RNLI Split: St Helier Lifeboat To Leave

14th November 2017

Credit: St Helier Lifeboat Crew Facebook

St Helier Lifeboat crew have asked to split from the RNLI and go it alone.
It follows a dispute earlier this year, which saw all 26 volunteers walkout in protest at the suspension of their skipper.
Andy Hibbs was later reinstated with a full apology, but it is clear relations have not improved.

Andy Hibbs announced his return in this photo, taken at the Fresh Fish Company in St Helier
Credit: Fresh Fish Company Facebook

In a Facebook post following a meeting with the charity last night, Mr Hibbs said the way they’ve been treated has been unacceptable and they’ve decided to step away from the RNLI to set up an independent lifeboat station.

“It is with a deep heart that myself and our entire crew have made the decision tonight to step away from the RNLI and to pursue the option of setting up an independent lifeboat in St Helier.
The way we have been treated over the last year is unacceptable, this is not just a local problem but a national one, many UK stations have been in contact saying the treatment we have received is not an isolated problem and that other stations are also going through this treatment.
Sadly we cannot go on like this any longer, it affects not only us but also all of our families, this has been going on for months and I feel we deserve a lot more respect from an organisation for whom we risk our lives, give up our evenings, weekends and our family time.
All of us will be there to save lives where possible, after all its what we do.
In the meantime we just ask for you to support us in our cause to set up a new St Helier Lifeboat.

At the end of the day we never started any of this.”

The RNLI issued the following statement:

‘After listening to the volunteers at St Helier lifeboat station, who have said they would like to explore the option of setting up an independent lifeboat station, the RNLI is now considering the best way forward.  Representatives from the RNLI will return on Friday to agree next steps.’

Leesa Harwood, RNLI Director of Community Lifesaving and Fundraising

 Channel 103 has been told no one from the organisation will be available for interview until Friday.

The letter from the St Helier lifeboat crew:

“On 6 April 2017 the crew of the St Helier Lifeboat were informed that their Coxswain had been dismissed from his role, without any detailed explanation or evidence. Given that no reason was forthcoming for this decision by the RNLI, we chose to stand down during the appeal process in protest at the way our Coxswain was being treated.
Ultimately the Coxswain’s appeal against the dismissal was upheld and he was reinstated. The Coxswain and crew received an apology from the RNLI and we were advised that false information had been provided and that the investigation should not have taken place in the first place. Furthermore, the RNLI undertook to work with the crew to rebuild the good working relationship built on trust and respect which both sides had enjoyed in the past.
At the time of the reinstatement it was agreed that a new station manager role would be set up for a 12-month period to provide assistance with paperwork and fill the ‘gap’; between St Helier and RNLI HQ.  An interim station manager was appointed who had no real interaction with the crew and because of his role within the RNLI is frequently away for weeks at a time.
Given the conduct of the person directly responsible for the miss-handling of the whole process, including the impact on a good and committed lifeboat station, the crew made it clear to the RNLI that they had lost all faith in him and went so far as to lodge an official complaint. In the meantime, several key individuals including a second coxswain and our LMA Doctor have chosen to resign from the crew as a result of the handling of this investigation and its aftermath.
On learning that the complaint has not been upheld, and the manner in which it was delivered, we feel that there has been no evidence of the proposed ‘working with the crew to rebuild the relationship’ and we are now simply being threatened with RNLI policies and procedures and told to in effect ‘do as you are told’.  This has left us in a very difficult position. 
Our view is that the RNLI chose to ‘sack’; the Coxswain. We have never been advised of the reasons for that decision and the RNLI continues to refuse to disclose details of the investigation to allow him to clear his name. The behaviour and approach of the individual who clearly got it so wrong has not been addressed in any way and we have even been told he will continue to be responsible for us and that we have to work with him.  
All the crew are volunteers and between us have over 250 loyal years of service to the RNLI. The St Helier Lifeboat Station has a proud tradition, however, given the RNLI’s apparent lack of respect for its volunteers and its unwillingness to make changes despite the undertaking to work with the crew
at the time of reinstatement, we feel the relationship in its current state is broken.
Having held initial discussions with some of the Jersey stakeholders we would now like to explore further setting up an independent lifeboat station at St Helier.  Clearly this is not something that can happen overnight and therefore we confirm that we will continue to operate with the RNLI under your policies and procedures to provide Search and Rescue for the Island of Jersey, until such time as Jersey has its own independent operational lifeboat service.
The crew of the St. Helier lifeboats.”

Jersey’s Harbourmaster Captain Bill Sadler has said he will work with any new lifeboat service to meet his legal responsibility to coordinate search and rescue operations:

“I am disappointed to hear of the break down in relations between the RNLI and the St Helier crew. We
recognise and value both the RNLI’s long track record of saving lives in Jersey and also the selfless service of its volunteer crews and we will work hard with both to ensure this continues.
The RNLI has served Jersey for over 100 years and the Island is indebted to the charity and its volunteers for saving hundreds of lives during that time. It has a proven track record, invested heavily in boat design and technology, and its training is second to none. Equally, I have a huge respect for the local volunteer crew, support staff and fundraisers.
Since becoming Harbourmaster in June 2017, I have made it a priority to strengthen relationships
between all organisations involved in search and rescue (SAR) and I’m pleased we’ve made significant
progress. As Harbourmaster, I have a legal responsibility to coordinate search-and- rescue operations in Jersey’s territorial waters and will therefore, continue to work with existing SAR partners, both volunteer and full time to give the most comprehensive provision of search and rescue coverage for the Island as we can and will look to work positively with any new proposed service.”

Ports of Jersey says there will be no further comment until after the RNLI have met the St Helier crew again on Friday.

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