Liberia: Small-scale fishing communities anxious over life safety at sea

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Although most residents in Liberia’s nine coastal counties rely on fishing as their main source of livelihood, the assurance of life safety at sea is still a concern for approximately 33,000 semi-industrial and artisanal fishermen in the West African State.

By George Harris

In the coastal part of Montserrado County where most semi-industrial and artisanal fishing activities take place, there is no certainty that a fisherman can be rescued from an accident at sea, as most small-scale vessels in the county lack information-sharing equipment to signal an emergency at sea.

Jerry Blamo, the General Secretary of Liberia Artisanal Fishermen Association (LAFA), says that the lack of safety gears is one factor that has led to hundreds of fishermen deaths at sea in the county. He made the claims when Sipanews reporter interviewed him at his resident in the West Point Fishing Community of Montserrado County.

“When our boys are on sea, they are cut off from us and we too are cut off from them. This is really a dangerous situation because no one is coming from their side to tell us what is going on at sea and no one from our side can even tell them what is going on behind them; so ‘what result do you expect when the bad [unfortunate]happens?” Blamo stated.

Also, elder Blamo who spent most of his youthful days at sea, says that fishermen are more vulnerable at sea during the course of the rainy season. He said that rough sea and [sea weed]easily entrap fishermen at sea during the rainy season.

Moreover, the deaths of fishermen at sea have left relatives, especially fishermen’s wives with the responsibility to feed, shelter and provide other necessary needs for their families. But the role of a breadwinner comes with a cost to many wives, which disable mother Favor James is one.

Five years on after the death of her children’s father, Favor can barely raise income to sponsor her children’s education and meet other needs of them.

In 2013, Favor children’s father, [Kofi Tawieh]  along with five other fishermen died to a sea accident in the West Point Fishing Community.

Although delegate government authority did not establish the cause of Kofi and his colleagues’ death, Favor says that Kofi and his colleagues’ canoe capsized as a result of overwhelming dirt in the ocean.

“After [Sumpter, the survivor from the accident] gain conscientiousness, he told me that he could only remember Kofi and the other guys fighting to save their net from a dirt that was on sea,” said Favor James.

Authority Intervention

On the other hand, the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority of Liberia (NaFFA) says that mechanisms are being employed to reduce the death causes at sea.

Nicholas Nipay, Manager for Fisheries and Environment at NaFFA, says that his institution is working to ensure life safety at sea through two information sharing approaches.

Nipay says, “First, NaFFA is providing information on ocean current and temperature to small-scale vessels. Secondly, through the West African Regional Fisheries Project (WARFP), we are using the Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder to respond to emergencies at sea.”

How AIS works?

The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is an automatic tracking system used on ships and by vessel traffic services (VTS) around the world to identify and locate vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships.

The usage of AIS came as a result of 2002, Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) agreement’s relative mandate but it was two years later that the International Maritime Organization requires passenger, commercial (299 Gross tonnage) and smaller vessels to carry AIS transponder.

NaFFA intervention weaknesses

Despite NaFFA interventions to reduce death causes at sea, the institution is yet to have an information system that records the common causes of death at sea. This was discovered when Sipa News reporter asked about the common causes of death at sea that NaFFA has recorded.

Additionally, the extensive distribution of AIS transponders that is meant to help delegate authority keeps watchful eyes on small-scale vessels activities but also enables authority to quickly respond to emergencies at sea, now rest on the result of the West Africa Regional Fisheries Program (WARFP) through which AIS transponders are being tried on two small-scale vessels. NaFFA did not establish the duration of the trial project but says that once the project is proven successful, the project methods will be replicated in other coastal communities across Liberia.

“This is just a trial project that we are monitoring; we been studying how small-scale fishing communities are interacting with AIS transponder. When the trail test is completed, it is possible that we extend the project to other coastal communities,” Says official from NaFFA.

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