Deadline fast approaches for commercial fishing vessel safety exams

Date Posted
Caleb Kimpel

When the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010  was passed, it called for new mandates on commercial fishing vessel safety to be enforced by the United States Coast Guard. Among them is a requirement that by October 16, 2012, commercial fishing vessels operating beyond three nautical miles offshore demonstrate compliance with safety regulations.

The easiest way to accomplish this, according to the Coast Guard, is with an up-to-date Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Decal.  Alternatively, according to a letter to the fishing industry from the Coast Guard’s Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance,  a “Form CG-5587” signed by a Coast Guard examiner, or a signed letter of compliance from an accepted marine surveyor can suffice.

The Coast Guard is currently in the process of updating regulations for fishing vessels as demanded by the law that aims to take a bite out of worker fatalities and injuries in the nation’s most dangerous industry.

According to National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), between 2000 and 2010, 545 commercial fishermen died while fishing in the U.S. When corrected for the numbers of hours worked, an American fisherman in that decade was 31 times more likely to perish while doing his job than the typical American worker.

The majority of those deaths could be attributed to vessel disasters — ships sinking after being flooded or struck by a large wave — but fishermen being washed overboard and onboard injuries accounted for scores of deaths as well.

The aim of the new regulations and the ongoing vessel inspection process is to reduce the number of deaths across an industry that is inherently blighted by hazardous conditions.

Nevertheless, evidence suggests that the ability to control these hazards and save lives rests in the hands of operators and crews.

Since the early nineties, data-driven safety initiatives including new-technology implementation and focused industry training in the Alaska region have been able to reduce fatalities there by 42  percent.

Industry watchers hope the increased oversight by the Coast Guard will contribute to similar casualty declines industry-wide.

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