Review. Following direct engagement with the fishing industry in the Falkland Islands, three of the leading companies have provided full and frank disclosure in response to Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) crew welfare enquiries.
The recent visit to the Falkland Islands by HRAS to conduct an independent review of fishing licensing, related enforcement, and improvements for onboard crew safety and welfare, saw three leading companies opened their doors to scrutiny. This included access to one of the licensed squid fishing vessels and its crew at sea.
Polar Seafish Ltd and Dragon Fishing and Trading Company Ltd licensed by the Falkland Islands Government (FIG) along with Argos Froyanes Ltd, licensed by the South Georgia Government and the UK Government, have detailed their company positions on several review areas concerning onboard crew working conditions and resources.
These include mandatory safety training in the presence of flag and class personnel, access to Wi-Fi, accommodation facilities, remote medical support, complaints procedure, company code of conduct, incident reporting and remediation, access to onshore welfare services and access to fresh food supplies.
Polar Seafish Ltd
Polar Seafish operates three vessels with 180 crew with a focus on fishing for Loligo squid (Doryteuthis gahi) which spawns off the Falkland Islands coast.
In a recent statement to HRAS, out with required International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978 (STCW) requirements (in force 1984), Polar SeaFish exampled their actions to address crew safety, security and welfare. This included 24/7 telemedicine service and medical support from Spain in real-time photos, sounds, and videos to diagnose the patient and the steps to follow to take care of their crewman.
Additionally, they stated all vessels use the company’s safety risk assessment process manual with ongoing risk assessments and crew awareness being consistently implemented, with incidents reported direct to FIG departments.
“All incidents or accidents are reported to locally FIMA [Falkland Islands Maritime Authority] for statistical and recording purposes and to look at improvements that can be carried out to try and avoid the same occurrences in future, not only onboard our vessels but also across the entire fleet.”
In terms of crew Wi-Fi access, the company is trialling a low-orbit satellite system on one of their vessels and stated: “We know how important it is for our officers and crew to keep in touch with their families while they are on board, which is why we are proud to offer Wi-Fi on our vessels. This means that all crew members have access to the internet and can communicate in whatever way they prefer using their own devices. This has been a huge improvement compared to the limited means of communication available years ago, where phone calls were the only option.”
Alex Reid, Managing Director, Polar Seafish, commented: “As a company, we strive to provide our crew with the best possible working conditions and support them in every aspect of their work and personal life while at sea. We believe that providing them with work clothing, food, accommodation, training, medical care, continued employment, and taking care of them from when they leave their home until they return is crucial.”
Argos Froyanes Ltd
As a British-Norwegian partnership, Argos Froyanes is focused on the sustainable capture of Patagonian Toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) and operate three vessels and circa 85 crew from the Falkland Islands to fish around South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) Maritime Zone.
Engaging with HRAS, Argos have also shared detailed responses to HRAS queries around onboard crew working conditions and resources.
In addition to company Safety Compliance and Operations crew training and qualifications, Argos highlight several points.
In terms of onboard and remote medical support, all Officers have medical provision training backed by 24/7/365 medical support from Norway and Spain. Further, all vessels carry an extensive medical stock, above UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) requirements, in purpose-built hospitals (3 berths) ensuite, with internal and satellite communications.
In terms of Wi-Fi provision, all vessels have routers, and all crew have access to Wi-Fi at all times.
Argos state: “…we have 3 levels of connection depending on geographical position. Each level allows for crew to at normal levels have internet as well as VOIP and messaging services, to at worst messaging services. They have international phone call to cabin ability for incoming calls and can make outgoing calls as well. Additionally, if required we have 3 methods of voice calling from the vessel which crew can use in addition to their own access.”
All incidents are recorded and reported to the flag state and processed through the company’s in-house Safety Management System. Data is also supplied to the licensing authority, as required.
