The Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) only has six marine surveyors responsible for the monitoring of over 2000 vessels that operate in Guyanese waters.
This was disclosed during a press conference hosted by the Public Works Ministry on Thursday to reveal the findings of a Board of Inquiry (BOI) that was established to investigate the circumstances surrounding the February 19 disappearance of three fishermen who were working onboard a trawler owned by Noble House Seafoods Limited.
The probe has found that the trawler was not seaworthy, having not been examined by a certified inspector before heading out to sea. Additionally, it was found that the captain of the vessel operated under a licence that was not issued by MARAD while the other crew members had no safety training.
In light of these findings, Minister Juan Edghill declared that there needs to be stronger regulatory framework for fishing industry.
“I would want to clearly say as a result of this incident, there can be no guessing that it will not be business as usual as it relates to the regulatory framework in which the fishing industry operates in Guyana, and it cannot be business as usual as it relates to the use of waterways and what we do and how we do it. Safety and the establishment of strong minimum standards to ensure safety and capacity to respond and the establishment of protocols must be clearly defined,” he contended.
It was disclosed that there are currently some 1,800 artisan (small) fishing vessels and about 87 trawlers that operate in Guyana’s waters, which accounts for approximately 10,000 operators.
Although Minister Edghill has ordered MARAD to enhance its monitoring of operators within the fishing industry both big and small, the Administration presently has about six certified marine surveyors to conduct these inspections across the country.
To this end, Director General of MARAD, Stephen Thomas, indicated that plans are in place to increase this capacity to strengthen its monitoring activities of the fishing industry and its operators.
In fact, the BOI was also instructed by the Public Works Minister to examine MARAD systems and make appropriate recommendations to improve its performance.
“This is not a small matter. So, things that are overlooked before, we have to look into now and things that were taken for granted before, we have to look into it now,” Edghill stated.
Missing are Captain Harold Damon, Winston Sam, Ronald Burton. There was only one survivor, crew member Vincent Dazzell.
Following the sinking of the vessel, the BOI was set up by the government to investigate the circumstances surrounding the missing trawler.
Concerns were raised over the length of the time it took Noble House Seafoods Limited to report to the relevant authorities that the vessel was in distress – something which they could face sanctions for.
A search for the missing men, which covered over 1,800 nautical miles within 936 hours, has since been suspended.
It was reported that the surviving fisherman told family members of the three missing men that the vessel started taking in water during the morning of February 19.
Dazzell claimed that he was awoken by the captain sometime after 06:00h to check the boat, when he saw the engine room, ice-hold and ladder were already under water.
At that point, the captain called in to alert Noble House but lost connection whilst talking to them, the survivor related. He further recalled that as the boat sank deeper, they also lost control of the vessel.
The man told the concerned family members that the crew were separated on two sides of the boat – he was with the captain. Dazzell related that the captain instructed him to cut the lifeboat and went inside to get his phone so that he could try calling for help, when the boat capsized and reportedly pinned the three missing men.
The survivor informed relatives that he was in the water for some time before being rescued by another boat. The fisherman claimed that they circled the area for some three hours before heading back to shore.
Upon arrival, he went to Noble House and informed the managers there of what transpired.
Meanwhile, the members of the BOI are Yulander Hughes from the Transport and Harbours Department, MARAD’s Captain John Flores, Ronald Charles from the Ministry of Public Works, Lt. Rawle Williams from the Coast Guard, Senior Superintendent Ewart Wray from the Guyana Police Force- Marine Unit, Dwayne Vhypius from the Ministry of Labour and Denzil Roberts, who is the Head of the Fisheries Department at the Ministry of Agriculture.