Paris tourist boat skipper sentenced in fatal crash

The skipper of a Bateaux Mouches tourist boat that was involved in a fatal crash on the River Seine was sentenced by a French court on Tuesday.

Paris tourist boat skipper sentenced in fatal crash
A Bateaux Mouches tourist boat on the river Seine, thhe scene of a fatal crash in 2008. Photo: AFP

A French court on Tuesday handed down a three-year suspended prison sentence to the skipper of a Bateaux Mouches tourist boat that crashed into a smaller vessel on the River Seine in 2008, killing one man and a young boy.

The court also awarded €790,000 ($887,000) to the victims and their families and banned the vessel's skipper Florent Bonnin, 47, from holding a boating licence for three years.

Bonnin's 60-metre-long (196-foot) tourist vessel slammed into a smaller pleasure craft, sending it crashing into the pillar of a bridge over the Seine.

Bonnin was found guilty of manslaughter and unintentional injury in connection with the crash that happened within sight of Notre Dame cathedral.

The smaller boat, which had 12 people aboard, sank almost immediately after the collision. A 45-year-old man at the helm and a six-year-old boy were trapped underwater and died.

Olivier Travert, the father of the boy killed in the crash, said he felt justice had been done, adding the case served as a lesson.

“The Seine is a motorway where there are rules to follow. Just because you transport thousands of people doesn't mean the Seine belongs to you,” Travert said.

“Those of us with our own boats are allowed to sail too,” he added. 

The other 10 people on board — five adults and five children, all of them French — were plucked from the water immediately after the boat sank.

The court explained Bonnin was responsible for the crash because he was speeding, did not keep safe distance and was at the wheel under the influence of marijuana.

Victims of the crash and their families had sought more than 1.7 million euros from Bateaux-Mouches as well as European Armament and Charter (EAA), the company managing the boat crews.

The court on Tuesday ordered both companies as well as Bonnin to pay the €790,000 to the victims and their families.

Lawyers for the pilot and companies said they would consider an appeal.

Experts who testified in the case said the crash was at least partly due to the length of the Bateaux-Mouches boat, but also Bonnin's fatigue.

The skipper had worked 13 hours with one break, making the company's scheduling partly responsible for the crash, according to one expert heard by the court.

Lawyer Aurelie Cerceau, who represented the father of the boy killed in the crash, said the court's ruling had provided a measure of closure.

“The court has made things right. The skipper is guilty. The companies have been held responsible and my client can finally see his son rest in peace,” she said.

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Tourism minister: Book your French ski holiday now

France’s ski resorts will be open for business this winter, tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne has promised - but no decision has yet been taken on whether a health pass will be required to use ski lifts.

Skiers at a French Alpine resort
Photo: Philippe Desmazes / AFP

“This winter, it’s open, the resorts are open,” Lemoyne told France 2’s 4 Vérités programme.

“Compared to last year, we have the vaccine,” he said, adding that he would “invite those who have not yet done so to [book], because … there will soon be no more room.”

And he promised an answer ‘in the next few days’ to the question of whether health passes would be required for winter holidaymakers to use ski lifts. “Discussions are underway with the professionals,” he said.

The stakes are high: the closure of ski lifts last winter cost manufacturers and ski shops nearly a billion euros. 

This year ski lifts will remain open, but a health pass may be necessary to access them. The health pass is already compulsory for après ski activities such as visits to bars, cafés and restaurants.

COMPARE The Covid rules in place at ski resorts around Europe

Many town halls and communities which depend on winter sports have found it difficult or impossible to make ends meet.

“It’s time for the French mountains to revive,” Lemoyne said, pointing to the fact that the government has provided “more than €6 billion” in aid to the sector.

Winter tourism professionals, however, have said that they are struggling to recruit for the winter season.

“Restaurant and bars are very affected,” by the recruitment crisis, one expert told Franceinfo, blaming a lack of urgency from authorities towards the winter holiday industry.

“We are all asking ourselves what we should do tomorrow to find full employment in the resort,” the expert added.

Post-Brexit visa and work permit rules mean that ski businesses have found it difficult to recruit Brits for short-term, seasonal positions.