Ministers ‘against driving out RNLI’

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The letter, which was released following a freedom of information request, also states that during discussions with Chief Minister Ian Gorst, the independent lifeboat crew ‘alluded to a wider ambition’ of completely replacing the RNLI in Jersey.

Senator Gorst told the crew that the States would support the creation of an additional search and rescue asset for the Island but added that it was on the understanding it was not a replacement service nor in competition with the existing one.

The Jersey Independent Lifeboat Association, made up of former members of the St Helier RNLI station who broke away from the charity following a breakdown in relations, formed earlier this year.

A States report commissioned following a tumultuous year between the former St Helier crew members and the RNLI found that the UK-based organisation had failed to manage the station properly for years and should never have investigated an informal complaint about coxswain Andy Hibbs which ultimately triggered the breakdown in the relationship between the charity and the local crew.

Mr Hibbs, meanwhile, was described as a leader with too much power, which led to a ‘toxic culture’ and ‘selective cult’ where crew members would not challenge his decision-making because of a fear of reprisals, according to the report, which was compiled by Guernsey Harbourmaster Captain Chad Murray.

A separate FoI states that the cost of the report is expected to be in the region of £600 and will only cover Captain Murray’s out-of-pocket expenses for flights, accommodation and meals.

In his letter to the independent crew dated 18 February, Senator Gorst says: ‘In June 2017 (and in an attempt to resolve matters and make a fresh start) the RNLI apologised, the coxswain was reinstated and all parties (government, the RNLI management, Ports of Jersey and the crew) accepted that matters could have been handled better by ALL.

‘It was agreed to move forward in the interests of saving lives at sea. Additionally, the crew all agreed to sign the RNLI Code of Conduct for Volunteers.

‘What is now clear is that looking forward constructively was not possible for the former crew, as almost immediately a complaint was made relating to previous conduct.’

Mr Gorst stressed in his letter that any additional lifesaving asset would have to ‘work collaboratively alongside’ existing services operated by the RNLI and the Fire and Rescue Service and also made reference to a meeting he and Environment Minister Steve Luce had had with ‘a number of people’ supportive of an independent lifeboat crew.

‘The former coxswain alluded to a wider ambition to replace the RNLI in Jersey not only St Helier but St Catherine’s, the Beach Lifeguard Service and constructing a training facility for search and rescue activity,’ the letter said.

The letter concludes: ‘To be absolutely clear, we are not supportive of removing the RNLI from St Helier, or any other part of the Island as there is no justification for doing so.

‘In point of fact, to suggest doing so risks severely weakening Jersey’s SAR capacity and therefore our ability to meet our international commitments as a coastal state.

‘The RNLI have clearly demonstrated their commitment to Jersey throughout the recent crewing issues and that commitment is welcomed by us as part of our responsibility for keeping people safe at sea around our shores.’

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