Strengthening safety at sea of fisherfolk has been clearly, and repeatedly identified in various vulnerability assessments. In order to improve the livelihoods of the coastal populations and especially the small scale fishing communities with an immediate objective of decreasing the number of accidents at sea and the effects of such accidents, it is essential to know what type of accidents are happening, how they happened, why the accidents happened and what can be done to prevent those accidents happening again. Given the acknowledged lack of an accident reporting system for the global fisheries sector, the FISH Safety Foundation has undertaken an in-depth analysis of the present situation with regards to reporting systems in the fishing industry globally.
It is noted that the lack of information on vessel losses, fatalities, injuries and ill-health statistics is a major impediment to the development of effective intervention programs aimed at improving safety in the international fishing industry. Under MARPOL and SOLAS agreements for example, a framework for accidents and casualty reporting has been established for merchant fleets under IMO, however fishing vessels and particularly small-scale vessels are not included in the reporting systems.
The following extract from a [2017 WorldMaritime University paper by Jaleel, Azmath and Grewal, Devinder, "A Perspective on Safety and Governance Issues of Fishing Vessels" (2017)]. Page 475 is worth noting.
Statistics are available only for the total loss of vessels over 500 GRT; for the millions of small and medium-sized craft there are no official records. It is apparent from all the national statistics that are available, however, that, in every case, deaths of fishers far exceed those of all other occupations in the same country.
On an international basis there is an often-quoted number of 24,000 deaths per annum in world fishing. However, there is no sound basis for this figure because there are few reports from the majority of countries. Information on losses at sea may never get beyond the level of local communities. Meanwhile, illness as a result of working as a fisher is barely recognized even at this primary level and injuries are rarely even considered worth mentioning in small-scale fishing.
This is further outlined in an earlier FAO paper [Report of the FAO/SPC Regional Expert Consultation on Sea Safety in Small Fishing Vessels Suva, Fiji, 9–13 February 2004]
The recording of data on sea accidents involving fishing vessels was recently investigated in a survey conducted by FAO in five Pacific Island countries. The survey concluded “the readily available data on sea accidents falls short in its potential in promoting sea safety”. The data that is available is often not being used for systematic performance evaluation of sea safety programmes. As a result, most countries have difficulty in quantifying sea safety problems, determining casual relations, assessing sea safety improvement strategies and developing effective sea safety awareness programmes.
In response to this lack of a formalised approach to safety data gathering for the fishing industry, The FISH Safety Foundation is now developing an accident and fatality reporting, recording and analysis system to fill the gap in information that will allow the fisheries sector stakeholders, FAO/IMO/ILO member countries and relevant partners and NGOs to actively address critical safety aspects in small-scale fisheries, and to establish a “learning” system that will continuously update the key stakeholders in government and the private sector on safety issues to address.
Information collected through the accident and fatality reporting systems will be analysed, and awareness raising, and capacity building materials and programmes can then be developed to address the causes of the accidents and help in preventing them from happening again. In this way, the number of accidents can be reduced, and the livelihoods of many fisheries households can be made safer and generally improved.
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