Alcohol claims another life, this time a fisheries observer. / by Francisco Blaha

I have written before about how difficult is the closure for the family when an observer (or a crew member) is lost at sea and the dangerous nature of fishing jobs. This week, unfortunately, we mourn the death of another fisheries observer.


The observer (a PNG citizen) was reported missing around 2 am on Wednesday last week, from the Feng Xiang 818, a Chinese-flagged Purseiner, while in the Nauruan EEZ. The vessel then followed all the proper procedures and went to Nauru where it was boarded by the police. 

It was reported initially here, without many details, which made many people (including me) jump into suspicions of foul play, based on the prior suspicious disappearances of other observers.

I wondered if the vessels had cameras on board, and renewed my calls for this technology to be compulsory. 

The Feng Xiang 818 had cameras on board and the event was all recorded. Unfortunately, alcohol was involved.  I have heard this from one of the most trusted sources I know.

Being drunk is dangerous, and much so when on board a fishing vessel.

And perhaps this opens (or confirms) a completely different discussion, which is the hypocrisy in regards alcohol in our society in general and in our industry in particular.

Somehow the drug that causes most deaths, family and personal damage in the world, in not only legal but socially glorified. 

I always have supported "dry" (no alcohol)  boats, "be as stupid as you like when you are on land, but at sea, no way" I was told... and it always made sense to me.  

Having been beaten up as a child by drunk adults has made me very wary of alcohol... but what is even worst... has made many of my colleagues distrustful of me, when I say: "No thanks, I don't  drink". Almost like saying to me "what is wrong with you? It always seem to me that we have more respect for an ex-alcoholic than for a non-drinker.

In any case, we all know about alcohol, and this post wasn't about it, even if it has claimed another victim.

As a former deck officer, I don't feel sorry for the officer in charge of the Feng Xiang 81. No one wants to lose a crew member overboard, yet what happens on your boat is your responsibility. If one of your crew is drunk, then 1) you need to take care of him and 2) you need to find out how come he is drunk after so many days at sea, someone has provided with the alcohol. The onboard code of conduct is a HUGE component of their training and during placement the observer coordinator insist heavily to the captain and radio operator on not providing alcohol to the observer, so someone has pushed the envelope there, and that is the fault of the vessel master. End of story.

But most of all, I feel sorry for the observer's family, since it was an avoidable death.