MAIB reports show not one instance of an individual fisherman’s health causing an accident

The New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (NUTFA) has written to shipping minister Baroness Charlotte Vere and transport minister Mark Harper reiterating its concerns about the new medical requirements for fishermen on under-24m vessels.

The association is asking for exemptions from the requirements in the short term, for vessels undertaking trips of less than 72 hours.

The association has now received contact from over 600 fishermen in the small-boat sector concerned about the implications of the new medical requirements for fishermen on vessels under 24m, which are due to become mandatory on 30 November.

The exemption, NUTFA argues, is specifically allowed for in the ILO Work in Fishing Convention. Section 10.2
of Article 10 states: “The competent authority, after consultation, may grant exemptions… taking into account the safety and health of fishers, size of the vessel, availability of medical assistance and evacuation, duration of the voyage, area of operation, and type of fishing operation.”

An exemption for smaller vessels undertaking short trips, NUTFA argues, poses no threat to the safety of even the smallest vessels; the MAIB’s own figures for accidents at sea, it says, do not include a single incident where the individual health of a fisherman contributed to or caused an accident at sea.

A single reference to one colour-blind individual is made in the records, and this was acknowledged by the MAIB as having no material impact on the incident recorded.

The letter also claims that discussions the association has had with medical professionals suggests that much of the content of the ML5 was ‘copy- pasted’ from other medical forms, such as those required by HGV drivers.

These wholly fail to address the realities of fishing at sea, they say – in particular for small day-boat skippers, who take into account all risk factors, including weather, tides, sea state and working conditions, before using their judgement about whether it is safe to go to sea. This experience, so vital in ensuring safe working practices, could not be covered by a tick-box medical questionnaire devised by people who have no experience of the sector, says NUTFA.

The request to the two ministers confirms the inshore industry’s commitment to safe working practices, but suggests that the current approach will be counter-productive, creating additional pressures on many fishermen, over and above those they are already experiencing – at a time when the sector is already haemorrhaging jobs, and seeing a generation of fishermen forced to retire early.

It is likely, too, NUTFA suggests, that a tick-box approach to certification will create further long-term health risks, encouraging some fishermen to believe they are fully fit, when they should in fact be seeking medical advice if their conditions change. Other fishermen, concerned about losing certification, and therefore their livelihoods, may postpone medical check-ups or visits to prevent any risk of them losing their ML5, the association says.

The cut-off point for grandfather rights, and the possibility of their withdrawal in future years, is also generating concern amongst many, when there is no enshrined right of appeal against a decision to withdraw a fisherman’s ability to continue his livelihood.

The letter also queries the grounds on which a vessel could have a defect noted in a survey, if the skipper/owner does not have a valid ML5. This implicit threat to the value of a vessel, and its ability to go to sea, is ‘simply another pressure being placed on the fleet’.

NUTFA asks the ministers to issue an exemption based on ‘natural justice’, rather forcing a potential judicial review of the current arrangements, which it says would be ‘prohibitively expensive, and not a first choice for resolution of solvable and practicable issues’.

MCA claims that industry ‘was consulted’

The NUTFA letter follows a written response from the MCA provided to the Lowestoft Fishermen’s Alliance (LFA) after a meeting with the LFA earlier this month, which FN has seen.

This set out in considerable detail the MCA’s view that the fishing industry was consulted ahead of the introduction of the ML5. It includes a lengthy list of consultees to the proposals, including the four UK fishing federations, and three POs, amongst many government and maritime industry bodies.

For those fishing representatives such as LFA and NUTFA which were not consulted, the MCA letter says

there was ‘a responsibility to engage with the regulator and to monitor (or sign up to regular alerts from) for updates to the industry they represent’. In addition, the letter claims, such organisations were
also given ample opportunity to respond during the consultation, or informally, such as at the MCA stand at expos.

The letter also confirmed current MCA figures suggesting that of 62 ML5 referrals received to date, 36 have been issued as fit with no restrictions, 21 have been issued with restrictions, and five are awaiting review.

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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