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Shocking Statistics Reveal Increasing Fishermen Death Toll

29 July 2016

UK - More attention needs to be paid to safety on board fishing vessels as this year’s death toll has already exceeded last year's numbers.

The UK’s fishing fleet is suffering from one of its deadliest periods in a decade with more deaths recorded here than in Alaskan waters where reality TV show The Deadliest Catch is filmed.

Nine fishermen’s lives have been lost at sea in the first six months of this year in six different incidents, a worryingly high figure for this stage in the year and there is concern this number could rise.

Now more dangerous than Alaska, recognised for its treacherous waters as part of the reality television series ‘Deadliest Catch’, the UK has seen an increase of 29 per cent on 2015 full year figures (seven fishermen lost their lives), as reported by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) today in its 2015 Annual Report.

The Alaskan fishing fleet has reported that, for the first time, no one died while commercial fishing in a vessel-related incident in the past year. Previously, between 1980 and 1988, an average of 31 fishermen died in Alaska each year.

The MAIB’s Annual Report for 2015 comes as Seafish also warns that the summer months (June to September) are when commercial fishermen are more likely to have a non fatal accident which leads to major injury when working at sea. A common misperception is that these accidents are more likely to happen during bad weather during the winter months.

In light of this, Seafish is calling on the fishing industry to be vigilant all year round when it comes to the health and safety of crew on board commercial fishing vessels.

Research, carried out by the Health & Safety Laboratory (HSL) for RNLI in partnership with Seafish and the MAIB, has found that a third (33 per cent) of non-fatal, major injury events are likely to occur from June to September, in calm seas and when there is good light and visibility.

The research also found that more than half of commercial fishermen (55 per cent) surveyed said they had suffered injuries whilst operating fishing gear and other machinery, typical injuries include amputations and fractures.

In a bid to reduce the number of fatal and debilitating accidents, Seafish is calling for all owners, skippers and crew to review their working practices and take steps to remove or reduce risks and adopt safer working practices. Crew training records can be checked and verified with Seafish, but training should be regularly refreshed. Seafish also wants more fishermen to wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) when working at sea. These are still available for free from Seafish (for fishermen in England, Wales and NI) and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (for fishermen in Scotland).

Simon Potten, Head of Safety and Training at Seafish explains: “The number of fatal accidents and serious injuries happening in our fishing industry is unacceptable. I know many fishermen watch the Deadliest Catch, which shows some pretty scary fishing in Alaska, but last year the Alaskan commercial fishing industry had zero deaths. The ‘Deadliest Catch’ is right here in the UK with nine deaths to date this year. It’s a horrific record.”

Jerome McCartan is an experienced fisherman from Warrenpoint in County Down. Earlier this year he was working on the fishing vessel Carraig Chuin when she sank off the coast of Kilkeel. The vessel sprung a leak and started to go down very quickly. The crew of 3 were rescued by the coastguard.

Jerome says: “It started off as a normal day, we were trawling about 20 miles south east of Kilkeel and the weather was fine. The first sign of a potential problem was some water in the bilges- this wasn’t unusual on a wooden fishing boat but as a precaution the skipper made sure the crew donned their lifejackets.

“In an instant, mild concern turned to panic and I was suddenly in the water.

“The water was icy cold and I quickly began to lose consciousness. I was 25 minutes in the water and near death through hypothermia when help arrived. It all happened so quickly and I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale if I wasn’t wearing a lifejacket.”

Over the coming weeks, Seafish will be providing safety packs to commercial fishermen in the UK as part of its Sea You Home Safe campaign. The packs will provide ways in which fishermen can reduce the risk of accidents on board, as well as providing information on what training is available (including funded training) and how to apply for a free PFD.

Simon continues: “It is widely understood that fishing is the most dangerous peacetime occupation and as a result, even more training, care and consideration should be taken in preparation for working out at sea. It may be surprising that non fatal accidents are more likely to happen during the summer months, but this is the time when most fishermen are out at sea, working hard to make a living. Tiredness, fatigue and complacency can easily creep up on the unwary fisherman. We need to be taking real action all year round to ensure we are keeping our fishermen safe at sea.

“There is a wealth of safety knowledge and expertise available for fishermen to draw on. In addition to Seafish and its network of Approved Training Providers, fishermen can get information, advice, guidance and support from organisations including the MCA, MAIB, RNLI, Fishermen’s Federations, the Fishermen’s Mission and Seafarers UK. So I would urge all owners, skippers and crew to get in touch and see what support is available.”

 

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