Pretoria: 20 January 2022
South Africa’s commercial fishing subsector suffered six (6) fatalities in 2021, a figure reflecting an increase of two more deaths compared with four (4) recorded in 2020, according to a report by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA).
In the report, (Marine Information Notice [MN 01-22]) released on Wednesday, SAMSA says the deaths of the six (6) fishermen occurred in four different incidents recorded in Paternoster (1), Dassen Island (2), Strandfontein (2) and Struisbaai (1), all in the Western Cape province.
In Paternoster, a fisherman lost his life when a small commercial fishing vessel capsized after hitting a submerged rock. A second crew member survived the incident. In another incident, two fishermen lost their lives after a small commercial fishing vessel hit a submerged object, some two nautical miles West of Dassen Island. The first fisherman was lost overboard while the second crew member suffered a fatal heart attack during the incident.
In another case, two fishermen lost their lives after a small commercial fishing vessel washed ashore near Strandfontein. In the incident, one fisherman was found drowned and one other remained missing at sea. Another case involved the drowning of a fisherman after the vessel he was in, near Struisbaai, was swamped and sank.
“The South African Maritime Safety Authority notes the continuous occurrence of fatal incidents involving small commercial fishing vessels, either due to capsizing or exposure to inclement weather. Affected areas and communities will be engaged as a matter of urgency,”said the agency in a statement.
A data table of fatalities of commercial fishermen in South Africa since 1996 showed the Western Cape province region – whose maritime domain straddles three oceans, from the Atlantic Ocean, the Southern Ocean to the Indian Ocean, thereby constituting the country’s fishing mecca – has consistently suffered most fatalities (57% or 225) of the 397 recorded in the period. (1996-2021).
In fact, the table indicates that all fatalities recorded in the four years since 2018, totalling 17, involved small commercial vessels. By comparison, the second highest fatalities of commercial fishermen recorded in the period 1996-2021, totalling 137 occurred in the Eastern Cape province, with KwaZulu-Natal accounting for just 19 of the fatalities. The remainder, totalling 17 fatalities, is recorded as having occurred on the high seas, of which the first and last was recorded in 1998.
In a further breakdown, the SAMSA’s report indicates that the highest and consistent number of both vessels incidents at seas as well as resultant fatalities in the period between 2002 and 2021 involved small commercial vessels not exceeding 10 meters in length, with the exception of year 2008 when all fatalities recorded involved a vessel or vessels measuring 10-24m in length.
In terms of types of incidents leading to fatalities, SAMSA listed these as mainly involving vessels capsizing – which seemed to affect mostly vessels measuring less than 10m – fishermen falling overboard, collisions/grounding, and vessels foundered.
“The capsizing of small vessels is primarily due to four reasons: vessels at sea in unsuitable weather conditions, hauling of anchors over the side and not the bow, vessels too close to the shore, and overloading,” said SAMSA, adding that the proper counter-measure was for flotation aids to be worn at all times within the surf zone in order to reduce the number of fatalities.
According to SAMSA, the falling overboard incident category was the second largest contributor to commercial fishermen deaths, with fishermen suffering fatal accidents (getting lost at sea) while shooting or hauling fishing gear; at night when the vessel is steaming or during inclement weather.
These could be prevented, however, if all fishing vessels crews heeded necessary precautionary measures onboard vessels that include:
- flotation aids being 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 never doing so alone, especially at night; and
- always wearing vessel safety harnesses when working near or at the side of the vessel
- skippers and officers always taking into consideration the dangers of fatigue due to prolonged fishing operations and skippers and,
- crew having safety briefings.
As for groundings, according to SAMSA none should occur at all if if the watchkeeping officers and crew adhere to the principles of good seamanship and watchkeeping. The same was true of founderings. “It is vital that skippers continually monitor all methods of receiving weather reports and consider if the fishing trip is safe in the predicted weather conditions. Early consideration should be given to seeking shelter when the predicted weather may endanger the vessel,”said SAMSA.
SAMSA said in addition to reaching out to commercial fishing communities affected by fatalities in 2021, a matter of priority this year, as a matter of standard practice: “SAMSA offers trauma counselling, assistance with securing UIF, COID and insurance and the facilitation of social grants through the Welfare Office (contactable either by phone: 021 421 6170 or via email addressed to Ms Nolundi Dubase firstname.lastname@example.org).
“In addition, community and workplace seminars are offered, at no cost to the industry, on HIV/AIDS awareness and alcohol/substance abuse. Fishing operators are urged to review their Drug and Alcohol Policies and Procedures,” said SAMSA.