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Dartmouth boat owners want harbour changes

SOME boat owners have lost confidence in Dartmouth harbour master Rob Giles and want to see radical changes to the way the river is run.
A petition has been set up calling for a change of harbour leadership, especially in the wake of the French trawler capsize, which campaigners say had every right to expect to be put in a safe berth after seeking shelter in Dartmouth.
It comes at the same time that Dartmouth Town Council wants answers to the trawler sinking, which some councillors believe has been hugely damaging for the town.
The council is asking the harbour master and the chairman of the harbour board Neil Hockaday to come to a meeting to explain more about what happened and how Dart Harbour is managed.
The Marine Accident Investigation Branch has launched an investigation into the grounding, capsizing and subsequent flooding of the Saint Christophe I but some town councillors would also like to see a wider independent inquiry.
Cllr Les Barnes told Dartmouth Town Council on Monday that it was not a witch hunt against the harbour master but the incident portrayed the town in a very poor light.
He said a lot of people were asking questions why the harbour master was not there on the night and why he was away when the boat was lifted out of the water.
‘I find it very sad,’ he said. ‘But I don’t think the harbour authority is doing its job. I think Dartmouth Town Council should ask for an independent inquiry into this matter.
‘It is our town and we have a responsibility to the people.’
Cllr Richard Rendle said the incident had been a ‘major disaster’ for the town.
‘Thank goodness there was no loss of life but it has not done us any good,’ he said.
He said an independent review led by Devon County Council and South Hams Council might be the way forward if people were going to be held accountable.
Cllr Francis Hawke said he would like to see more local people sitting on the harbour board.
Meanwhile, the Dart Action Revival Team, made up of leisure boat owners and berth holders, is hoping people will support its call for a clean sweep of the management on the river.
Spokesman Teddy Cranmer said around 4,000 leaflets had been distributed and the call already had ‘considerable’ support.
At the time of the trawler capsize some four weeks ago, Capt Giles said the skipper had been clearly warned of the risks of the Saint Christophe I hitting the seabed when it moored off South Embankment, and this had been acknowledged by the crew.
He said remaining secure at the berth was the responsibility of the master of the vessel.
But Mr Cranmer said the action group believed it was wrong to blame the French crew for the loss of the trawler.
‘Harbour staff do not invite visiting vessels to go to a berth but direct them accordingly,’ he said. ‘The Saint Christophe I had every right to expect the harbour staff to put them in a safe berth.
‘We are told the trawler was invited by Dart Harbour to go into the berth on the South Embank­ment, in spite of one of the lowest tides in the year and with very high barometric pressure causing the tide to drop even further.
‘As the crew of the St Christophe I spoke no English and did not know the harbour, it is unlikely they were fully aware of the danger. Questions should be asked of the harbour staff who secured the St Christophe on South Embankment. The berth can be used in neaps but vessels drawing more than six feet will ground in the springs.
The Saint Christophe I has remained partially submerged in the harbour since she and two other French trawlers sought shelter from severe storms on Wednesday, March 10.
Her late arrival, having been sent around from Brixham, in north easterly wind gusting eight in the river, was handled by Dartmouth’s deputy harbour master Nick Clarence who, in the absence of harbour master Rob Giles, made the decision to put the Saint Christophe I at a berth on South Embankment.
The Dart Action Revival Team believe Capt Giles should have been at his post in such conditions.
A spokesman for the Marine Accident Investigation Branch said: ‘We will publish a report on our findings when our investigation is complete. If any safety issues are identified, we may issue safety recommendations intended to prevent similar accidents in the future.’

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