One of the most dangerous livelihoods has been made safer in Cornwall due to a successful campaign to encourage the use of lifesaving buoyancy jackets. Bude does not have much fishing as an industry but other parts of Cornwall still do, such as nearby Port Isaac. Sea fishing is consistently measured as one of the professions with the highest loss of life, and currently, around 50% of all overboard incidents lead to death.
Last summer West Looe Cornwall Councillor Armand Toms initiated a scheme to provide subsidised life jackets fitted with battery-powered locator beacons, together with training sessions on sea safety, to fishing crew operating out of Cornish ports.
Following a meeting with Cllr Tudor Evans of Plymouth City Council and Clive Palfrey, RNLI lifeboat skipper in Looe, where they discussed two recent fishing boat incidents where there had been the loss of life, Armand then took a motion to Cornwall Council in November 2017.
This led to a partnership with Cornwall and Isles of Scilly FLAG (European Maritime and Fisheries Fund) and the Seafarers UK charity. Now the scheme has chalked up 250 lifejackets sold and more than 30 training sessions held.
The total cost of the scheme including the lifejackets was £96,000, jointly funded by Seafarers UK and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. The retail price of the special lifejackets is £360, but those who were eligible only had to pay £30.
Councillor Toms says: “I would like to thank all those involved from Councillors, Council Officers and the local RNLI. It will be only a matter of time before these lifejackets save the life of a local fisherman.”
The Fishermen’s Mission estimates that fishermen are 115 times more likely to suffer a fatal accident than any other workforce. Local Lifeboat manager Dave Haines has said the beacon lifejackets turn a ‘search and rescue’ into a ‘rescue’ mission.
The jackets not only have a visible flashing light but send out a personal locator signal, automatically alerting the RNLI via a satellite that someone has fallen overboard, whether the accident has been witnessed or not.
Cornwall Council portfolio holder for Environment and Public Protection Rob Nolan says: “I am delighted that this scheme has proved a success, and that 250 fishermen will now have safer working lives than before. Sea fishing is part of Cornwall’s maritime folklore and is rightly represented on the Council’s crest. But we must never forget the human cost of this ancient industry, and this new satellite beacon technology will prove to be lifesaving.”
The training sessions were delivered by lifeboat skipper Clive Palfrey at Seafood Cornwall Training (SCT) based in Newlyn. Arman Toms also thanks Cornwall Council Maritime Manager Andy Bridgen and his team. To be eligible fishermen had to reside in Cornwall and land their catch in Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly or Plymouth.
Fishermen working out of the following Cornish ports have taken part – Newlyn, Penberth, Sennen, St Ives, Newquay, Padstow, Port Isaac, Looe, Polperro, St Mawes, Portscatho, Truro, Mylor, Penryn, Falmouth, Helford, Cadgwith, Coverack and Porthleven.