A HEADTEACHER has come out in support of a ferry firm after it was fined for carrying too many passengers and not having enough liferafts.
Geoff Oliver, the operator of the Hayling Ferry, and Frida Edwards, the owner, appeared in court this week and pleaded guilty to six charges brought against them by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for incidents in January and February.
They admitted carrying up to 27 passengers on the Tina Maria when the legal limit on the 36ft open vessel is 12. The passengers were schoolchildren and, in his defence, Mr Oliver, 59, said he was faced with a stark choice of leaving very young schoolchildren alone on an open, isolated pontoon, on a winter’s night, or taking them on the boat.
The Tina Maria had only been in service a few days and was much smaller than the 60-man Pride of Hayling boat that was being repaired.
Mayville High School, in Southsea, has 32 pupils from Hayling who rely on the ferry each day.
The school submitted a letter of support to magistrates on behalf of Mr Oliver.
Headteacher Linda Owens said: ‘Generally the Hayling Ferry staff are amazing.
‘This was a potentially dangerous situation but they do take great care of the children. And I think in this incident they were thinking of the children.’
She added: ‘I appreciate it was a wrong thing and he (Mr Oliver) was breaking the rules but it was a new boat and he was trying to safeguard the children.
‘You’re almost damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It has never happened since.’
The Tina Maria is a former troops vessel capable of carrying up to 50.
Mr Oliver, who has now been sacked, said: ‘I’m sorry, but the safety of the children was paramount. I’d done the job for three years and I loved every minute of it.
‘It was only done for the safety of the children. It was an isolated area and they were alone. If anything had happened to them after I left them I’d never forgive myself.’
He said he would do it again faced with the same situation.
All schools’ minibus drivers now wait with the children until they are safely on the ferry.
The three defendants were fined £12,340 between them.