Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
OLD HARBOUR, St Catherine:
"THE LIFE jackets and flares cannot save your life if you do not have them in the boat. Mothers, daughters, wives, all family members - make sure that your loved ones do not put out to sea without these life-saving equipment," Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke appealed to his audience at the Old Harbour Fishing Beach in St Catherine on Thursday.
Delivering the keynote address at the symbolic handover of fishing and safety gear for the 'Enhancement of the Fish Cold Chain Supply and Safety Equipping' Project, which will provide benefits to 2,000 fishers and 400 vendors in eight fishing communities across six parishes, he lamented the continued loss of life at sea.
Sadly, the minister noted, this was due largely to the failure of fishers to observe simple safety rules. These include: "Things as basic as wearing a life jacket, carrying an anchor and telling loved ones where you are going and when you expect to return are things that fishers can and must do," Clarke stressed.
Citing figures from the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard, Clarke said poor safety practices by fishers and other mariners were, in fact, the main reasons for distress at sea.
Said he: "Each year, they have to respond to more than 30 search-and-rescue cases at sea, (and) fishing vessels make up more than 65 per cent. For 2008, there were 36 search-and-rescue cases and over 90 per cent involved fishers."
Of these cases, 30 were resolved and a total of 130 persons rescued; but unfortunately, six cases are still pending, with 19 persons unaccounted for and presumed dead.
Missing proper equipment
Among the poor practices identified by the coastguard are the failure to take on board proper communication equipment such as global positioning systems, VHF (very high frequency) radios, lights and compass; seafarers ignoring severe weather alerts; vessels going to sea without anchors, oars or a spare engine.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries through the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), using an J$18-million loan from the World Bank, under this project will deliver life jackets and marine distress flares to registered fishers, while fish vendors will receive igloos. Old Harbour Bay is the largest fishing community in the island and 95 fishers and 140 vendors will get equipment. Other fishing villages set to benefit are Annotto Bay and Pagee in St Mary, Manchioneal in Portland, Discovery Bay in St Ann, Rocky Point in Clarendon, as well as Savanna-la-Mar, Whitehouse and Belmont in Westmoreland.
Meanwhile, Scarlette Gillings, managing director of JSIF, explained that the provision of the equipment will be supported by training to improve the 'sea-to-fork' cold chain in order to improve food and personal safety. The main objective of the food-safety interventions is to prevent and control food-safety risks, both for local consumption, as well as food for export.
She explained the importance of this: "The project seeks to promote sustainability of the industry and … for the provision of organisational strengthening training to the fishermen's co-operatives. It is hoped that through these interventions, Jamaica will increase its self-sufficiency in the supply of fish to the local market."