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.”

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SAMSA firmly puts foot down on SA fishermen safety law compliance: PE fishing firm forced to toe the line!

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File Photo: Fishing vessels berthed at the port of Port Elizabeth

Pretoria: 24 September 2018

Ensuring maximum safety for fishermen crews in South Africa’s commercial fishing sector should be a matter of common sense both from a basic human and business perspective.

cropped-samsa-master-logoThis is particularly so for employers in the sector in view of the stark fact that owners as well as skippers of fishing vessels that flout legislation for the protection of fishermen can face both jail terms of a minimum one year, as well as a fine of up to R40 000 per incident when found in contravention.

This is according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) at the weekend following an incident in Port Elizabeth a few days earlier during which a fishing vessel was prohibited to sail after the owners and skipper were established to have contravened sections of the Maritime Occupational Safety Regulations (MOS Regs) 1994.

The contravention concerned, in particular, Regulation 4 of the MOS Regs (1994) relating to compulsory provision of safety equipment and facilities by employers to fishermen whilst at sea.

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File Photo: In the foreground to the left, a fisherman working on fishing equipment at the port of Port Elizabeth

A SAMSA report last week indicated that an ad hoc inspection of the Fv Silver Explorer, managed by Talhado Fishing Enterprises on behalf of M B Fishing Ventures, berthed at the port of Port Elizabeth had found that the vessel’s crew had to personally pay for some of their required safety clothing, which were ‘oilskin pants, trousers and gumboots’.

The report states: “During an ad hoc inspection on the Fv Silver Explorer (on Wednesday morning) everything was found to be in order except that the crew was still paying for their Oilskin pants and oilskin trousers, as well as their gumboots.

“These items are part of their protective clothing as per Maritime Occupational Safety Regulations, 1994, Reg 4 which is for the (vessel) Owners Account. Corrective action was to prohibit the vessel from sailing until the matter was addressed in terms of regulations and proof thereof forwarded to SAMSA.”

SAMSA says that afternoon, Talhado Fishing Enterprises responded with a written commitment to rectify the situation by supplying the involved clothing items at its own expense going forward.

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File Photo: A SAMSA official chatting to fishermen in Mossel Bay

In the written response, among other things, the fishing vessel’s shore skipper, Mr Robert Mentzel said: “This letter serves to confirm that Talhado Fishing Enteprises will cover the cost of protective clothing; 1 x Oilskin jacket, 1 oilskin pants, 1 x gumboots, 2 pairs of socks….from the opening of November 2018

“Initially, the skipper will hand out the PPE on sailing day open season and the crew will hand over the PPE to the skipper on docking day. A register will be kept on board by the skipper to control this.”

After receipt of the commitment, SAMSA lifted the sailing prohibition and allowed the vessel a free run.

However, SAMSA described the outcome of the case, where the company committed to self-finance protective clothing for its fishermen crew, in according with law, as a major milestone in the promotion of and monitoring of compliance with law by the commercial fishing sector with regards to fishermen safety.

In fact, SAMSA said, the Wednesday incident occurred just a one other fishing company, also in Port Elizabeth, had embraced the legal requirement to supply its fishermen crew with personal protective equipment at the fishing vessel owner’s cost.

SAMSA reported that “the company manages 15 vessels with crews of between 20 and 25 persons at R1200,00 per annum per person- which means over 330 crews with a total saving back in their pockets of over R400 000  per year.”

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File Photo: Bags full of ice used for storage of fish in fishing in South Africa’s commercial fishing vessels

According to SAMSA, all licensed fishing companies in South Africa are aware of the MOS Regulations.1994, yet violation remains prevalent in a sector where no less than 3000 fishermen – in the southern region of the country at least – remain exposed to industry practices that leave them financing certain items of their workplace Personal Protective Clothing/Equipment (PPE) contrary to provisions of the law.

In the process, what earnings fishermen made during their employment were significantly reduced, with massive negative impacts to their social lives.

A victory for SA fishermen!

“This is a victory for the fishermen as it will result in a saving for each and every fisherman, with money back in their accounts,” said SAMSA, further noting that enforcement will continue to ensure that all companies adhere to the regulations and that where they are found to have failed, it is made sure that they are “dealt with in accordance with the regulations.”

 

Regular consultations and information sharing continues with the sector about the issues, the latest meeting having taken place in Cape Town in July this year.

According to SAMSA, South Africa as a Member State of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and with close relations with the International Labour Organization (ILO), is not only committed to ensuring compliance with own legislation but also with ensuring implementation of various other international related instruments including the ILO’s Working in Fishing Convention 188 (2007) relating to the promotion of fishermen and fishing vessels safety and working conditions.

 

In fact, the country has been praised globally for its leading role in the promotion of fishermen and fishing vessels’ safety the world over, particularly in the last 13 years and during which period accidents and deaths have reduced in South Africa from double to single digits per annum.

The ILO in particular recently heaped praised on South Africa, but SAMSA in particular for its contribution to the development of the implementation of Convention 188 and which was historically implemented in this country for the first time in December 2017.

South Africa has also been a major contributor to the IMO’s ‘Cape Town Agreement’ On the Implementation of the Provisions of Torremolinos Protocol of 1993 relating to the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1977.

SAMSA PromoGif

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