Report on JLA lifeboat incident had inaccuracies, says former chairman

The JLA's all-weather vessel, Sir Max Aitken II. Picture: James Jeune (38019371)

THE former chairman of the Jersey Lifeboat Association has accused authors of a report into a crash involving its all-weather vessel of attempting a “character assassination”.

And he said it had done damage to the charity’s reputation and income.

Ben Shenton, who stepped down from the role last year, was speaking at a States of Jersey Complaints Panel meeting held in the States building this week.

The hearing followed an accident in November 2021, when the Sir Max Aitken III struck rocks while on the way to help a stricken yacht.

No one was injured in the collision but the vessel was badly damaged.

Following the incident, the Coastguard – acting under Ports of Jersey as the “maritime regulator” – suspended the JLA, which was formed by a number of ex-members of the St Helier RNLI station following a dispute in 2017.

Mr Shenton, a former Senator, said the suspension was “not proportionate”.

And he told the panel that the Coastguard had no authority to suspend the organisation without the approval of a government minister, which they had not obtained.

Jersey Lifeboat Association launch press conference. Ben Shenton. Picture: JON GUEGAN. (38019368)

He also claimed that the report published afterwards contained omissions and inaccuracies, saying: “A sham report was put out in order to character-assassinate a charitable organisation dedicated to saving lives at sea.

“The report was about the Coastguard, was commissioned by the Coastguard and was published by the Coastguard. We’ve got a situation here where they were marking their own homework.”

As an example, Mr Shenton pointed out that there had been no suggestion that alcohol had played a part in the accident and no crew members had been asked to give a breath sample.

But he said: “Ports of Jersey were broadcasting that our coxswain refused to be breathalysed. They didn’t even possess a breathalyser.”

He also said the report had done damage to the charity’s reputation. “People were withholding donations while we were suspended.”

He added: “It’s been over two years since the complaint was made. It’s taken an awful lot of pushing to get here.”

Law officers are now drafting new rules about the Coastguard’s ability to investigate and publish reports, and the power to breathalyse those in control of vessels involved in serious accidents, the hearing was told.

Mr Shenton said: “I am pleased that action is being taken to close some serious deficiencies in legislation.”

Darren Scott, chief of staff at Ports of Jersey, also addressed the panel, and said relations between the authority and the charity were now cordial.

He said: “The operational relationship is better by a country mile than it’s ever been. The willingness to work in partnership is manifestly different.”

The panel will publish a report into the complaint in the near future.

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