Inferior boatbuilding undermines tsunami recovery

Inferior boatbuilding undermines tsunami recovery


FAO today again urged authorities in tsunami-affected countries to redouble their efforts to ensure that fishing boats built to replace those destroyed during the 2004 disaster meet minimum safety standards. The UN agency also called on all organizations financing boat construction to pay closer attention to the safety and quality of craft being built and to take steps to upgrade or replace sub-standard boats already in place.

Though firm figures are not available, reports from FAO staff in the field indicate that many replacement fishing vessels constructed since the disaster are seriously sub-standard. In Indonesia an estimated 7 600 fishing boats were lost completely -- of those, some 6 500 have been replaced, of which an unknown number are unsafe.

In Sri Lanka, where almost 19 000 boats were destroyed, more than 13 000 boats had been replaced by the end of November 2005. FAO estimates that nearly 19 percent -- approximately 2 500 vessels -- are not seaworthy. The problem encompasses both wooden boats as well as those with fibre-glass hulls, FAO said. Some are simply not safe to use, while others are likely to deteriorate more quickly than properly built craft.

"Fishing is already the world's most hazardous occupation, and working at sea in a sub-standard boat is doubly dangerous," said Jeremy Turner of FAO's Fisheries department.

"Another major problem is that these boats will need to be replaced -- in many cases within the next two years -- and as humanitarian aid shifts elsewhere, fishers will be left to foot the bill," he added.

Missing standards, lack of expertise

Many tsunami-hit countries do not have regulations governing the construction of small fishing vessels. This fact, coupled with the deaths of a number of experienced boatbuilders during the disaster, contributed to the current situation. As NGOs and other organizations mobilized to help fishermen get back on their feet, they commissioned large numbers of new boats, sometimes from inexperienced builders.

"Following the disaster, new boatyards popped up like mushrooms, but not all of these builders were qualified -- suddenly you had furniture makers building boats," said Turner.

"Everyone has been acting in good faith, trying to do their best to build boats as fast as possible in order to help fishermen as soon as possible," he added. "It's just that many organizations simply don't have the expertise needed to make sure that boats are up to standard."

FAO workshops and training in boatbuilding

FAO has been working with national and local authorities, fishing communities and the private sector in tsunami-affected countries to improve the state of boatbuilding.

The agency published a "how to" primer in Indonesian on proper shipbuilding which is being used by craftsmen in Aceh and other affected areas. It also organized a series of workshops in Indonesia's Aceh Province, during which 42 boatbuilders worked with an FAO master boatbuilder to construct different kinds of craft, learning new skills and modern ship design and construction principles.

And FAO is working with local boatyards in Indonesia to promote the use of better quality timber, adequate metal fasteners and improved wood storage and construction techniques. In the Maldives, 40 shipbuilders and ship inspectors have participated in FAO fibreglass boat construction workshops.

Safety regulations in the works

FAO's Fisheries Department is also working with national authorities to help them draft safety standards governing construction of small boats. In Sri Lanka, new regulations for fibreglass boats, drafted with FAO technical guidance, are being considered for final approval by government authorities; the agency is working with Indonesia to develop similar regulations for wooden craft.

"The longer-term goal is to see governments bring boat construction regulations on-line, and to see the enforcement of those regulations so that only good quality boats can be registered and licensed to fish," Turner said. "In the meantime, we hope that authorities will find ways to inspect new boats and insist that craft that don't meet basic safety standards be fixed or destroyed -- and that all those involved help shoulder the burden of doing so."