The Labour Ministry will be examining safety and health issues affecting workers within the fishing industry, in light of the deadly Pritipaul Singh Investments (PSI) trawler blaze.
Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir told Stabroek News yesterday that the ministry has a general policy of checking the safety and health aspects of various working establishments. He admitted, however, that the agency has not paid much attention to establishments within the fishing sector and according to him it will in future implement measures to correct the situation, following the recent report on the PSI fire.
Transport Minister Robeson Benn had ordered an inquiry into the June 19 incident which resulted in several seamen attached to PSI being injured while the Captain of the ill-fated Captain Lloyd 97, Delbert Williams, remains missing and presumed dead. Another crewman, Orlon Munroe, died in hospital of injuries he sustained in the fire.
The team which investigated the incident stated in its findings that while PSI had overriding power as regards the quality of its crew, the company had not paid attention to the competence or experience of the crew employed by the captain. It was noted that the latter resulted in young men with no experience or relevant training being sent to sea and the team termed the situation an extremely dangerous practice.
Nadir stated that the latter is a subjective opinion and he noted that there is no legislation that says that a person has to have some degree of training to carry out a particular job. He said that to some extent the ministry is in a position to set conditions to go in the right direction of streamlining issues relating to employees entering a working environment.
However, as regards the fishing sector, Nadir noted that many times there are no specifications regarding the employment conditions of seamen, like boat captains. He noted that the PSI incident had raised several issues in this regard. He added that in future job descriptions within the sector will be monitored closely by the labour department.
The report had recommended that PSI ensure that it contracts qualified captains, who should employ experienced crew members or at least persons who have attended the Basic Safety Training Course. The investigating team also made recommendations for the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) to make it mandatory for seamen or potential seamen to attend the Basic Safety Training Course, among other things.
A PSI official, who declined to be named, told Stabroek News earlier this week that the seafood company has been striving over the years to improve its operating procedures and will continue to improve in areas which needed attention, including health and safety. He said that the company has seen and reviewed the preliminary report into the June 19 fire. Rigger Munroe, 22 passed away some three months after the incident while George Fitzpatrick is recovering from injuries he sustained during the ordeal. Two other seamen escaped with minor injuries.
PSI, the official noted, disputed several areas in the report which he noted did not give a true picture of the company’s operations but said the company will nevertheless comply with the findings. The official reiterated that PSI will ensure that its operations meet the required standards as set out by the competent authority.
The authorities are exploring whether any charges will be laid against PSI in relation to the incident and the report is expected to be sent to the Attorney General’s Chambers to this end. Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud told this newspaper last weekend that the Fisheries Advisory Committee of the Agriculture Ministry as well as the Works Ministry may also pronounce on the issue as regards penalties the company may face.
After the report was made public, the ministry’s Fisheries Department stated last week that recommendations made by the investigating team will be implemented to ensure that they are adhered to by all fishing vessels, especially trawlers. The department stated that the continued licensing of trawlers will be linked to the recommendations and the most stringent examination of vessels and related requirements will be done to ensure that irregularities and deficiencies are rectified before licences are issued.
According to the department, the Guyana Association of Trawler Owners and Seafood Processors was implored to take the necessary measures to ensure that all its members comply with the rules and regulations, which would see that all occupational safety and health systems are in place and that crew members of vessels are able to work in a safe environment.
The investigation, which included inspections of PSI’s facilities at McDoom and Providence on the East Bank Demerara as well as the trawler in question, found, among other deficiencies, lax safety measures and key managers with little or no “competence” in the area they oversee.
The team recommended that PSI ensure all emergency and safety equipment on shore and aboard ships are acquired and maintained in a serviceable state and that emergency drills be carried out periodically ashore and on board the vessels.
The report also recommended that MARAD seek to develop a syllabus for skippers of fishing vessels and the unit was urged to develop on-board operating procedures to regulate activities such as the transfer of fuel between compartments of tanks and set clear guidelines to govern the handling of evidence to ensure its preservation for forensic purposes.