Court convicts British ferry crew for fatal crash

A French court on Wednesday handed a manslaughter conviction to the captain and first mate of a British ferry, who chatted about US actor Halle Berry just before the vessel crashed into a fishing boat in the English Channel, killing its skipper.

Court convicts British ferry crew for fatal crash
Paul Le Romancer, (L), ex-captain of the 'Condor Vitesse', and former first mate Yves Tournon (R) in court in June. Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP

The captain and first mate of a British ferry that crashed into a fishing boat at high speed, killing its skipper, were convicted of manslaughter by a French court on Wednesday.

But the two Frenchmen were handed suspended sentences, upsetting the victim's widow who said they should have gone to jail.

The court in the Normandy town of Coutances handed former captain Paul Le Romancer, 59, an 18-month suspended sentence and first mate Yves Tournon, 48, a 12-month suspended sentence.

The court had heard that the "Condor Vitesse" catamaran, owned by Britain's Condor Ferries, had been travelling at high speed in thick fog when it crashed into the fishing boat on March 28, 2011.

Evidence from France's BEA maritime authority revealed that the captain and first mate had been distracted before the crash – discussing the Halle Berry film "Catwoman" and drugs testing – and did not pay enough attention to their radar.

Prosecutors said the pair had also deactivated the ship's anti-collision system and had not turned on its fog horn.

The collision took place in the English Channel, between the French port of Saint Malo and the island of Jersey.

The 86.6-metre (285-foot) catamaran sliced the 9.3-metre (30-foot) fishing boat in two, killing its captain Philippe Lesaulnier, a 42-year-old father of four.

The boat's two other crew members were fished out of the sea unharmed.

'This is ridiculous. It's like you can kill someone and nothing happens'

An investigation by France's BEA maritime authority noted that the captain and first mate had carried out "almost-continuous conversations unconnected with the operations of the vessel" which created "an atmosphere that was hardly compatible with the concentration needed to pilot a high-speed vessel in foggy conditions."

Transcripts of the conversation, recorded on the bridge and released in a BEA report, showed the crew chatting about films and drugs in the time leading up to the collision.

"Last night I watched Catwoman on television. I'm an idiot because after that I didn't sleep well," the captain is recorded as saying on the transcript a few minutes before the collision, referring to the 2004 film starring Berry.

The first officer replied: "Catwoman?"   

"She was jumping everywhere like a cat," the captain said. "She's bloody beautiful. She was wearing a sexy outfit."

The conversation later turned to how long certain drugs would remain present in the body and jokes about the first mate forgetting his glasses, before an alarm indicated the collision.

In tears after Wednesday's verdict was announced, the victim's widow Delphine Lesaulnier said the court's decision was unacceptable.

"This is ridiculous, it's nothing at all," she said. "It's like you can kill someone, destroy a family and nothing happens."

Prosecutors had called for Le Romancer to be sentenced to a year in prison and for Tournon to face six months.

Coutances prosecutor Renaud Gaudeul said his office had not decided yet whether to appeal the sentences but was "satisfied" that a guilty verdict had been delivered.

Condor Ferries, based on the British island of Guernsey, was not itself prosecuted.

Le Romancer and Tournon were also ordered to pay a combined €8,000 ($10,600) in damages to the fishing boat captain's widow, €3,000 ($3,990) to each of his children and €2,000 ($2,660) to each of the other two fishermen who had been on the boat at the time of the crash.

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Cross-Channel ferry trips suspended because of French strike action over Brexit

Cross-Channel ferry crossings were disrupted Friday due to strike action in French ports, with travellers on some routes advised to postpone their trips.

Cross-Channel ferry trips suspended because of French strike action over Brexit
Photo: AFP

The northern French port of Calais, a hub for cross-Channel trade and travel, was shut Thursday by striking workers who want higher pay to deal with Brexit-realted complications and coronavirus rules.

The strike began at 8am and is set to last for 24 hours.

“As the largest passenger port in continental Europe, the port of Calais is simultaneously facing the Covid-19 crisis, Brexit and the migration crisis,” the sector branch of the FO union said.

Port workers fear a drastic increase in paperwork and waiting times when Britain formally leaves the EU trading bloc later this year, especially if there is no deal on the terms of the exit.

The coronavirus crisis might also lead to a greater work load due to health checks and quarantine regulations.

In addition, the FO pointed out that a planned extension of the port next year would raise traffic by some 30 percent.

Anyone travelling by ferry to northern France on Friday was advised to check with the ferry company before heading to the port, and several services urged their customers to find alternative means of transportation or postpone their trips.

No ferries were operating, with vessels of the DFDS and P&O companies either blocked in Calais or across the Channel in the English port of Dover.


DFDS UK also advised its customers to postpone their trip if possible.


P&O Ferries suspended its services as well and advised customers to postpone their trips while trying to transfer some of them towards other providers, “this is solely dependent on there being space available,” they wrote on Twitter.