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11. Other important issues in sea safety in the Pacific islands

11.1 Political will

In several countries the lack of political will to improve sea safety at sea is a major difficulty. When political will is strong, the attention of government departments is high, there is interest in the formulation of new safety initiatives, and enforcement of safety requirements is diligent.

Unfortunately, the generation of political will is often tied to a major sea disaster. This includes government interest in sea safety after:

There are less tragic mechanisms to generate political will. Although the subject requires further exploration, there are indications that keeping track of lives lost at sea and the expense of government search/rescue operations and subsequent publicity of this information can capture government interest to move on sea safety issues.

Most of the five countries in this survey are unable to provide a listing of the number of lives lost in sea accidents each year for the past decade. The amount of government money spent on search and rescue is readily available in only one country[16]. In this situation it is easy to see why the level of political for promoting sea safety is low.

As a prerequisite to attracting more government attention to efforts to improve sea safety, it is recommended that additional attention be focused on keeping records of sea accidents and the associated search/rescue expense. This is in addition to the value of such records for improving the effectiveness of safety programmes (Section 10.3).

11.2 The effectiveness of the SPC sea safety awareness initiatives

In the course of planning for the present sea safety survey, a meeting was held with staff responsible for SPC's sea safety awareness work[17]. During the discussions it was learned that one important aspect of the project is the difficulty in determining its effectiveness; in other words, whether the various materials distributed by the Fisheries Training Section have saved any lives. Accordingly, some effort was made to investigate this question.

The SPC materials which have been distributed are:

It is very difficult to directly assess the effectiveness of some of the sea safety work in the Pacific islands. The methodology used to gain some insight during this survey is given in Section 10.2. In short, determining if the target audience is "aware of the awareness programme". Thoughts on what has been the most effective of the SPC materials for each country are given in the country sections of this report (e.g. Section 5.3).

In general, among the various people interviewed in the five countries, the SPC safety videos seem to be the most well-known in situations where people have access to video facilities. This includes urban areas and during visits of extension teams to rural areas. Fisheries officers tended to think the SPC posters are the most effective, possibly because they are often displayed in government fisheries offices. Some heads of fishing companies expressed the opinion that only limited distribution of the SPC posters occurs by government fisheries agencies.

Judging from comments of people interviewed, radio appears especially effective for sensitizing communities to sea safety issues. It was not often, however, that people interviewed for the present survey identified the radio programme material as being from SPC. This is likely to be due to lack of attribution by the broadcaster rather than greater effectiveness of programmes from other sources. As indicated in Section 11.2, radio appears be especially appropriate for sensitizing remote villages to sea safety issues. There is also the possibility that language makes the radio broadcasts more effective in remote locations - the radio programmes are in the vernacular whereas most of the other SPC materials are in English or French.

Sea safety awareness work seems to have contributed to noticeable improvements in sea safety in several Pacific Island countries (Section 10.2), and it is likely that the SPC efforts were a major part of this progress. Previous initiatives on sea safety awareness in the region stressed that such work should be a continual process. McCoy (1991) states:

"In planning even modest programmes it must be realized that safety at sea is something which must be taught and continually reinforced. It is recognized that heightened awareness of safety in industrial societies is due to constant reinforcement. In the island countries, it is the almost total lack of exposure to safety awareness on a recurring basis that results in it being ignored. Programmes should thus emphasize the necessity for their continued, long term existence."

The success of past SPC awareness work together with the on-going requirements suggests that SPC efforts in this subject should continue. Based on knowledge gained in the present study, the following should be considered for future awareness work:

11.3 A regional sea safety workshop

The survey of the five countries and findings given in this report indicate there are several issues that, although crucially important to improving sea safety, have no easy solution. Included in this category are diverse topics such as:

Many of the "tough issues" above have facets that involve law, naval architecture, search/rescue, community awareness, maritime administration, fisheries, and other fields. An examination of these problems from the perspective of several different disciplines could result in progress that has so far been elusive. Consideration should be given to sponsoring a "think-tank" workshop of motivated individuals from different disciplines to address these and other critical issues dealing with sea safety.

It appears that focusing the workshop on small fishing vessels (less than 8 metres or, alternatively, undecked) would be desirable: these craft are the most common in fishing in the region, tend to be ignored by the shipping/maritime specialists, have many safety problems, and have been subject to much inappropriate regulation in the past. On the other hand, many of the problems of the larger fishing vessels are being addressed, or at least progress is being made.

Subject to further clarification/discussion, SPC indicates a willingness to cooperate in hosting a meeting of this type, including sending some of their staff to attend. In order to maximize the impact of the output of the workshop, it would be important that it be convened prior to a regional fisheries meeting or possibly a regional maritime meeting. In this way, the findings could be discussed for possible endorsement. Facilitating of national follow-up would be important.

11.4 Other issues

Not all aspects of sea safety in the region were covered in the survey. The detailed information collected in the five countries visited was largely restricted to five main topics: the relation of fisheries management to sea safety, safety programmes, data recording, legislation, and boatbuilding and vessel design. There were, however, some areas that were beyond the scope of the survey which appear to deserve additional attention. These include improving sea safety by:

[16] In one country of the survey, neither the maritime surveillance adviser nor the Minister of Finance had an idea of the daily cost of a search/rescue operation using the national patrol boat.
[17] It should be noted that SPC is involved valuable sea safety work other than its awareness programme (e.g. resource materials for courses).

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