Frustration at the inaction and lack of political will to address unacceptably high levels of accident, injuries and fatalities in Britain’s fishing industry is evident in a recently released report from Britain’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch on the deaths of three seafarers in three incidents in November 2009.
The report covers Man Overboard accidents that occurred at weekly intervals that November which resulted in fatalities: On 6 November 2009, James Grindy, a deckhand on board the scallop dredger Korenbloem; 11 November 2009, the UK registered stern trawler Osprey III lost William Antonio, a Filipino deckhand; Raymond Davidson, a crewman on the creel fishing vessel Optik, was dragged overboard while shooting creels.
None of the seafarers wore lifejackets. In two cases the crew onboard the vessels did not have the skills or training to recover the MOBs quickly and effectively. Seafarers had not been adequately safety trained and job had not been evaluated to make them as safe a reasonably possible.
Says the MAIB report: “The belief that fishing is a dangerous occupation is not an acceptable excuse for failing to implement safe practices that would save lives. Such excuses have long been ruled out in mining, the construction industry and other previously dangerous industries in the UK. The “dangers of the sea” have been causal in very few of the fishing fatalities that the MAIB has investigated in recent years, and other countries have had a more proactive approach to reducing fatalities in their fishing industries.
“Many of the safety issues listed in this report have been identified in previous MAIB investigations and, over time, a significant number of recommendations designed to improve safety and/or safety awareness within the fishing industry have been issued. Nearly all have been accepted but, in the case of those directed to the MCA, a significant number have yet to be implemented.”
The report notes that between 1990 and 1999, the majority of fishing crew fatalities occurred when a vessel was lost. Since 2000 the majority of fatalities have been due to occupational accidents which have occurred on board the vessel, or as a consequence of fishermen falling or being dragged overboard as demonstrated by the three tragic cases detailed in this report. “This shift should be recognised and the focus of safety authorities should be adapted accordingly,” says MAIB.
With significant improvements in safety achieved by other industries in the UK, it can no longer be acceptable for those with responsibility for safety within the fishing industry to collectively shrug their shoulders and accept that fishing is “a dangerous industry”. Nor is it appropriate simply to place the responsibility on every individual fisherman, when appropriate standards have not been indentified, safe operating procedures are not enforced and many fishermen have had little safety training.
If a change in the safety culture prevailing in the fishing industry is to be realised, and the rate of casualties reduced to a level commensurate with other UK industries, there needs to be a more holistic approach to how the mix of regulation, training and individual responsibility is taken forward. A plan of action, properly funded and with the overarching objective of improving future safety within the fishing industry, is urgently needed.
Appreciation of risk is a key barrier in preventing accidents. In 2006, following an MAIB investigation into a serious injury to a crew member of the scallop dredger Danielle, the MCA affirmed its intention to extend a pilot scheme to engage with fishermen and assist with the production of meaningful risk assessments. However, this commitment has still not been taken forward. Indeed, even the pilot scheme has been discontinued.
There are already well defined industry rules and guidance that should prevent such accidents from occurring, yet the current regulatory regime does not ensure that existing rules are understood and implemented. Similarly, the MCA’s policy towards improved fishing vessel safety appears to be reactive, rather than proactive. Although action, or at least a commitment to take action, is invariably delivered whenever the MAIB has issued a recommendation on this issue, there does not appear to be a holistic plan to improve fishing vessel safety.
At approximately 1900 hours on 6 November 2009, James Grindy, a deckhand on board the scallop dredger Korenbloem, fell overboard while the vessel was preparing to shoot the port side scalloping gear. He had been standing on top of the catch in the scallop tray, as he was required to do during shooting and hauling operations. The scallop tray was constructed at almost the same height as the bulwark.
Dover Strait and the weather was very rough with heavy swell, strong winds and squalls.
Two deckhands who had been working on the starboard side jumped into the water and managed to recover James Grindy on board with the help of the other crew members. After approximately 2 hours, he was airlifted and taken to the nearby Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel RFA Mounts Bay. He was pronounced dead at 2156 having suffered non-survivable injuries, most likely as a result of being crushed between the towing beam and the vessel’s hull.
During the evening of 11 November 2009, the UK registered stern trawler Osprey III was retuning to Macduff, Scotland after a day’s fishing. When lowering a damaged net back to the deck following repair, a bight of the net entered the water. This caused the portion of the net flaked on the deck to run over the stern and into the water. William Antonio, a Filipino deckhand, became entangled in the net and its ground gear, and was dragged overboard.
The skipper acted quickly to retrieve the net and manoeuvre the vessel next to William, who had surfaced close by. A line and a lifebuoy were thrown to him, but the skipper and remaining deckhand were unable to recover him back on board. After about 12 minutes on the surface William disappeared as the skipper and deckhand tried to move him to the stern where the vessel’s freeboard was lowest. Despite an extensive search and rescue operation by seven vessels and a helicopter, William was not found before the search was called off the same evening. His body was eventually recovered from the seabed by Osprey III 1 week later.
Raymond Davidson, a crewman on the creel fishing vessel Optik, was dragged overboard while shooting creels. The vessel’s skipper succeeded in recovering the casualty to the vessel’s side by hauling in the rope which had initially dragged him overboard. However, despite the casualty being hoisted to the davit block by his ankle, the skipper was unable to get him onboard. A crewman from another nearby fishing vessel was transferred to Optik to assist in pulling the casualty on board. Once on board, first-aid was administered by way of chest compressions and artificial respiration, but these were stopped after a few minutes as the casualty appeared to be lifeless. Thirty minutes later, crew members of the Arbroath lifeboats attended and restarted resuscitation to the casualty, and this continued until he subsequently arrived in hospital. Small signs of life were initially detected by the hospital staff, but it was not possible to resuscitate him.
The accident happened during a routine creel shooting operation which, despite having been carried out many times, had never been properly evaluated to make the operation as safe as possible. During the shooting operation, the casualty was required to work in close proximity to unguarded ropes on deck; during this operation his foot became entangled in a rope and he was dragged overboard and down to the seabed by the weight of attached fishing gear.