More fishermen lost lives in 2016 than in whole of last year

Simon Potten'Picture: Mike Cowling
Simon Potten'Picture: Mike Cowling

Simon Potten, Head of Safety, Training & Services, reacts to the publication of the MAIB’s Annual Report and the steps Seafish are taking to tackle its tragic findings.

The publication of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch’s (MAIB) Annual Report for 2015 provides an opportunity for the fishing industry and all those actively trying to improve fishing safety to take stock of how well we are doing, he said.

The two most reliable indicators of fishing safety are the number of fishing vessels lost and, tragically, the number of fishermen lost. In 2015, 13 fishing vessels were lost, representing 0.23% of the fleet.

What is more saddening is that more fishermen have lost lives in 2016 already, than in the whole of 2015, which we revealed last month. This is unacceptable and it is vital that the industry as a whole do more to improve the safety record of the fishing industry.

Grounding (5), foundering (2) and capsize (2) were the most common causes of vessel loss in 2015, but these incidents may have been prevented with better navigation, watchkeeping, maintenance and suitable stability awareness training. Seven fishermen died in 2015. Far fewer than the number of vessels lost (which confirms that in the majority of cases when vessels are lost, the crew successfully abandons ship and is rescued), but this is still seven deaths too many.

The majority of deaths between 2005 and 2015 resulted from fishermen accidentally falling overboard or ending up in the sea after their vessel sank. We have recently run a major campaign to encourage fishermen to wear Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) while working on open decks at sea and we are now promoting Personal Locator Beacons, but these initiatives are only addressing the symptom and not the cause of these fatalities.

We have to remove the risk and stop fishermen falling over the side in the first place; not easy given the nature of this type of work.

However, keeping the crew onboard is the only guaranteed way of preventing further man overboard fatalities.

The seafood industry acknowledges their responsibility in helping the UK (and worldwide) fishing industry improve its safety record and has approved the spending of almost £3.5m of levy on safety and training in the current Seafish 3-year Corporate Plan (2015-2018).

With four dedicated teams at Seafish working to improve Fishermen’s Safety, it is one of our most important areas of work and has a simple but ambitious objective – ‘zero deaths attributed to poor working practices over a 12-month period’.

We simply cannot accept fishermen dying while working to catch the fish and shellfish that we eat. Death should not be a price that our fishermen and their families have to pay. Our multi-award winning Sea You Home Safe campaign continues to highlight the importance of fishermen wearing PFD’s when at sea on open decks.

We are also working closely with the fishing industry and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) through our membership of the Fishing Industry Safety Group to see what lessons we can learn from Alaska and Iceland – who both had a year in which no fishermen died – and we will seek to put those lessons into practice here in the UK and redouble our efforts to help owners make fishing boats a safer place to work.