More fishermen to be buried at sea

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation today voted to send to the full Senate a bill that will result in the deaths of more fishermen on vessels that capsize and sink at sea.

Section 312 of S. 1611, Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015, as ordered reported from the  Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation, amends  the requirement Congress enacted in 2010 that requires commercial fishing vessels built after 1 July 2013 that are over 50-feet and operate more than 3-miles from the coast to be designed, built and maintained to the standards of a recognized organization – called a class society. The amendment proposed in S. 1611 would eliminate that requirement for fishing vessels over 50-feet but less than 190-feet.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), commercial fishing has the highest rate of deaths of any industry in the United States. The 2010 safety requirements were designed to change that historical record.

This provision is immoral.  A Committee in Congress has never voted in the past 30 years to decrease safety standards for the commercial fishing industry. Clearly the voice of vessel owners was heard today – but what of the voice of the workers on these vessels. Apparently the deaths of fishermen killed in disasters such as the ARCTIC ROSE, KATMAI, ALASKA RANGER and MAJESTIC BLUE are not enough to convince Senators that the old way of building vessels without 3rd party oversight is not enough.

This is a serious issue that should be beyond politics and lobbiest. This is not an amendment to make more fishing vessels eligible for Federal loans and loan guarantees like they have also done in this bill.  This provision will decide whether fishermen come home to their families or whether they will be lost at sea as so many have been in the past.

The Senators that voted on this bill are aware of the dismal safety history of the fishing industry. This legislation will allow fishing vessels to be designed, and the construction overseen, by people who are not qualified – the same has been done for the past 85 years. Fishermen will die to save the vessel owners money by eliminating any effective oversight by an independent party of the design, construction and maintenance of fishing vessels.

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) voiced her concern about the fishing vessel safety provisions contained in S. 1611.  She stated that 68% of the deaths on the West Coast were from major fishing vessel casualties and that between 2000 and 2009 there were 32 fishing vessel disasters resulting in 58 deaths including 24 deaths in the Bering Sea. She stated that “I want to make sure that we get vessel safety correct”. The provisions in S. 1611 are far from being correct.

The Pacific Northwest and Alaska are not the only regions to have fishing vessel disasters.  In the Gulf of Mexico there were 27 fishing vessel disasters between 2000 and 2009 resulting in the deaths of 39 fishermen and on the East Coast there were 59 fishing vessel disasters resulting in 98 deaths.

For more detailed information on this provision read by article titled “Death on the High Seas”.

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