Air patrols to check PFDs at sea
MCA to step up fleet monitoring and ILO 188 compliance enforcement

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is to use surveillance aircraft to check that fishermen are wearing lifejackets at sea, reports Tim Oliver

Wearing lifejackets or using a safety harness at all times was made compulsory in December 2018 on all vessels, unless a vessel has a documented risk assessment to show that risks of going overboard are controlled in another way.

The move is an element of increased monitoring of the UK fishing fleet that has been announced by the MCA. This is partly to ensure that vessels are complying with ILO 188 legislation that came into force a year ago to improve safety and well-being for everyone working on fishing vessels.

The MCA will be taking full advantage of resources and new technology – for example, the use of new fixed-wing aircraft with high-quality cameras onboard.

It will use the aircraft to search for pollution at sea, and in search operations. “The planes will also be equipped to observe and report on the operations of fishing vessels which are not complying with UK legislation, for example the wearing of personal flotation devices (PFDs) and lifejackets on a fishing vessel,” said the MCA.

David Fenner, head of fishing safety at the MCA, said: “Fishing is still the most dangerous profession in the UK today and, whilst we are seeing improvements in safety, tragically there were seven lives lost in the industry last year, all of which could have been prevented.

“The introduction of ILO 188 at the end of 2018 was a considerable change in the way safety in the industry is managed. These regulations introduced new requirements for the safety and protection of fishers, and powers of enforcement where unsafe practices are observed onboard.”

Neil Cunningham, head of enforcement at the MCA, said that the biggest challenge to the MCA in ensuring regulations are followed has always been that the agency cannot see what actually happens onboard a vessel once it leaves port.

“We will be using new resources including two new fixed-wing aircraft,” he said.

“While they are looking for pollution at sea or helping with searches, they will also give us the opportunity to have a clear sight into what is happening on vessels at sea, and where it is clear that legal requirements are not being met – for example, not wearing a PFD – we will take appropriate action to continue to support the industry in improving safety. Appropriate and proportionate action will be considered, and that may ultimately result in a prosecution.”

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) Work in Fishing Convention, ILO 188, came into force internationally on 16 November, 2017. The UK government made legislation to implement ILO 188 in November 2018, and ratified it last month.

ILO 188 entitles all fishermen to written terms and conditions of employment (a fisherman’s work agreement), decent accommodation and food, medical care, regulated working time, repatriation, social protection and health and safety onboard.

It also provides minimum standards relating to recruitment and placement, and includes a mandatory requirement to have a certificate of medical fitness to work onboard a fishing vessel.

It applies to all fishermen working on fishing vessels of any size, with more prescriptive standards for vessels over 24m in length, or operating on longer voyages of three days or more.

‘We can’t work in current lifejackets’

The skipper/owner and crew of an under-10m crabber say they cannot wear any of the personal flotation devices (PFDs) currently available because they are too uncomfortable, and that a new design is needed.

Jeremy Hosking of Newlyn, who operates the Nazarene, said that he and his crew want to wear lifejackets, but that they cannot physically do their job with those currently on the market.

Speaking on a podcast by the Cornish FPO and Seafood Cornwall Training that discussed ILO 188, he said that he and his crew want to comply with the requirement to wear a PFD, but existing PFDs are too uncomfortable.

“It’s like having a noose round your neck,” he said. “The reality is that having to wear it is taking your attention off the danger of your job, because you’re worrying about the equipment that is making your life so uncomfortable.

“In our job, when we’re crabbing, we’re constantly on the deck, working between 12 and 14 hours, and it’s a piece of kit we just can’t wear, so it’s absolutely imperative now that we design something new.”

He said that funding had to be provided to develop something wearable.

“It’s a rule we’ve got to abide by, so they’ve got to give us a piece of kit that ultimately we can actually work with and wear, that’s not going to hinder us and actually make our job more dangerous,” said skipper Jeremy Hosking.

He said that he and his crew had worked with Seafood Cornwall Training in trying three different designs of PFD, including one that can be fitted with a personal locator beacon.

“It’s a good thing, a fantastic idea, but we couldn’t wear it for a day. We tried two other types but they were the same; they were pressing on our neck.”

He and other fishermen have given feedback to Seafood Cornwall on the need for something that could be worn on the torso like an item of clothing, such as a bodywarmer or gilet.

Cornish PO chief Paul Trebilcock said the need for lifejackets that were durable and reliable but also comfortable to work in was a recurring theme.

“Different types of fishing put different stresses on different parts of the body,” he said. “I undoubtedly think there’s more work to do on improving the design of lifejackets for fishermen.”

He said that fishermen like Jeremy Hosking needed to be involved in the design and development phase, and that there was a role for organisations like the Cornish PO or Seafood Cornwall Training to become involved with manufacturers in the design of better PFDs.

The podcast discusses various aspects of ILO 188 and fishermen’s safety with skippers, including the importance and benefits of carrying out emergency procedure drills, and the benefits of the online Safety Folder that has been developed by Robert Greenwood, the NFFO safety and training officer. This is used by more than 1,400 skippers/owners and enables risk assessments to be easily and continually updated.

The podcast can be accessed at:


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