SA fishermen fatalities are avoidable with strict focus on standard safety protocols by commercial fishing vessels: SAMSA

(SAMSA File Photo)

Pretoria: 21 January 2021

The number of fatalities in South Africa’s commercial fishing subsector may have significantly reduced over the last few years – dropping to four in 2020 as was the case the year before – all thanks to active direct and indirect participation by all interested and affected parties, but even one death is one too many, according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA)

In a Marine Notice issued this week (published on the agency’s website page: Marine Notices), SAMSA highlights some of the common challenges that lead to death of fishermen during operations when safety protocols are either not observed or poorly managed.

The notice (Marine Notice 3 of 2021) indicates that a total of four fishermen in the commercial fishing sector lost their lives in 2020 during operations – two of these incidents occurring on the West Coast (two deaths occurring in Cape Town and two others occurring in Saldanha Bay).

For comparison purposes, these were second lowest fatalities in two successive years involving commercial fishermen since 2017, the last year since double-digit deaths of fishermen were last recorded in the country after 13 fishermen lost their lives – most of them (nine) having occurred in the Port Elizabeth coastal area.

Significantly, that was the second highest double-digit number of commercial fishermen fatalities in the country in a decade after fatalities had reduced substantially to single digit numbers since 2007.

SA commerical fishermen operational casualties 2000-2020. (Source: SAMSA Maritime Notice No.1 2021)

The four fatalities recorded in 2020, according to the SAMSA notice, occurred in three incidents whereby in one case, a fisherman lost his life after a small boat capsized in large swells, and in the second incident, another fisherman lost his life after, yet a small fishing vessel lost power and the crew attempted to row ashore.

Apparently, in this incident, an oar got lost and the fisherman jumped overboard to retrieve it but got separated from the boat due to strong winds. Both these incidents occurred in the west coast (Atlantic Ocean) Paternoster area. In the third final incident, two fishermen lost their lives after a small fishing vessel capsized in the surf off Rooi Els also on the West Coast.

According to SAMSA in the Marine Notice, all three incidents involved small vessels measuring less than 10 meters in length, notably, as was the case in the two previous years (2018/2019) when three and four fishermen fatalities were recorded respectively.

The Marine Notice lists four reasons for the capsizing of small vessels as ‘being at seas in unsuitable conditions’, ‘hauling of anchors over the side of the board and not the bow’, being ‘too close to the shore’ and ‘overloading’.

A tragic incident counter-measure to save lives, says SAMSA; is the regular necessary use of flotation aids within the surf zone.

With regards incidents involving the falling overboard of fishermen – and apparently the single largest category leading to deaths after the capsizing of small vessels – deaths occur when fishermen are ‘shooting or hauling fishing gear’, ‘at night when the vessel is steaming’ and ‘recently during an unfortunate incident, after abandoning the vessels in rough seas.’

(SAMSA File Photo)

“To reduce this reason for death (falling overboard), the following steps should be taken onboard:

  • flotation aids are/(must be) worn at all times on deck where the nature of the work can lead to a crew member being knocked overboard,
  • crew members that go on deck while there is no fishing operation should never be alone. Skippers are encouraged to introduce a buddy system where there are always two (2) crew members together, this is especially important at night; and
  • when working near or at the side of the vessel safety harnesses should be worn.
  • skippers and officers to take into consideration the dangers of fatigue due to prolonged fishing operations and to emphasize the importance of safety briefings.”

The agency further states: “SAMSA offers safety workshops in communities that operate small vessels. If you would like our Fishing Safety Specialist to visit your community, please contact Selwyn Bailey on 041 582 2138 or sbailey@samsa.or.za. SAMSA will engage fishing vessel operators on the substance abuse issue on board vessels as a matter of urgency.”

In addition to the notice mentioned here, SAMSA is releasing three other Marine Notices on (1) Accredited Training Institutions and Programs (2) List of approved Medical Practitioners and (3) Temporary Closure of the Naval Architecture Services Office in Durban.

With regards the latter, SAMSA states: “The Durban Naval Architect Office will temporarily close until further notice due to unforeseen circumstance. All applications for naval architect applications and requests will be processed by the Cape Town Naval Architect Office until further notice. Any applications to the Durban Office will be transferred to the Cape Town Office.”

End

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