Accidents and Injuries at Sea

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By Dr Moses Amweelo It is a well-known fact that Namibia is one of the biggest fishing nations in Southern Africa. With the recent deepening of our two ports, Walvis Bay and LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz, as well as the completed two corridors into the SADC region and into the heart of Africa, Namibia is becoming an attractive shipping destination for bigger commercial ships/vessels. From the government perspective, it isÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ becoming increasingly aware of our maritime imperatives and challenges that will need to be addressed. These include the safety of ships, protection of the marine environment and the promotion of Namibia’s maritime interest. Namibia needs to maintain the highest possible standard of safety at sea and ashore, marine environmental control, maritime legislation, maritime training of seafarers (including shore-based personnel), ports efficiency and the provision of an effective search and rescue service to the vessels that sail to and from our ports and along our coastline. The fishing vessels’ safety, especially, has become a great concern to the government which in recent times received reports of ship accidents resulting in a dramatic high casualty increase in term of loss of lives at sea and injuries. In 1997 the Classification Society, Det Norske Veritas (DNV) carried out a maritime safety assessment of the Namibian fleet. The following category of areas were inspected and faults were found: Lifesaving appliances were 33%, fire-fighting equipment were 26%, navigational equipment were 2%, safety in general was 31%, accommodation 5% and miscellaneous was 1%. According to these statistics the most failures were found in the areas concerning lifesaving appliances (33%), followed byÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ safety in general (31%) and fire-fighting equipment (26%). Casual questioning revealed the following recent cases of accidents: One case of flooding of forecastle was caused by damaged (or lack of) forecastle hatch cover; two cases of engine room fire were caused by cracks in high pressure pipes to fuel valves for main engine, which was ignited by splashing on exhaust manifold; one case of engine room fire, details unknown; one case of finger cutting with fish net handling; one case of slipping of mooring spring where a leg was wounded; two persons drowned. With regard to the age of the fleets, recordings were as follows: Vessels built before 1980 were 207, vessels built between 1980 and 1990 were 38, and vessels built between 1990 and 2000 were 10. The age of a ship or vessel will not automatically determine if it is a high-risk vessel or not. In many instances we will find that an older vessel may be far better maintained than a newer vessel, thus representing less chances for accidents than the newer one. An accident on board is most likely to occur due to human error, either by the seaman himself, or wrong management decisions. The International Maritime Organisaton (IMO) has long ago reported that at least 80% of all accidents at sea are due to human factors. What we know is that personnel working on board fishing vessels are more exposed to dangerous situations than personnel on board cargo carriers or passenger ships. Injuries among seafarers result in heavy human, social and material costs. About two in five accidents occur on deck, and another two in five occur in the engine room. Despite this fact, international maritime conventions have basically been directed at the safety on board merchant shipping vessels, neglecting the fishing fleet, until we got the Torremolinos Protocol and the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel in 1995. The findings in this respect revealed in 1997 may be relevant for the situation as occurred in recent years between 2000/2001. The following accidents reported to the Directorate Maritime Affairs during the period June 2000 to January 2001 may illustrate the situation: 12 June 2000 on board a trawler, during hoisting of trawl doors, the trawl winch brakes failed causing the wire to speed out. One man was caught by the wire, dragged into sea and disappeared. On 8 November 2000 a vessel under way caught fire and sank. No casualties. 7 January 2001 a vessel under way to the fishing area was grounded. No casualties. During an attempt to tow the vessel back to port she sank. January 2001 on board a fishing vessel, while ‘shooting away long lines’ a ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ fisherman’s arm was entangled in the rope. The arm broke. As for types of injury, statistical data show that the most common are contusions, wounds, fractures and strains. Faulty machines and equipment as well as environmental factors, such as weather, noise and vibration, also cause accidents. In addition, many accidents and injuries on board fishing vessels are caused by dangerous goods, alcohol, etc. The 2002 sinking of three Namibian registered vessels, namely: MFV Meob Bay, MFV Dr Banks and MFV Marino Premero in which several lives were lost is still fresh in our minds. This need not to be repeated. On 8 November 2006, MFV Diaz caught fire at sea whereby three crewmembers are presumed dead after an unexplained explosion in the engine room (New Era, 10 November 2006). When examining these accidents and injuries in detail as reported above, one will easily understand that the absence of proper safety attitudes and training with repeated safety drills on board vessels may have caused tragic deaths, injuries, loss of lives and properties. But the human factor is regarded as the most important single cause of accidents on board fishing vessels. The government’s responsibility is to ensure that national maritime policies and regulations governing operations at sea are complied with. Hence its objectives are to ensure safety of life and property at sea, clean oceans and the promotion of national maritime interests. Any ship owner, a master and skipper are expected to be part and parcel of these objectives. It will be the owners and master’s obligation and responsibility to ensure that their ships/vessels are manned by qualified personnel. This means that personnel or crewmembers should able to meet the safety challenges on board vessels in a professional manner. The government as a custodian and regulator of the Namibian maritime sector has drafted new laws and reviewed old legislation inherited. Namibia has also started the process with the accession to some relevant international maritime conventions, such as the Convention on Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the Tonnage Measurement Convention (TONNAGE), the International Regulations on Collision prevention (COLREG) convention, the Load Line Convention (LOADLINE), etc. Namibia has acceded all the above-mentioned International Maritime Organization (IMO) conventions. All above listed conventions are safety in their respective areas, and fundamental for the seafarers working on board ships or vessels. It is important to note that these safety standards are the minimum agreed on. In order to improve maritime accidents and incidents in our nautical maritime zones (Territorial Sea, Contiguous Zone and Exclusive Economic Zone), efforts should be directed at the following bullets: – revision of the Merchant Shipping Act is given priority to get it in line with International Maritime Conventions; – a working group consisting of various stakeholders and the Government is established with the objective to formulate reporting routines on board and in the shore-based managements concerning accident, near-accidents and incidents representing a hazard both with regard to safety and the marine environment; – formal cooperation between the Directorate Maritime Affairs and other relevant governmental bodies need to be established to analyze accidents and incidents in view of both the Labour Act 1992 and the Maritime regulations; – strengthening of the safety training of new seafarers, officers and technical personnel with emphasiso n awareness of accidents prevention; – workshops should be arranged regularly for officers in the fleet. And this should be done in cooperation with the fishing industry and the Namibian Maritime and Fisheries Institute where safety issues on board are in focus; – a permanent technical group should be established within the Directorate Maritime Affairs (DMA) with the objective to analyze accidents, near missing accidents and incidents, on permanent basis.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  The technical group should also prepare relevant documentation for reporting them to International Maritime Organization (IMO). The Maritime Namibia is relatively young.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  However, operating the biggest fleet of fishing vessels in the southern hemisphere represent responsibilities both with regard to reputation internationally, and even more important, responsibilities towards the 5000-6000 seafarers on board the fleet.

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