WSC backs magistrate’s call for tougher drink boating penalties – The Royal Gazette | Bermuda News, Business, Sports, Events, & Community

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WSC backs magistrate’s call for tougher drink boating penalties

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Michael Weeks, the chairman of the Water Safety Council (File photograph)

Tougher laws to cut down on drink boating should be introduced, the head of the island’s water safety watchdog said yesterday.

Michael Weeks, the chairman of the Water Safety Council and a Progressive Labour Party MP, said that regulations on the water should be brought in line with those for the roads.

Mr Weeks was speaking after a Government ferry pilot who admitted being at the wheel of the Serenity while impaired and hitting the dock at Hamilton Ferry Terminal was fined $1000.

But Juan Wolffe, the senior magistrate, said he would have banned Ascot Lightbourne if the option had been available.

Mr Weeks, the MP for Pembroke East Central, said that punishments for impaired boating needed be brought “into the 21st century” to protect public safety.

He added that it was “scary” that a magistrate could not ban an impaired boater in the same way as a drink driver.

Mr Weeks said: “We have to ask yourselves ’what if it was a bus driver?’

“A ferry is just a bus on the water, so what would have happened if a bus driver was driving a bus full of our children in the same state, or our seniors?

“What would the public expectation be?”

He added: “It’s a scary situation and it really lights a fire underneath me to make sure that we’re going to do what we need to do as the Water Safety Council.

“It’s imperative that I bring water safety legislation into the 21st century.”

Serenity ferry (File photograph)

Lightbourne, 60, was also fined a total of $1000 for two counts of assault on police officers after he was arrested.

The court heard that Lightbourne, from St George’s, could have faced a maximum penalty of $1,000 and a year behind bars for the offence – but that his licence could not be taken away, which is automatic with drink drivers.

Mr Weeks said: “This particular case confirms that we have to look at the current legislation because driving under the influence is driving under the influence, be it on the road or in the sea.”

Marine legislation lists a $1,000 maximum fine and/or a year in jail for a first offence.

The maximum penalty is increased to a $4,000 fine and/or two years imprisonment for further convictions.

The House of Assembly last December backed tougher impaired boating laws, which included an alcohol limit of 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood for the skippers of vessels operated for “hire or reward”.

But the bill did not include a provision to ban convicted impaired boaters from putting to sea.

Magistrates’ Court heard earlier that the Serenity collided with the Hamilton terminal around 1.25pm on December 31 last year.

Another crew member took command of the ferry, which was headed to Dockyard, and Lightbourne was escorted back to the overnight dock in Hamilton where he admitted he had been drinking.

Police were called and attempted to arrest Lightbourne but he pushed police and kicked out at them as he was arrested.

The officers called for assistance and Lightbourne was subdued.

He pleaded guilty to the offences on January 4 and the case was adjourned until yesterday.

Lightbourne was suspended from the job while the case was under investigation.

He apologised to the court yesterday and said that he was dealing with personal problems at the time of the offence.

Lightbourne added: “I do recognise the severity of my actions. This was very out of character for me.

“I embarrassed myself and the department that I worked for.”

The prosecution asked for a $1,000 fine for the impaired boating offence and a fine of between $300 and $500 for each assault charge.

Mr Wolffe fined Lightbourne the maximum amount for the impaired boating offence – but added that he would have given him a harsher sentence if he could.

Mr Wolffe appealed to the Government to impose stiffer mandatory penalties for impaired boating offences.

He told Lightbourne: “This is an extremely serious offence – it’s one that not only put yourself at risk but one that put the lives and well being of unsuspecting passengers at risk.

“If my hands were not tied, legislatively speaking, I would treat you much more harshly than I am now.

“There probably should be some efforts made by the powers that be to increase the penalty for offences like this.”

Mr Wolfe added: “This is no different than a bus driver operating a bus with passengers.”

The transport ministry was asked if it had considered tougher penalties for control of a boat while impaired and if Lightbourne was still employed as a pilot.

The ministry did not respond by press time.

•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.