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10. Features of the country sea safety information

The sea safety surveys in the five countries covered in the present study yielded a large amount of information on the five main topics covered: the relation of fisheries management to sea safety, safety programmes, data recording, legislation, and boatbuilding and vessel design. When each of these topics is viewed across the five countries, some interesting patterns emerge. These features and some associated considerations are covered in the sections below.

10.1 The relation of fisheries management to sea safety

The concept of including sea safety as a specific objective of fisheries management is not common in the countries of 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.

There are several reasons for this. In some countries there is the view that the primary objectives of fisheries management are limited to biological and economic issues. This belief is shown in the tuna management plan of one country, which states that the plan "discusses options for the management of the tuna fishery and makes recommendations intended to enhance its sustainability and profitability. Infrastructure, safety issues, catch handling, and training for the industry are addressed in separate documents...."

An associated issue is the imprecise "fuzziness" of term "fisheries management". Many fishery officials in the Pacific Islands region tend to equate fisheries management with "administration of fisheries". The concept that fisheries management is to be oriented to attaining specific objectives is not always practiced. In this situation, the potentially beneficial relationship between fisheries management and safety can easily be overlooked.

Another reason why the link between fisheries management and sea safety is not strong is the nature of the fisheries legislation in some countries. The fisheries laws of several countries are restricted to (as stated in one country's law) "regulating matters relating to the conservation, protection and maintenance of a stock of fish". Put more crudely, the fisheries laws of some countries are more about the safety of fish than the safety of fishers.

An important point is that during the course of the present study, there appeared to be little objection on the part of government fisheries officials to including safety in fisheries management. On the contrary, several fisheries managers were enthusiastic about the idea when discussed.

There is also another reason for associating sea safety with fisheries management. In the future, as the fisheries of Pacific Island countries become more fully exploited, it is likely that the functions of the government fisheries agencies of the region will evolve so that there is greater emphasis on management, while the development functions are reduced. This being the case, it is important to ensure that safety be considered as an objective of management so it gains more attention, rather than being reduced along with development-oriented activities.

To ensure that sea safety is included in fisheries management, a number of measures should be considered:

10.2 Safety programmes

The common types of initiatives in fisheries-oriented sea safety in the Pacific islands in the past decade have been:

These various programmes have ranged from discrete donor projects to regulatory functions of government agencies. The actual measures being promoted by the programmes can be very different; they are largely oriented to the prevention of accidents, but also include self-help when in distress, and search/rescue efficiency.

Some observations on the major programmes are:

There are several different dichotomies to fisheries sea safety programmes, with the main ones being (a) small craft versus semi-industrial vessels (mainly tuna longliners), and (b) urban-based vessels and those from remote areas. Accordingly, the three main targets for domestic safety at sea work could be thought of as:



Local longliners



Small vessels



Appropriate safety-improvement initiatives can be very different for the three target categories. This applies to the value of safety legislation for improving safety, the type of awareness campaign needed, and striking the correct balance between legislation and awareness. Some shipping-oriented sea safety programmes in the past has often not been very sensitive to category 2 and especially category 3. The applicability of fisheries-oriented sea safety programmes from other regions of the world and from developed countries in the Pacific to category 3 has been a problem (e.g. the linking of safety to non-existent requirements for a licence). In this regard, several considerations are important:

One of major lessons-learned in sea safety programmes is that it is very difficult to determine their effectiveness. The SPC is especially sensitive to this problem. The present study used perceptions of fishers, fleet operators, and government officials in the five countries visited to gain insight on the value of the various initiatives. To learn about the effectiveness of those programmes that involved awareness raising, efforts were made to collect information on the basic prerequisite: if the target audience is "aware of the awareness programme". It also should be noted that there may be major differences between countries in regard to effectiveness of programmes; what works well in a relatively affluent high island country, may not be effective for an equatorial atoll least-developed country.

Despite the difficulty in assessing effectiveness, some observations and comments can be made. In general, the survey findings in the five countries suggest that the following are generally successful:

Although other types of safety programmes could easily be successful (e.g. promotion of vessel communication systems), it was not possible to gain insight into their effectiveness during the short period of the survey.

In general, there is some sentiment on the part of officials and industry participants in Samoa, Fiji, and Kiribati that small-scale fishers are either more conscious of sea safety issues and/or are carrying more safety gear than in the past. Individuals in those countries tended to believe that continual awareness programmes are responsible, or at least contribute to the success. Any improvement in Tonga and Tuvalu was less evident in the present study.

