UN agency calls for fishing boats in tsunami-affected countries to be safer

28 March 2006

Thousands of fishing boats built to replace those destroyed by the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 must meet minimum safety standards, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today, as it again urged authorities to ensure such standards were adhered to and warned that inferior boatbuilding was undermining the tsunami recovery effort.

Thousands of fishing boats built to replace those destroyed by the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 must meet minimum safety standards, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today, as it again urged authorities to ensure such standards were adhered to and warned that inferior boatbuilding was undermining the tsunami recovery effort.

The UN agency also called on all organizations financing boat construction to pay closer attention to the safety and quality of craft being built and to take steps to upgrade or replace sub-standard boats already in place.

Though firm figures are not available, reports from FAO staff in the field indicate that many replacement fishing vessels constructed since the disaster are seriously sub-standard, with the problem encompassing both wooden boats as well as those with fibre-glass hulls.

“Fishing is already the world’s most hazardous occupation, and working at sea in a sub-standard boat is doubly dangerous,” said Jeremy Turner of FAO’s Fisheries department.

“Another major problem is that these boats will need to be replaced – in many cases within the next two years – and as humanitarian aid shifts elsewhere, fishers will be left to foot the bill,” he added.

In Indonesia an estimated 7,600 fishing boats were lost completely because of the tsunami. Some 6,500 have been replaced but an unknown number of those are unsafe, FAO said. In Sri Lanka, where almost 19,000 boats were destroyed, more than 13,000 boats had been replaced by the end of November 2005 although nearly 19 percent are estimated to be unseaworthy.

The tsunami killed over 230,000 people and displaced some 1.5 million more in 12 countries, but FAO points out that many of the countries affected do not have regulations governing the construction of small fishing vessels and this fact, coupled with the deaths of a number of experienced boatbuilders during the disaster, has contributed to the current situation.

The agency has been trying to remedy this through various measures, including working with national and local authorities, fishing communities and the private sector in tsunami-affected countries to improve the state of boatbuilding, including publishing a “how to” primer in Indonesian on proper shipbuilding which is being used by craftsmen in Aceh and other affected areas.

“The longer-term goal is to see governments bring boat construction regulations on-line, and to see the enforcement of those regulations so that only good quality boats can be registered and licensed to fish,” Mr. Turner said.

“In the meantime, we hope that authorities will find ways to inspect new boats and insist that craft that don’t meet basic safety standards be fixed or destroyed – and that all those involved help shoulder the burden of doing so.”

In a related development regarding the 2004 disaster, the UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, former United States President Bill Clinton, has called for better management of natural hazards.

“Hazards only become disasters when lives and livelihoods are swept away. Making communities safer – by better managing the risks of natural hazards – must become a global priority,” he told officials gathered at the Third International Early Warning Conference in Bonn.

Mr. Clinton also met with the Executive Coordinator of the UN Volunteers (UNV) programme to discuss the continued collaboration between UNVs and the office of Special Envoy in support of tsunami recovery efforts.

 

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