In Guinea, artisanal fisheries are the livelihood of tens of thousands of people. In 2016, there were 23,000 fishermen operating 7,523 boats. And today, actors in the sector are facing enormous security problems.
At Conakry’s main landing sites (Boulbinet, Bonfi, Téménétaye, Dixinn and Kapora), artisanal fishermen are saddened by what they call “the trivialisation of life at sea”, due to the lack of regulations for monitoring boat safety and protective gear.
“I lost my elder brother, Minkaïlou Camara, aged 31, last year. He went fishing with two of his mates. All three drowned. We only found them 48 hours after they went missing.
It is 1 p.m. and the weather is torrid in the fishing port of Kaporo (a suburb of Conakry). Amidst the back-and-forth of fishermen, saleswomen and fish smokers at this place, Yamoussa Camara is sitting under a makeshift shed, watching fishermen who are repairing their pirogues before a trip to the sea.
Wearing a tank top on black pants, Camara tells the story: “I lost my elder brother, Minkaïlou Camara, aged 31, last year. He went fishing with two of his mates. All three drowned. We only found them 48 hours after they went missing. Following the shock, our mother did not survive, either. My brother was the pillar of the whole family”.
Today, at the age of 29, young Yamoussa has taken over from his late brother. When his brother was alive, he confided, “I used to learn welding. And he was the one who supported me financially”.
After losing his brother and his mother, he gave up failing financial support. “I no longer have any support, so I left the trade and turned to fishing. And I’m fighting so that what happened to my brother doesn’t happen to other fishermen,” he says.
Referring to the circumstances of the capsizing of his brother’s boat, the orphan recounts that two other fishermen were fishing side by side with his brother and his mates. On their voyage back to the landing site in Kaporo, they reported that as they were leaving, the other fellows were pulling their nets into the boat. This is how they parted.
“The two returned here at 2pm. My brother and his mates didn’t return until 7pm. We started to worry because the dugout didn’t come back when it was supposed to arrive before 4pm. But until 8pm they didn’t show up. They should have been back by then,” says Yamoussa with a trembling voice.
“We fish to survive. As we have no means. We have no life-saving equipment, no waistcoats, no GPS, nothing. And when we go out to sea, we are left to face all dangers.”
The harbourmaster only got news of the incident the following day. As soon as he was informed, he bought two 40-litre cans of fuel to send two boats for the missing fishermen at sea. On their way, the [rescuers]came across other fishermen who claimed they had seen an empty boat in front of them. According to our interlocutor, the first body, “decomposed”, was found near the port of Kaporo 72 hours following the incident. Late Minkaïlou’s younger brother said: “My brother’s body was identified thanks to his underpants. He was buried in the cemetery. The next day, the second body was found at Taouya beach. As we were busy burying this one, we were called and informed that the third body was found in Tayaki. And we went directly to the scene with the police and sent the body for burial”.
Today, his daily struggle is to plead with willing authorities so that artisanal fishermen are equipped with protective gear to stay safe at sea. This does come with difficulties. “We fish to survive. As we have no means. We have no life-saving equipment, no waistcoats, no GPS, nothing. And when we go out to sea, we are left to face all dangers.”
Lacking his own boat, Yamoussa works with boat owners to earn a living.
At the fishing port of Dixinn located south of the Kaporo fishing port, Djibril Bangoura is mending his fishing nets. Aged 45, he is a fisherman and lost a nephew to the sea. And for the past two years following this loss, he explains, the family has been struggling to recover. “It’s a hallucination for us! Our son died at sea while he was out looking for food for the family. It’s hard for us to forget the day we lost him. It’s still very painful.”
Since his nephew Alpha Bangoura died, he has taken over as the family’s bread winner, the fisherman claims. “My sister’s husband died. He left five children behind, including the late Alpha Bangoura. He was the eldest who helped his mother care for the children. They all attend school. You have to pay school fees, find food and if someone gets sick, you have to attend to him or her. So, knowing this, I can’t just leave my sister alone in this situation,” he says.
What causes of the fishermen’s death at sea?
