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1. Executive summary

1.1 The main finding

The survey

In early 2003 FAO undertook a survey of fisheries-related sea safety in the Pacific Islands region. The objective of the work was to consolidate the experience gained by selected countries in safety at sea with the view of improving ongoing and future activities in the region.

Survey coverage

The countries directly surveyed in the present study were Tuvalu, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Kiribati. Five main topics were covered: the relation of fisheries management to sea safety, safety programmes, data recording, legislation, and boatbuilding and vessel design.

Previous regional sea safety work

The major regional fisheries-oriented sea safety initiatives in the Pacific islands have been the 1991 FAO survey and the more recent work of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

Fisheries management and sea safety

The concept of including sea safety as a specific objective of fisheries management is not common in the countries covered by the survey. In several countries, safety appears to be considered when formulating management interventions, but the idea that saving lives of fishers could be one of the stated objectives of government management intervention does not occur in the five countries. To ensure that sea safety is included in fisheries management, a number of measures are suggested.

Past and on-going sea safety projects

Sea safety initiatives which have been common in the past decade in the fisheries sector include:

· Radio awareness programmes by various government agencies
· Provision of subsidized safety gear, usually sponsored by donors
· Revision of national shipping legislation to include fishing vessels
· Institutional safety courses as required by revised legislation
· Campaigns of enforcement of sea safety legislation
· Sponsorship of vessel communication upgrades
· The various components of the SPC regional safety awareness programme

Project successes

The survey findings suggest that the following are generally successful at improving safety:

· Appropriate small-vessel legislation backed up by "big stick" enforcement for urban-based commercial vessels

· Radio programmes and extension visits for remote locations

· Video for those communities with access to video facilities

· "No survey, no licence" for areas/fleet strictly controlled by licensing

· Institutional safety courses for the semi-industrial fleet

Project disappointments

The results of some initiatives are disappointing:

· The promotion of emergency sail rigs and auxiliary sail rigs in areas where there is no continuing tradition of sail use

· Providing subsidies for safety gear without a long-term subsidy strategy

· The sale of safety gear through government fishery agencies

Accident data recording

In most countries visited not much importance is attached to producing annual sea accident summaries with sufficient detail so as to be useful for sea safety programme planning. In Samoa where there is a relatively good system in place, the summary information on incidents of sea safety permits identification of accident-prone situations with respect to vessels, areas, and seasons.

Sea safety legislation

One of the major issues in national sea safety legislation is the coverage of small fishing boats. These are the vessels that are associated with most of the sea accidents in the region, but they are excluded from both the fisheries and shipping legislation in most countries.

Enforcement of sea safety legislation

Enforcement of legislation is a critically important issue in sea safety. The results of the survey suggest that for a country to be serious about improving the sea safety situation, that country must be serious about enforcing its legislation. This concept must be balanced with the reality that there are major enforcement problems in each country. There are, however, two schemes concerning enforcement that appear to work well.

Boatbuilding and vessel design

Rather than attempting to alter the evolution of vessel design in the region to improve safety, it may be more productive to "go with the flow" and promote safety features and construction standards for the types of vessels that are now popular and are likely to grow more common in the future. Safety aspects of fibreglass skiffs should not be ignored.

Political will

As a prerequisite to attracting more government attention for efforts to improve sea safety, it is recommended that additional attention be focused on keeping records of sea accidents and associated search/rescue expenses.

SPC sea safety awareness work

The success of past SPC awareness work together with the on-going requirements suggest that SPC efforts in this subject should continue with some modifications.

Regional sea safety workshop

A meeting which is attended by motivated people from several relevant disciplines, focused on challenging issues, oriented to small fishing vessels, and co-hosted by SPC could produce results having a positive effect on regional and national sea safety programmes.

Priorities for future sea safety work

Within the scope of the topics covered in the present survey, the following areas appear to deserve priority:

· sensitizing fishery managers that sea safety is a legitimate and important objective of fisheries management;

· focusing more attention on small fishing vessel safety;

· improving systems for recording/analysing sea accident data and making use of the results;

· awareness programmes;

· a regional sea safety workshop.

1.2 Summary of the national sea safety issues and lessons-learned


Issues in improving sea safety

Sea safety lessons-learned


Upgrading the recording and analysis of sea accident data; publicizing sea accident data

Modifications to the Fisheries Act and Shipping Act to allow for coverage of the type of vessels commonly involved in sea safety incidents

Formulation of a strategy which would result in offshore fishers carrying safety gear

Having offshore safety gear available is no guarantee that it will be used.

Radio programmes on sea safety in the vernacular appear to have a major impact.

Lack of recording, analysis, and publicity of sea accidents and government costs associated with these accidents, can lead to weak political will for sea safety improvements.

Convincing fishers to change their habits may take considerable effort, as judged by a man who went on two long drifts before being convinced of the need for safety gear.


The frequency and severity of sea safety problems is not widely appreciated in Tonga.

Lack of enforcement of fisheries legislation for the smaller vessels

Most fisheries officers, other government officials, and representatives of fishing companies support mandatory safety requirements, but there is considerable apathy on the part of small vessel operators

What is required to improve the safety of small fishing vessels is very different from that needed for the larger company-owned vessels.

The best safety legislation is of limited value if not enforced.

For a major improvement in safety on small boats, more is required than just programmes of awareness. Compulsory measures are needed but there does not appear to be the political will necessary to enforce such requirements.

Without a good knowledge of the magnitude of sea safety problems in terms of number of incidents, lives lost, and cost to Tonga of search and rescue, it is easy to understand the lack of enthusiasm and political will for new sea safety initiatives.


There is a large difference in safety issues between vessels based in the Apia urban area and those in remote locations

The sea safety concerns of owners are very different from those of skippers/crew

Balancing the need for safety training of vessel crew with the reality of large crew turnover

Mandatory requirements accompanied by a "big stick" approach to enforcement has worked best

The analysis of past data on sea safety incidents can be very useful for future safety programmes

There is a very big difference in attitudes between vessel owners and those that go to sea with respect to sea safety. To be effective, the penalties for non-compliance must cause substantial pain to the offending owners.

There is a need to educate skippers and crew to refuse to depart for sea on an ill-equipped vessel


Enforcement at sea of safety regulations

Realistic sea safety regulations for small fishing boats

Getting the awareness message to isolated villages

A major sea disaster may be required to generate political will to improve sea safety

Radio appears to offer the greatest opportunity for sensitizing remote village to sea safety issues, and is certainly better than dependence on non-existent distribution channels of some of the government agencies involved in sea safety

As the use of fibreglass skiffs is likely to grow in Fiji and the region, more attention should be focused on appropriate construction standards


Coverage of fishing vessels under seven metres by sea safety legislation, including provision for safety equipment, design criteria, and vessel inspection.

Subsequent enforcement of any such legislation

The need for an on-going safety awareness programme on every island

Most people who go missing are inexperienced with operation of vessels at sea.

Full-time commercial fishers in Tarawa are becoming more aware of safety at sea.

Emergency sail rigs will often be left at home if they have no other purpose than safety. If the sail can be used for sun and rain cover it will usually be carried, if the rudder and leeboard are a section of floor, they will usually be carried.

Oars or spars must be useful in the fishing operation if they are to be carried.

A small auxiliary engine will generally end up on another boat. A second engine is expensive, but because dirty fuel and running out of fuel are common, it is no guarantee of safety

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