Coast Guard ready to begin Operation Safe Catch

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – The Coast Guard is scheduled to begin an effort to improve commercial fishing safety in the 5th District beginning Sunday, to coincide with the start of the cold weather season, which brings rougher seas, and ending April 30.

The area involved in Operation Safe Catch is on shore and out to sea from near the North and South Carolina border to as far north as the Shrewsbury River in New Jersey. The operation is focused on increasing the rate of compliance with safety regulations by interacting with the commercial fishing industry to improve their risk management practices.

Commercial fishing is one of the most hazardous occupations in the United States. On average more than 40 people die annually while conducting commercial fishing operations. It accounts for 27 percent of the 5-year average of commercial mariner deaths and injuries.

During the operation, Coast Guard at-sea boarding teams and dockside examiners will check safety equipment on the vessels. Some examples of what will be checked are immersion suits, survival craft, survival craft stowage, distress signals, emergency position indicating radio beacons, fire extinguishers, high-water alarms, water tight integrity, damaged or broken hoses, stability letters, and vessel overloading.

Coast Guard examiners will concentrate on “high risk” vessels. These are vessels in poor condition with inadequate safety equipment; have a history of repeated search and rescue interventions; or engage in higher risk fishery operations, such as one-person fishing vessels operated far from shore.

In addition to the safety checks, the Coast Guard with the help of the Coast Guard Auxiliary will seek greater involvement in the Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Exam program. The program is an information source and gives fishermen the opportunity to get a free, no-fault exam on their vessels in order to help improve overall safety.

During the outreach to the commercial fishing industry, the Coast Guard will encourage fishermen to critically examine the non-regulated condition of their vessels for safety deficiencies such as critically important hull condition, vessel stability, and watertight integrity. When vessels capsize and sink at sea, the reason may often be related to one or more of these physical conditions of the vessel.

Many watertight integrity and stability issues are based on a lack of crew awareness and training. These non-regulatory measures are founded on good engineering practice rather than regulation. The primary focus will be to educate the mariner and improve the seaworthiness of the vessel.

From Jan. 1, 2004, to Sept. 20, 2009, in the 5th District, 51 commercial fishing vessel accidents resulted in 37 vessels and 28 lives lost. Some of the primary causes of the casualties were uncontrolled flooding, capsizing and sinking.

Coast Guard members will also be giving classes on safety at sea stressing the importance of safe fishing practices. Discussion will include being prepared if and when something should go wrong during fishing operations. An example is having the required safety gear and altering risk management practices while taking into account the awareness of stability and watertight integrity issues to make fishing operations safer.

Reasons for dockside exams:

  • Increases the chances for a safe return
  • Reduces the length of time the Coast Guard spends on a vessel if you’re boarded at sea
  • Reduces the chance of a voyage being terminated for safety violations
  • Reduces the chances for problems being found, if boarded by the Coast Guard
  • Dockside exams are done at the fisherman’s convenience

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