The results of some initiatives appear disappointing:

SPC sea safety programmes and consideration on their effectiveness are discussed in a separate section below. Thoughts on important areas for future interventions are given in the conclusions to this report.

10.3 Data recording

The recording of data on sea safety incidents was a topic investigated in each of the five countries visited during the survey. An examination of the various procedures allows the following observations:

As a result of these difficulties, for most of the countries in the survey the readily available data on sea accidents falls short of its potential in promoting sea safety. That is, focusing future safety programmes, generating political will for measures to prevent accidents (e.g. awareness of lives lost or money spent on SAR), and judging the effectiveness of past sea safety programmes.

Value of data for focusing safety projects seems to be underestimated in many countries. 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. This is consistent with the observation in a global study on fisheries sea safety (Peturdottir et al. 2001) that stated "collecting data on accidents is important for the planning and prioritisation of preventative measures".

There is much room for improvement of data collection and analysis. For those countries which do not summarize annual data into a useful form, it may be possible to generate interest in doing so by examples from other countries with functional systems. For those countries that presently produce annual summaries, the utility of the data for the purpose of sea safety could be improved by adding additional details to the summaries: type/size vessel, owner, base of vessel, cause of incident, cost of SAR.

As most countries of the Pacific Islands region have Australian-funded Maritime Surveillance Advisers, they could play an important role in promoting the above improvements in data collection and analysis.

10.4 Legislation

Information on the sea safety requirements in both the national fisheries legislation and the shipping legislation is given in the country sections of this report.

On the regional level, SPC's Regional Maritime Programme has developed a number of generic shipping regulations for the region which can be tailored to an individual country's unique needs. They propose doing the same for fishing vessels. According to the staff of the Maritime Programme, it will be quite some time before this initiative occurs.

One of the major outstanding 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 as shown in the following table:


Safety aspects of fisheries legislation

Safety aspects of shipping legislation


Does not cover vessels under seven metres

Does not cover fishing vessels


Does not cover fishing vessels under six metres[15]; requirements for fishing vessels over six metres usually enforced for only company vessels

Does not cover fishing vessels under

8 metres


Covers all commercial vessels; requires safety certificate under shipping legislation

The Shipping (Small Vessels) Regulations 1999 cover all vessels that are less than 15 metres in length


Does not cover sea safety

Fiji Small Craft Code covers all commercial vessels under ten metres, but is inappropriate for small fishing vessels


Does not apply to vessels under seven metres

Does not apply to fishing vessels

In the survey of the five countries, only one country was found to have appropriate safety legislation for small craft, while other countries either excluded small fishing vessels or had inappropriate rules. Applying the lessons of the past, any formulation of mandatory sea safety requirements for small fishing vessels should:

To accommodate the above, some form of multi-disciplinary regional meeting may prove useful. Such a gathering could use the collective experience of individuals from fields as law, fishing, and naval architecture to suggest to national authorities appropriate regulatory measures for small fishing vessels.

Enforcement of legislation is a critically important issue in sea safety. The results of this 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, however, must be balanced with the reality that there are major enforcement problems. Two countries in the survey have few enforcement problems, simply because there are virtually no safety regulations applicable to the vast majority of their fishing fleet. The enforcement problems in the other three countries of the survey show great inter-country differences. The one common problem appears to be the difficulty of enforcement in remote areas. This problem is likely to be even greater in some of the Pacific Island countries not covered by the present survey.

Enforcement of sea safety regulations in remote locations may be an intractable problem. It could easily be that improvement of safety at sea in those areas could best be addressed by other means, especially awareness programmes. Further work on this subject may benefit from expertise outside the fisheries and shipping sectors, such as individuals experienced in social aspects of community development in the Pacific Islands region.

Given the great differences in enforcement conditions in the five countries of the survey, there may be little to be offered with respect to suggestions for improvement that is common to several countries. In this situation, two points should be considered:

10.5 Boatbuilding and vessel design

The link between boatbuilding, vessel design, and sea safety is closely tied to FAO's past work in the Pacific islands. In the 1980s much FAO attention in the region's fisheries sector was focused on naval architecture and support to building boats. A 1990 FAO publication stated that FAO had produced plans for 30 different vessels, including those designed specifically for Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Niue, PAPUA NEW GUINEA, Samoa, Solomons, Tonga, and Vanuatu. FAO has established, assisted, or enhanced boatyards in all those countries plus Tuvalu.

