I wrote before about the safety of fishers, fishing is the most dangerous occupations in the world, with an annual fatality rate of 80 lives per 100,000 fishermen.
There is a long-standing cooperation between the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and FAO, in particular in improving safety at sea in the fisheries sector.
This long-standing collaboration has resulted in the development of a number of binding and non-binding instruments that address the safety of fishing vessels and their crews. Thanks to this cooperation, there are now international instruments in place that apply to fishing vessels of all sizes and the personnel working on board those vessels.
One of the binding instruments is the Cape Town Agreement of 2012 on the Implementation of the Provisions of the Torremolinos Protocol of 1993 relating to the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1977, which was adopted on 11 October 2012 in Cape Town, South Africa.
The Agreement applies to fishing vessels of 24 m in length and over, operating on the high seas, and will enter into force when it has been ratified by at least 22 States, with an aggregated fleet of at least 3 600 fishing vessels of 24 m in length and over.
The safety of fishing vessels concerns not only the technical elements of the design, construction and equipment of the vessels but also a number of social and economic factors.
Overcapacity and overfishing of coastal resources has led to high competition to catch limited resources. Pressures on owners and skippers to ensure economic survival can result in cost cutting on vessel maintenance, safety equipment and labour with negative consequences on safety.
Safety in fishing operations cannot, therefore, be separated from fisheries management and this is recognized in the provisions of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries which addresses safety and health in the fisheries sector.
The Committee on Fisheries (COFI), which is one of FAO’s governing bodies, has repeatedly welcomed the ongoing cooperation between IMO, ILO and FAO. During a recent meeting of the Committee, many Members recognized that there is a link between safety at sea, forced labour and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and they referred, in this regard, to the 2007 ILO Work in Fishing Convention and the Cape Town Agreement.
These legally binding instruments will not only improve safety at sea in the fisheries sector and working and living conditions on board fishing vessels, but will also be useful tools in fighting IUU fishing, together with the FAO Port State Measures Agreement.
It is the responsibility of the flag State of a fishing vessel to ensure that the vessel meets internationally agreed standards, such as the Cape Town Agreement, the STCW-F Convention, the ILO Work in Fishing Convention and the FAO Port State Measures Agreement.
Port State control/measures is a supplement to flag State control and a cost-effective tool to fight substandard fishing. When a fishing vessel, which falls under the scope of one of the above-mentioned legally-binding instruments, is in a port of a Party to that instrument, other than its flag State, it will be subject to inspections, carried out by an inspector, duly authorized by the port State authorities, on matters related to safety, working and living conditions on board and matters related to fishing equipment and fishing operations, in order to confirm whether the vessel complies with the requirements of the relevant instrument.
If the condition of the vessel or its operation does not correspond to the requirements of the instrument, the inspector can require the deficiencies to be rectified before the vessel leaves the port and, in more serious cases, detain the vessel.
It is, therefore, expected that port State inspections will considerably reduce the chances for unscrupulous operators to get away with bad behaviour, such as undertaking IUU fishing using unsafe vessels with unacceptable labour conditions.
IMO, FAO and ILO have emphasized that in order to achieve good results, in improving safety at sea and labour conditions in the fisheries sector as well as in the fight against IUU fishing, it is essential to have close cooperation and coordination at national and regional level, in particular between the maritime, fisheries and labour administrations.