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3. Regional fisheries-oriented sea safety initiatives

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). As background for the present study, descriptions of these projects are given in sections 3.1 and 3.2 below.

3.1 The 1991 FAO survey of safety at sea in Pacific islands fisheries

FAO sponsored a consultant, Mike McCoy, to undertake a survey of safety at sea issues in Pacific Island artisanal fisheries in early 1991. The project surveyed 16 countries and island territories with the objectives of determining the types and magnitude of safety problems confronting small-scale artisanal fishers in the Pacific region, to catalogue current programmes or projects which directly address this issue and to draw conclusions based on the information collected. That work represents one of the few attempts to examine fisheries-related sea safety in the Pacific islands on a regional basis.

Because the report of the survey (McCoy, 1991) still has considerable relevance to the sea safety situation today, a summary of the findings is given below.

The study indicated that most international conventions dealing with safety were found to omit vessels of the size used in artisanal fisheries in the Pacific. After visits to the countries and territories and interviewing 169 fishers and government officials, it was found that most countries do not provide for safety legislation to cover smaller boats or canoes, and officials generally believe that it would be impossible to enforce such regulations if they were introduced.

It was estimated that there were about 25 000 non-motorized and 16 000 motorized artisanal fishing vessels in the region, and that an average of one incident of distress per day comes to the attention of officials concerned with search and rescue. Because of problems of communication and the remoteness of many islands and villages, this probably underestimates the total number of actual incidents. Likewise, the known fatalities attributed to these incidents, about 60 per year, are probably far less than the actual total. It is also recognized that many of these vessels are used for a variety of purposes, and that distress is not always encountered solely during fishing activities.

Practical problems, including poor engine maintenance, limited availability of spare parts, and high cost of life-saving aids are also taken into consideration. It was found that the total of all budget allocations by the island countries for local search and rescue activities amounts to about US$100 000 yearly. However the actual cost of such activities is probably in the range of US$750 000 to US$1 000 000 per annum for the region as a whole.

Many officials in the countries surveyed believe that the public (including artisanal fishers themselves) does not recognize there to be much of a problem with safety on small boats. Many people interviewed, all of whom are associated with fisheries, safety, or search and rescue, offered a variety of suggestions on how to improve safety practices, thereby lowering the number of accidents. Professional mariners were almost unanimous in recommending increased public awareness through educational programmes and publicity as being the one means most likely to produce the desired results.

With respect to future initiatives to improve sea safety, the following thoughts were offered:

The major conclusion of the study was that education through publicity campaigns, repeated and reinforced over a long period of time and backed up by a good supply of equipment and spare parts, and training seems to offer the best chance for improving safety at sea for artisanal fishers.

3.2 Secretariat of the Pacific Community sea safety work

Regional fisheries-oriented sea safety initiatives have also been undertaken by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). That work is mostly associated with the Coastal Fisheries Programme (based in Noumea), and to a lesser extent, the Regional Maritime Programme (based in Suva).

The Fisheries Training Section of SPC's Coastal Fisheries Programme has been especially active in the areas of sea safety awareness and statutory training relating to sea safety. Some comments on the effectiveness of the awareness work are given in Section 11.2 of this report. Safety resource materials available at the Fisheries Training Section include:

The SPC sea safety logo

Other safety work of the Coastal Fisheries Programme is the safety advocacy of the masterfishers during country visits (e.g. refusing to go to sea on unsafe fishing vessels), safety recommendations in reports of the Fisheries Development Section, and articles in the SPC Fisheries Newsletter.

The SPC Regional Maritime Programme is primarily focused on shipping legislation and provision of maritime training. The programme's fisheries-oriented sea safety initiatives consist of preparation of generic legislation for "non-convention vessels", organizing meetings of the Association of Pacific Islands Maritime Training Institutions and Maritime Authorities (APIMTIMA) which occasionally cover fisheries subjects[3], production of some small vessel safety awareness material, and preparation of materials containing safety topics for statutory courses.

[3] One of the best summaries of SAR operations in Tonga is appended to an APIMTIMA report.

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