However, the man suffered spinal injuries, remained in hospital for nine days and requires ongoing treatment.
In their report, they noted that it was Island RIB Voyages’ first incident of this nature and they had a good safety record.
However, they added that the passengers were given no prior guidance about how to sit or brace themselves and were not told to raise their hand if they were in difficulty.
They also noted that no assessment was made of each customer’s capacity to undertake the voyage.
The report also said that it would have been ‘prudent’ to have advised the Harbour authorities as soon as a spinal injury was suspected – irrespective of the casualties’ wishes.
But it noted that all actions taken by the skipper were in the best interests of his passengers.