Milestone agreements for improving safety and loss prevention reached

22 October 2018 Johan Du Toit
A view of the conference

A view of the conference

At the International Union of Maritime Insurers (IUMI) 2018 conference held in Cape Town last week, Jeremy Prain, Legal Partner at Bowmans Law in Cape Town, provided an overview of recent efforts for the improvement of fishing vessel safety and loss prevention at sea.

Fishing remains of the most dangerous occupations in the world.  Globally, at least 24 000 people die every year on commercial fishing vessels, and 24 milllion are injured according to statistics from the International Labour Organization (ILO). By comparison, an average of 292 merchant seafarers are reported as dead or missing per year.

The total number of fishing vessels in the world is estimated at 4.6 million and of these 64 000 are 24 metres plus in length. The vast majority of the world’s fishing fleet is made up of small vessels. About 1.3 million are decked and 2.8 million un-decked vessels and 65% have no mechanical propulsion system.

The vast majority of fishers live in developing countries – Asia (83%),  Africa (9%) and South America (2.5%)  The rest are divided among fish exporting countries of North America, Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Poor regulation and enforcement

Most legislation concerns only certain fishing vessels, e.g. more than 10 metres or 7 metres and/or motorized, while small-scale fishing vessels are not properly regulated and controlled at all. Enforcement of regulations is, in most cases, weak and even vessels that are regulated do not comply with regulations. Furthermore, lack of oversight throughout the commercial fishing industry means vessels can operate with few or no safety measures in place.

Vulnerability of fishers

Fishermen often work extremely long hours in hazardous conditions and regularly operate dangerous equipment. Medical care is often inaccessible and migrant fishers make up a high proportion of workers on the high seas. They labour in isolation, not speaking the language of other crew members or the skipper, and transfer at sea enable crews to be moved without entering port. Some crew can even stay at sea for years at a time.

Lack of data

Lack of data makes it difficult to compile accurate statistics and it is not yet standard practice to collect data from marine accidents. Safety at sea is not given great consideration by many governments, because the magnitude of the problem is not even known. In cases where data collection systems do exist, only those accidents that have involved Search and Rescue operations are registered. Accidents with small-scale vessels are often not recorded and it is impossible to gain a global perspective.

Boat building and design

Few countries have adopted regulations and where they exist, they are inadequate. In general, inspections during the construction of the fishing vessel, or approval of the drawing plans tends not to be properly enforced. Modifications to designs developed during the 1980s and 1990s have resulted in these modified fishing vessels now experiencing stability and structural issues.

Adverse weather, mechanical failures and or breakdowns and collisions – often with larger merchant vessels – are the main causes of accidents.

Efforts to adopt an international treaty

In the past there have been efforts to set up and adopt an international convention for the safety of fishing vessels.  In 1977 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels which was later modified by the 1993 Torremolions Protocol, but both these treaties failed to come into force.

The breakthrough came in 2012 when the IMO adopted the Cape Town Agreement to bring into effect the provisions of the earlier Torremolinos treaties. Aimed at better control of fishing vessel safety by flag, port and coastal states, it is also expected to contribute to the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. IUU fishing undermines national, regional and global efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks. It affects about 20 % of the global fish yields and costs the industry about US$ 23 billion a year in lost incomes.

The treaty will enter into force 12 months after at least 22 countries, with an aggregate of 3,600 fishing vessels of 24 metres in length and over, operating on the high seas, have expressed their consent to be bound by it.

To date (September 2018), a total of ten countries have ratified the Cape Town Agreement - Belgium, Congo, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Saint Kitts and Nevis and of course, South Africa. Between them, they have an aggregate of 1,020 fishing vessels of 24 metres in length and over operating on the high seas. The Cape Town Agreement is in fact an equivalent of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) for fishing vessels of 24 metres in length and over.

It is an internationally binding instrument and includes mandatory international requirements for:

  • Stability and associated seaworthiness;
  • Machinery and electrical installations;
  • Life-saving appliances;
  • Communications equipment;
  • Fire protection; and
  • Fishing vessel construction.

There are ongoing efforts by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to bring the convention into force through various initiatives undertaken in regions across the world.

 The IMO has also observed increasing commitment from a number of member states. In general, there are positive moves underway to promote the Cape Town Agreement and other measures to make fishing a safer and more sustainable industry.

How can the marine insurance industry support the IMO?

Insurance associations might look to set up a lobby in their own countries to promote the ratification and implementation of the Cape Town Agreement. With enough political will and organizational push, it could be adopted faster and improve the lives of many as well as leading to a reduction in claims within the fishing vessel market.

Comment on this post

Email Address*
Security Check *
Quick Polls


The shocking crime and motor vehicle accident statistics shared during a recent SHA presentation suggests that group personal accident and personal accident cover are a no-brainer. Do you agree?


Not sure
fanews magazine
FAnews April 2024 Get the latest issue of FAnews

This month's headlines

FAIS Ombud lashes broker for multiple compliance blunders
TCF… a regulatory misfit initiative?
The impact of NHI on medical malpractice insurance
Fixed versus variable: can you have your cake and eat it too?
The future world of work
Subscribe now