Andrew Newman of Argos, said: “Crew welfare in the modern fishing industry suffers from historic bad performance or current bad performance by certain countries/flag states/regulators. We welcome this opportunity to showcase what some areas of the modern fishing industry are like, albeit in a very hostile and remote area like the South Atlantic.”
Dragon Fishing and Trading Company Ltd
With 30 licensed South Korean squid jigger vessels, each with 48 crew and totalling around 1500 crew onboard during a season, Dragon Fishing and Trading Company Ltd are responsible for one of the larger fleets operating in Falklands waters.
Increased Safety Awareness, Crew Welfare and Living Conditions has been bought about by directed internal change working with owners, exposing the crew and vessel issues, but providing solutions too. This ongoing improvement process has been 100% funded by owners and it has involved independent surveys and audits of each vessel, pre deployment visits, pre fishing season audits and in-season company support.
To date, it is reported to HRAS that all vessels have been raised to a standard where they voluntarily comply with ILO C188 and the 1993 Torremolinos Protocol, superseded by the 2012 Cape Town Agreement, neither of which are yet enacted in South Korea. Auditing by a third party is voluntary.
As for the previous two companies, all crew have STCW basic safety training which for the company is checked to be within date for the previous five (5) years. In addition to ‘basic training’ additional onboard training is provided by a team of trainers, pre-season. The trainers include a qualified firefighter, master mariner, marine surveyor, auditor and a safety specialist.
The training covers command teamwork, fire firefighting, first aid, muster stations, man overboard, and abandon ship. The training is provided at anchor on the fisher’s vessel and involves ‘live’ drills, ‘on air’ firefighting including use of charged hoses and use of the rescue boat, by way of example. The training is mainly in-person, not classroom led. If a vessel’s crew do not reach a required standard, then the day is repeated until it is confirmed by the trainers as being correct.
It is reported to HRAS that in 2022 one vessel was sent back to Montevideo to rectify onboard safety equipment and associated training. It was delayed by nearly two (2) weeks before returning to the fishery. It was subsequently internally assessed that for the 2023 season, the vessel in question was one of the best prepared.
For crew, all licensed vessels have a documented complaints procedure, posted up in the crew mess, and part of the company’s Safety Management System (SMS).
In response to questions of Wi-Fi availability, all vessels have been required by South Korean law since 2022 to have full satellite connectivity and Wi-Fi provision; how that provision is locally managed is up to each company and master.
In practice, the company has encouraged 24/7 availability for crew which spreads the band with loading, reduces tension around set times. It is reported that some masters prefer to provide specific schedules when the Wi-Fi is on, though Wi Fi use is highlighted as coming with problems too, with crew more readily aware of issues at home. Nonetheless, the company states that, “overall, the negative aspects are outweighed by the benefits.”
In terms of ongoing improvements, some of the older vessels are being improved and new vessels are being constructed. Specifically, there are galley and crew accommodation upgrades, increased fresh water making capacity, and increased onboard safety training.
Wendy Shelbourne, Managing Director, said: “Korean owners have been at the forefront of change for the Falkland Island Jigger fleet. Cooperation from the [South] Korean Flag State (KOMSA) and Korean Class Society (KR) has bought about a common approach where safety is being improved collectively. This change has not been without financial cost, but there is a determination to show that the [South] Korean fleet is committed to a long-term presence on the South Atlantic waters.”
For all coastal States, it is crucial to recognise the significance of allowing civil society direct access to the fishing industry and its activities.
Human Rights at Sea, an accredited NGO of the United Nations and official Observer of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), play a vital role in reviewing working conditions, onboard facilities, and training standards for fishing crews.
These independent reviews result in submissions to relevant agencies and state authorities, providing examples of both good and bad working practices in order to drive change.
In terms of the current dialogue with the Falkland Island’s fishing industry, HRAS has benefited from an initial open and welcoming discourse which has set the standard for future discussions.
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Photo credit: David Hammond 2023
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