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Independent lifeboat crew operational from today

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THE first independent lifeboat crew to be set up in the British Isles in modern times is now fully operational after the Jersey Lifeboat Association announced it had been given the go-ahead by the Island’s Harbourmaster.

Safety checks aboard the Sir Max Aitken III Picture:DAVID FERGUSON. (24381188)

After over a year of work and more than £150,000 of donations, the 20-strong crew – led by former RNLI coxswain Andy Hibbs – is, as of today, ready to deploy with its vessel, the Sir Max Aitken III.

They are working from headquarters on the Albert Pier – where their vessel is berthed – and have changing facilities, a reception area and a small shop provided by Ports of Jersey.

Ben Shenton, chairman of the JLA, described it as a ‘momentous day’.

‘We set our standards high at the outset and all our volunteers have shown dedication in undertaking the required tasks and courses. We now have an experienced and competent local crew and some of the latest on-board technology. We shall endeavour to make Islanders proud of their charity,’ he said.

The charity is now looking to buy an inshore RIB, which it hopes to have ‘within a couple of months’.

However, questions marks remain over how the independent service will work alongside the RNLI – which already runs an all-weather and inshore vessel in the Island.

Mr Hibbs, who parted company by the RNLI in 2017 over comments made in an email, declared that his team were ‘the most qualified lifeboat crew in Jersey’. Following the coxswain’s departure, the rest of the St Helier crew resigned in protest and were later stood down by the RNLI. A total of 16 of the former St Helier crew are now operational with the JLA.

The coxswain added that such is the animosity among some mariners and sea-goers in Jersey towards the RNLI that he believes, in an emergency situation, some people may specifically request the JLA to respond rather than the national charity.

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He also said that had he and senior members of the JLA known the RNLI intended to carry on running the St Helier service, efforts to set up the JLA might never have materialised.

He said: ‘We were told by the RNLI when this was all kicking off that if we [the sacked RNLI crew] moved into the St Helier station and set up an independent station they would support us. It turns out they did not. Nobody in their right mind would set up a charity to compete with another charity that has cash to burn; it’s like David versus Goliath.

‘We were told by the RNLI that they would support us moving into an independent station and they have not.’

Following a meeting with Leesa Harwood, then director of community lifesaving and fundraising, Mr Hibbs told the JEP in 2017: ‘These were her words, if we go independent, the RNLI will assist us with the transition and support us in the process.’

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Asked whether there was any more clarity about how the JLA might work alongside the RNLI, and who would be called out to emergencies, Mr Hibbs said: ‘That decision relies solely with the coastguard but I don’t see why people couldn’t just ask for us or the RNLI. I think there is no doubt that lots of people would rather ask for us because of what has happened.’

Harbourmaster Bill Sadler said the coastguard would ‘continue to consider a wide range of factors when calling upon the most suitable asset(s) to respond to every incident’.

Mr Hibbs, a fisherman by trade, added: ‘It’s been a massive amount of work and training – thousands of man hours have been put in to get where we are. The amount of training we have done has been fantastic. One of the issues we had when we were with the RNLI was we did not have any training for three years.’

Jack Maguire

By Jack Maguire
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