Call to force fishermen to wear life jackets is renewed
FORCING fishermen to wear life jackets could save lives at sea, Mevagissey's harbour master has said.
A report on an incident in which fisherman Ian Thomas from the town lost his life on December 20, 2011, was published by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) last week.
Its recommendations to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) included the mandatory wearing of life jackets, a mark on small boats indicating the safe maximum load of fish to be carried, and new stability tests.
Harbour master Hugh Bowles said enforcement might be hard, but "the number of lives lost on small boats that could have been saved by wearing personal flotation devices is incredible".
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The report said Mr Thomas was not a strong swimmer – but Mr Bowles said a number of fishermen in the harbour couldn't swim at all.
"One of our fishermen's boat sank under him and he was in the water for nearly eight hours," he said.
"He must have had a life jacket on. Most of the single-handlers wear them. It's more when there are two or three crew that they perhaps don't so much. Whether it's not macho to wear one, I don't know."
A loading mark was very sensible, he said; an overloaded boat also had a large amount of water in the hold, and if the boat rolled all the fish would move to one side, which could cause the vessel to capsize.
The 35ft Heather Anne, subject of the MAIB report, sank off the Roseland.
Skippered by Robert Hunkin, she left Mevagissey at 3.20pm and at about 5pm sighted a massive shoal of pilchards. After hauling in an estimated 10.5 tonnes she radioed the nearby Lauren Kate to share what was left.
Mr Hunkin's 16-year-old son was transferred to another boat, which headed towards Mevagissey, and Mr Hunkin then set the Heather Anne on autopilot, bound for home.
Loaded with fish, she sat low in the water and the choppy sea made steering difficult. He took control, but she began to roll and capsized.
The report said the boat was too heavily laden, that Mr Thomas's chances of survival would have been dramatically increased had he been wearing a life jacket and that since the boat was built in 1971 she had been extensively modified, increasing her displacement and reducing her freeboard – the distance from the deck to the water.