As reported by the various actors in small-scale fisheries, the causes of the accidents are due, among other things, to the poor standing of the means of production (resulting in capsizing), failure to comply with safety rules at sea and on board (lack of signalling and fishing with fire on board), lack of life jackets, collision of boats with trawlers, poor weather, etc.
Added to these issues, there is a notorious lack of infrastructure at certain landing sites. At Kaporo, for example, under a blazing sun, Mrs. Rouguiatou Bangoura, mother of a three-year-old child, is sitting on a basin. She is waiting for the fishermen to return to buy fish and sell it to earn a living. Earning a living by risking her own life amidst all kinds of waste. Kaporo port is devoid of any infrastructure. The landing site is in its natural state, except for a few makeshift tarpaulins put up sparsely by the fishermen.
She explains: “There are no facilities here, which is why we are in the sunshine when it is dry and in the rain during the winter. But there’s more to it! “Kaporo Port has no equipment. We don’t have any shed or toilet. To answer the call of nature, we have to spread out our loincloths among the people because there are no toilets. Normally, we shouldn’t do that since we are not children. But with this situation going on, our health is at stake,” she warns.
Regarding technical control, three fishermen claimed that control of engine safety is ineffective. Private mechanics work in isolation at the landing sites. On the other hand, there is no training programme or centre for artisanal fishermen in Guinea. During the report and on the landing sites that we visited (Kaporo, Dixinn and Bonfi), we noted a lack of individual and collective safety equipment (waistcoats, radar reflectors, hand lights, GPS) in artisanal fishing boats and that no fishermen were wearing waistcoats. All these “neglected” aspects are not without consequences on the lives of the fishermen.
As a result of this, artisanal fishermen lose their lives or their fishing equipment every year.
To find out about the statistics on maritime accidents and incidents, we approached the Director General of Maritime Fisheries. Regarding artisanal fishermen, Mr. Amara Kaba reports that at least 15 cases of accidents occur at sea every year. Any statistics for the year 2020? “I don’t have the statistics for the year 2020. However, there are decentralised divisions that record cases of accidents, but the figures for the year 2020 have not been reported”, he replied.
Between Friday 3 and Saturday July 4, 2020, for example, eight shipwrecks occurred at sea on the Guinean coast. These accidents claimed the lives of three (3) fishermen in total, and caused numerous material damages.
The information and communication officer of the Guinean Artisanal Fisheries Federation (Fédération guinéenne de la pêche artisanale, FEGUIPA) says that these repeated shipwrecks are due to strong waves, compounded by the wind and the poor state of the boats.
“The port of Bonfi has reported four boats that capsized. The crew were rescued but their equipment sank. In Dixinn, at the port of Bellevue, two (2) boats met the same fate. On the Fatala River, the equipment remained in the water and only the engine was recovered. Similarly in Kamsar, more than 20 boats were damaged. In Kindiady (Boffa), three fishermen were shipwrecked. Two were rescued and the third was reported missing,” said Idrissa Kallo.
What about provisions to mitigate accidents among artisanal fishermen?
Fishermen’s safety is everyone’s responsibility. Everyone has to take responsibility.
The Director General of Maritime Fisheries points out that his department is running awareness campaigns for fishermen. At this point, he says, “with the help of partners, we have the tools to inform fishermen about conditions at sea (ocean conditions) and every 4 p.m. we alert fishermen’s leaders to the weather changes of the following day”.
However, the fishermen sometimes make the concern about safety their own business. Because, “sometimes,” deplores Amara Kaba, “some fishermen will take the chance of going to sea despite being alerted. Besides, they don’t take much care of their fishing gear”.
With the many accidents occurring at sea, fishing professionals have organised to hang a three-coloured flag as a symbol: red means that the sea is impassable; yellow stands for ‘moderately passable’; and green indicates that the sea is calm and allows fishermen to go out fishing.
To meet the safety challenge, fishermen are requesting authorities to provide them with life jackets, emergency shuttles in case of trouble, GPS and adequate infrastructures to carry out their activities, etc.
Mamadou Aliou Diallo