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Ferry pilot admits being at the helm while impaired

A senior magistrate yesterday said it was “abject madness” that he could not impose a ban on a ferry pilot who was at the helm while impaired by alcohol.

Juan Wolffe said that his inability to pull the licence of Ascot Lightbourne, 60, was a “gross leniency” caused by laws “woefully deficient in these types of matters”.

He added: “I wouldn’t say it’s likely, but I’m certainly thinking about whether or not a term of imprisonment would be appropriate in these circumstances, given the seriousness of the offence.

“Obviously it works in his favour that the defendant has no previous convictions and, as it stands, this being his first offence under this Act certainly bodes well for him in terms of any sentencing.

“But I must say that it is something that is in my mind.”

Mr Wolffe was speaking after Lightbourne, from St George’s, pleaded guilty to piloting the ferry Serenity while impaired, as well as two counts of assault on police officers.

The court heard that the Serenity left its overnight berth in Hamilton Harbour around 1.26pm last Thursday with Lightbourne as skipper and crew members on board.

The ferry collided with the nearby ferry terminal as Lightbourne tried to dock and forced commuters on the floating dock to take evasive action.

The court heard the impact was severe enough to throw a crew member against a cabin door.

Lightbourne attempted to take the Serenity to Dockyard after passengers boarded.

But a crew member stepped in soon after they left the dock and took command of the ferry for the rest of the trip.

Lightbourne was escorted back to the overnight dock after the Serenity returned to Hamilton.

He admitted he had been drinking and police were called.

Magistrate Juan Wolffe heard Lightbourne attempted to answer a phone call on his mobile phone as he was interviewed by police.

An officer told him that he could not make any calls while in custody and tried to take the phone, but Lightbourne rushed at the officer and pushed him over.

Another officer attempted to handcuff Lightbourne, but he resisted and later kicked the officer in the legs as he was taken to a police car.

Lightbourne refused to get in the car and forced himself backwards, which made the officer hit his head on a nearby wall.

Police called for assistance and Lightbourne was subdued and taken to Hamilton Police Station.

Lightbourne admitted in court he had drank Chivas Regal whisky and Elephant beer in the “wee hours of the morning” on the day of the offence.

He added: “I deeply apologise to my job and for my actions.

“I want to say sorry to both officers. I allow alcohol to get the better of me.”

Karen King-Deane, for the Crown, told the court yesterday that Lightbourne could face a maximum sentence of $1,000 and a year behind bars.

But she added that a ban, mandatory for drink driving offences, was not available for impaired boating.

The House of Assembly last month backed tougher impaired boating laws last month, which included a alcohol limit of 50 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood for the skippers of vesssels operated for “hire or reward”.

But Ms King-Deane said that the legislation had not yet gone into effect.

She said that the Director of Public Prosecutions had contacted the government about the legislation and hoped that it would be in force soon.

But Mr Wolffe said this offered “little comfort for those passengers involved”.

He added: “Thank goodness a crew member stepped in.”

Mr Wolffe adjourned the case until February 15 and released Lightbourne on $2,000 bail.

He also ordered Lightbourne to undergo a social inquiry report and a drug assessment.

•It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.