Prosecutor urges jail time in fatal British ferry crash

26th June 2013, Comments 0 comments

A French prosecutor called Wednesday for the captain of a British ferry that killed a man whose fishing boat was sliced in half to be sentenced to a year in prison.

Former captain Paul Le Romancer, 58, and his first mate Yves Tournon, 48, are facing charges of manslaughter, involuntarily causing injury and failing to respect maritime regulations at the trial in the Normandy town of Coutances.

An earlier investigation by France's BEA maritime authority revealed the pair discussed the actress Halle Berry and drugs testing before an alarm alerted them to a collision.

"We are dealing with a matter where the officers were busy with everything except their radar watch," said prosecutor Renaud Gaudeul, who also called for a six-month prison sentence for the first mate.

"They were talking about films, the smoke of the engines, the reliability of drug tests," he said.

Le Romancer earlier told the court that he did not think the "Condor Vitesse" catamaran, owned by Britain's Condor Ferries, was moving too fast when it crashed into the fishing boat at a speed of 70 kilometres per hour (45 miles per hour, 38 knots) in thick fog on March 28, 2011.

"Given the traffic, and the fact that we were in open sea, no, I think it (the speed) was appropriate," Le Romancer told the court.

Asked why he had not seen the smaller boat on his radar, he replied: "I don't understand why not."

The two accused are each facing maximum sentences of five years.

Prosecutors alleged they were busy chatting at the time of the accident and did not pay enough attention to their radar.

They also alleged the pair had 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.

Lesaulnier's widow was in court on Wednesday and wept discreetly as details of the accident, which two of the fishing boat's crew survived, were recounted.

The BEA investigation concluded that the captain and first mate had carried out "almost-continuous conversations unconnected with the operations of the vessel" in the run-up to the collision.

Transcripts of conversations on the bridge revealed the two men discussed Halle Berry's performance and body-hugging outfits in the 2004 film "Catwoman", drugs testing and the first mate forgetting his glasses before an alarm alerted them to the collision.

Condor Ferries, based on the British island of Guernsey, has not been prosecuted.

© 2013 AFP

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