French sailor Kevin Escoffier is facing allegations of "inappropriate behaviour" towards a woman at a party in Newport ©IMOCA

French sailor Kevin Escoffier has stepped down as skipper of Team Holcim-PRB at The Ocean Race here following allegations of "inappropriate behaviour" towards a woman.

The Ocean Race has announced that Escoffier has been withdrawn from the French team and "will not re-join the race".

An investigation is set to be launched by the French Sailing Federation (FFV) into claims of misconduct at a party in Newport, Rhode Island in the United States.

Newport was the fifth stopover in the around-the-world sailing race where the IMOCA fleet departed on May 21 before travelling 4,028 miles and arriving in Aarhus in Denmark on May 29.

FFV President Jean-Luc Denéchau has told French newspaper Le Télégramme that an investigation will be begin and a "report" will be filed to France’s Ministry of Sport.

"I confess to being surprised by the dissonance between the press release from Holcim-PRB and the message on Kevin Escoffier’s Instagram account which spoke of an alleged incident," said Denéchau.

Phil Lawrence, race director for The Ocean Race, said he had been informed that the French Sailing Federation was looking to investigate the matter ©ITG
Phil Lawrence, race director for The Ocean Race, said he had been informed that the French Sailing Federation was looking to investigate the matter ©ITG

"I have therefore made a number of phone calls which led me to believe that the alleged incident referred to by the skipper is in fact inappropriate behaviour he allegedly displayed towards a young woman at a party in Newport."

Team Holcim-PRB announced on Saturday (June 3) that Frenchman Benjamin Schwartz was joining the crew, with Escoffier "stepping away from the race for personal reasons".

Phil Lawrence, race director for The Ocean Race, told reporters at today's press conference in Aarhus that it had not received a formal complaint or report on the incident, insisting it was "primarily a matter to be dealt with by the team and the regulatory authorities for the sport of sailing".

"Our immediate concern has been with the safeguarding of any person who may have been impacted and we have, in this case, been assured by Team Holcim-PRB that safeguarding measures within their team are in place for this," said Lawrence.

"We respect the right to privacy and have offered, and continue to offer, our full support and access to any service that might be beneficial.

"As a World Sailing sanctioned major international event, there are processes in place for how The Ocean Race should handle on and off the water incidents and we have been following those procedures along with World Sailing since we learned of the incident.

"World Sailing has confirmed the French Sailing Federation is the appropriate organisation to investigate and apply sanctions (if any) in relation to this incident."

Lawrence also revealed that The Ocean Race had spoken with the FFV yesterday that "confirmed they are following their procedures to set up an investigation including sending a report to the French Ministry of Sport".

"We support this initiative and are fully cooperating with the FFV," added Lawrence.

"The Ocean Race is committed to a safe environment for everyone on and off the water and will continue its work to promote inclusion in the sport of sailing."

David Graham, chief executive of World Sailing, told insidethegames: "We are aware of allegations related to an incident at the Rhode Island stopover of The Ocean Race. 

"We are working with the relevant stakeholders to ensure this matter is being dealt with appropriately and with the seriousness it merits. 

"While we are not able to comment on the incident at this stage, behaviours of the kind alleged must not be tolerated in our sport.

"World Sailing is wholeheartedly committed to ensuring our sport is a safe and welcoming environment for all, and we will take any actions necessary to ensure we fulfil this commitment."

Team Holcim-PRB were leading The Ocean after leg three only to lose ground when dismasting during leg four.

They have slipped to second, just one point off leaders 11th Hour Racing Team with two legs remaining.

Schwartz, who has replaced Escoffier as skipper, insisted that his team was focused on continuing their mission to secure the title.

"The team has been working super hard to get back on track," said Schwartz.

"It has been exhausting for the entire team.

"The team are tired but they are all focused on the same objective which is to try to lift that trophy in Genova and that’s the only thing we are looking at."