Long night for RNLI as lone yachtsman refuses assistance in shipping lanes
The volunteer crew of Eastbourne’s all-weather lifeboat (ALB) was requested to launch by HM Coastguard at 04:00 yesterday to investigate reports of a vessel travelling erratically in the shipping lanes without navigation lights and in worsening sea conditions.
The initial information received was that the vessel was last seen some 10 miles south east of Eastbourne. It was travelling on the edge of one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world without lights and against the flow of commercial marine traffic thus causing a severe hazard to navigation, says the RNLI. While the ALB was approaching the given position, an update from a passing tug was received which placed the target vessel much further out to sea and deep in the south west lane. Using radar and further information received from HM Coastguard, the vessel was finally located 15 miles offshore.
On arrival, the lifeboat crew found a 10m yacht with a broken boom, shredded headsail and trailing a 100m length of rope, barely making way in the treacherous sea conditions. Seemingly the sailor had left Le Havre intending to go to Cherbourg – which put him at least 100 miles off course.
Despite the crews most diplomatic approaches, says the RNLI, the lone French sailor refused all offers of assistance and would not allow a tow to be attached.
The sailor’s only request was that the lifeboat crew removed as much as possible of the trailing rope thus improving the yacht’s forward motion.
Ethically the lifeboat could not abandon the casualty in such a precarious position with the yacht and occupant in danger and risking other passing traffic, so in negotiation with HM Coastguard and French counterparts, it was agreed the lifeboat would stand by at least until daybreak.
Meanwhile, coastguards were issuing regular warnings to other shipping in the area. Having escorted the yacht across the SW lane, the separation zone and the NE lane, the crew were finally stood down on the edge of French territorial waters to begin the long, and by now very rough and windy return to station arriving back nine hours after the original page.
Social media commentators have been quick to thank the RNLI team but question the behaviour of the sailor, calling him selfish and rude.
One asks: ‘why do these people take such a stupid view on their situation, which, was clearly dangerous and kept you all out far longer than you needed to be?’.
Others have speculated that the sailor refused help as ‘Perhaps he thought he would have to pay as they do in France?’