Global fishing vessel safety rules move closer to reality

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The establishment of mandatory global safety regulations for fishing vessels is now closer to becoming a reality, with three more countries putting their signatures to the Torremolinos Declaration.

Until the regulations enter into force, there are no mandatory global safety regulations for fishing vessels. If successful, it will bring fishing vessel operators into the same compliance as other maritime vessels and end poor practices that place fishing vessel crews at risk.

Most maritime trade involves carrying a cargo across the sea from point A to point B. This traffic is generally well regulated and is overseen by highly qualified personnel. Conversely, the focus of a fishing vessel is not necessarily on safe navigation, but on finding and catching enough fish to make a profitable voyage. When sharing the same shipping lanes, fishing vessels can pose a great threat to merchant vessels and close-quarter situations with fishing vessels and/or their associated fishing gear remain to be a common safety threat. Collisions often result in loss of life, in addition to vessel damage. Therefore, any improvements to fishing vessel safety regulations will greatly reduce the safety risk to the global fleet of merchant vessels.

The 2012 Cape Town Agreement (CTA) was adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to outline standards for fishing vessels measuring 24 m long and over. The CTA also includes other regulations designed to protect the safety of fishing vessel crews and observers and to provide a level playing field for industry. It will also support the combating of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and reducing pollution from fishing vessels, including marine debris.

During an EU High-level Ministerial Maritime Conference held at Opatija, Croatia, between 10 and 11 March 2020, Bulgaria, Poland, and Portugal signed the declaration, which publicly indicated their determination to ratify the 2012 CTA by 11 October 2022, the 10th anniversary of its adoption.

The IMO adopted the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels in 1977, which was later modified by the 1993 Torremolinos Protocol. It then adopted the 2012 CTA, to bring the provisions of these earlier treaties into effect.

The 2012 CTA will enter into force 12 months after at least 22 member countries, with an aggregate 3,600 fishing vessels of 24 m in length and longer operating on the high seas, have expressed their consent to be bound by it. To date, 14 countries have ratified the agreement.

Meanwhile, UK-registered commercial fishing vessels have been encouraged to take part in a scheme, being administered by Seafish in co-operation with the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Trinity House, to improve safety and eliminate predictable fatalities across the fishing industry. Seafish is a non-departmental public body set-up by the Fisheries Act 1981 to improve efficiency and raise standards across the seafood industry.

This scheme allows owners of UK-registered vessels to apply for a refund of GBP200 against the cost of purchasing lifejackets fitted with personal locator beacons (PLBs). Additionally, owners can apply for the cost of adding a PLB to previously purchased lifejackets with funding assistance.

Applications for the scheme must be received by 31 March 2020.