Safety in the fishing industry isn’t what it should be and the latest Safety Digest from Britain’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch offers worrying statistics from mouths for survivors – and those who have watched helplessly as workmates died because safety equipment wasn’t used or procedures not in place.
Raymond Strachan, skipper of Maggie Ann, remembers: “…one of my crew
lost his balance when a rope parted that was attached to one of the scallop bellys.
The crew raised the alarm and I sighted the man in the water from my port wheelhouse window, he was alive and trying to keep himself afloat. I immediately put the boat hard astern and got back to him pretty quickly. The crew threw a life-ring to him and screamed for him to grab it.
His face was blue and his eyes were large, haunting like. His paddling got weaker, and he didn’t respond to the crew shouting at him. He just looked at us, then turned
round lay face down in the water, within 30 seconds his body had sunk beneath the surface.
This came as a huge shock for me because I always believed that someone would last maybe 5-10 minutes in the water, in good sea conditions.
He was in the water no longer than 2-4 minutes.
Unfortunately he wasn’t wearing a lifejacket.
That has all changed now. My crew have to wear them on deck, and have signed the Risk Assessment book to say they will wear them… You think that the worst things happen in the worst weather conditions, on this occasion it wasn’t. The risks
are there 24/7 regardless of the conditions.”
From the other side of a similar event is Wayne Evans, man overboard survivor from Ocean Spray: “We were about 25 miles off the Lizard at about 8.00 PM and it was
It was the last haul o the day and I’d come up to shoot the last end. I saw the net was curled up in a ball and I took my eye off what I was doing and stepped into the rope pound to sort it out.
Next thing I know, the rope anchor came up from behind and squashed me against the side of the boat. I shouted to the skipper who knocked her out of gear. As he did, the tension on the net attached to the anchor pinged me 10 feet in the air and over the side. I remember the anchor on top of me pulling me down.
I went deep enough that the lights from the boat faded so it must have been quite deep. I remember thinking about my family and about not seeing them again so I struggled to get my boots off. Luckily, I got the rope and anchor off and got to the surface.
I came up near the boat and caught hold of the line going over the side. I was very lucky because I came up near a four foot gap in the bulwalk between the shelterdeck
and the stern. As the boat rolled, my crewmates just hauled me on board. If I hadn’t come up just there I don’t know how they would have got me back on board. I was very lucky.
I wasn’t wearing a lifejacket. When I surfaced, the cold caused my blood to go to my core, so my arms and legs started to weaken. I was only in the water for about
4 minutes but it was hard to stay afloat. If I hadn’t been rescued quickly, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up for much longer.
If I had worn a lifejacket, it would have kept me afloat even if my legs had weakened because of the cold. I’ll always wear a lifejacket when I’m on deck in the future and
I think all fishermen should do the same. It’s easy to think you don’t need one except if the boat goes down, but you never know if you’re going to end up in the water some other way and a lifejacket definitely gives you a better chance of being recovered alive.”
MAIB head Stephen Meyer says: In 2009 13 UK fishing vessels were lost, and 13 fishermen died in accidents. While the number of fishing vessels lost represents a very pleasing reduction, the deaths were the second worst total in the last 10 years. 9 fishermen were lost overboard, and 4 died (in 2 separate accidents) when their
vessels sank or capsized. Putting it another way, if this fatality rate continues, in the course of a normal working life more than 1 in 20 UK fishermen can expect to die in such an accident. This has to be addressed.
Being dragged overboard when shooting gear is one of the most likely causes of a fisherman being lost.
Please reassess your onboard systems for shooting and recovering gear; keep equipment and personnel physically separated; discuss the risks with your crewmates; and do not take any chances.
Many fishermen who do go over the side could be rescued if their vessel was prepared and properly equipped. In every vessel, regardless of size, the crew needs to think about how they would recover a man from the water, and have equipment ready to hand. It is never as easy as you may think.
Finally, as I forewarned in last year’s Fishing Safety Digest, we have seen the return of an old killer – crew returning to their vessels alongside, at night, after a few beers ashore. Three fishermen died this way in 3 separate accidents in 2009. While fishermen may be used to leaping from broken jetty ladders, and jumping over gaps between vessels, what might look straightforward in daylight, can become a deathtrap
at night, particularly after an evening in the pub. If fishermen are going to live onboard, it is essential that a safe means of access is provided… take the time to think through what you need to do to ensure that you and your crewmates come home alive.