Presently there is very little FAO activity in the Pacific islands dealing with designing/building boats. An important issue is whether this field with respect to FAO is (a) a neglected area, (b) a situation in which local capacity has been built up to the point that FAO interventions are not required, or (c) conditions have evolved so that it is more efficient to import boats produced where production costs are cheaper.

There is certainly room for speculation and there is obviously great difference between countries. The survey results in several countries suggest that many Pacific Island countries are in a similar situation to that of Tonga. Paraphrasing from Section 6.6, the situation is:

The reality is that boatbuilding is expensive in the country and in the age of globalization, the market forces and preferences of small-scale fishers favour the use of mass produced skiffs from overseas. With respect to larger vessels, the fishing companies much prefer to import new or used vessels from overseas where construction is more efficient. Given this boatbuilding situation, the major issue in Tonga in the interface between naval architecture and sea safety appears to be measures to assure that the imported vessels are safe. This may range from establishing import standards for mass-produced skiffs to identification of features important for the safety inspections of longliners from Asia.

In a smaller number of countries, probably limited to Kiribati and Tuvalu, the situation with respect to safety/boatbuilding is quite different. There are a number of small boatyards building mainly wooden fishing vessels. It has been pointed out that improvements in construction techniques used by the mainly indigenous builders could lead to safer vessels and a reduction of accidents at sea.

An important point is that it is unlikely that limited donor interventions in the fields of vessel design will reverse trends that are fuelled by market forces, preferences, government policies outside the fisheries sector (e.g. lowering of import duties, reduced government participation in commercial activities), and changing lifestyles. 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 common and are likely to grow more common in the future.

This concept is especially applicable to fibreglass skiffs. Although statistics are lacking, it is probable that most of the new small-scale fishing vessels in the Pacific islands are either imported or domestically-manufactured fibreglass skiffs. Paraphrasing from Section 8.6 of this report on Fiji vessel designs:

The vast majority of new boats in the country are outboard-powered fibreglass skiffs of about seven metres in length. According to the Navy, these vessels are responsible for most of the SAR incidents. Because it is likely that their use in Fiji will continue to expand, sea safety in the country will be closely associated with these vessels in the future, but there are major concerns over the design and quality of construction of these fibreglass skiffs.

Quite simply, the safety aspects of fibreglass skiffs cannot be ignored. Depending on the country concerned, improved standards of construction and mandatory safety features of fibreglass skiffs would focus on either domestic construction (e.g. Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands) or import requirements (eg. USA-affiliated Micronesian countries). Alternatively, there is the possibility of working directly with the major overseas manufacturers. In any case, it appears that attempts to enhance the safety of these craft could benefit considerably from appropriate global experience in making safety improvements to fibreglass skiffs.

The issues in the interface between naval architecture and safety for larger vessels are obviously quite different in each country and dependent on the types of vessels involved. The vast majority of fishing vessels larger than 15 m based in Pacific Island countries are associated with tuna fishing. A recent report by the Forum Fisheries Agency (Gillett 2003) gives information on locally-based tuna vessels in the independent countries of the region:

With respect to sea safety, an important point is that, with the exception of Samoa, almost all of the above vessels are imported, mostly from Asia. The lives of nearly 3 000 Pacific Island crew are to some degree dependent on effective inspection of vessels, the design/construction of which can be quite different from those common in the country of operation and where any statutory safety inspection is carried out. This being the case, global experience in design faults, construction problems, and structural-related sea disasters accidents on vessels from Asia, oriented towards improving tuna vessel safety inspections, may produce significant benefits to the countries of the region where there are less experienced marine surveyors.

Active locally-based tuna vessels

Number of Pacific Island crew

Solomon Is.

12 P/L, 2 P/S, 8 L/L


Papua New Guinea

40 L/L 24 P/S



96 L/L, 1 P/L



34 L/L, 8 P/S



153 L/L



26 L/L








Marshall Is.

54 L/L, 5 P/S



71 L/L, 1 P/L



1 L/L






2 L/L, 1 P/S


Cook Is.

10 L/L



14 P/L, 40 P/S, 495 L/L

2 841

P/L = Pole-and line vessel; P/S = Purse seiner; L/L = Longliner

[15] New legislation is pending.

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