New regulations to force smaller vessels out, warns fishing organisation

CLASSIC WOODEN vessels are being forced out of the national fishing fleet due to the high cost of meeting new “over-zealous” …

CLASSIC WOODEN vessels are being forced out of the national fishing fleet due to the high cost of meeting new “over-zealous” safety regulations, the Irish South and West Fishermen’s Organisation (ISWFO) has said.

The new regulations are designed for “deep-sea merchant fleets” and are not suited to an inshore fishing fleet, the ISWFO’s development officer Gavin Power has said.

However, Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey has defended the regulations, stating that he “could not let people go to sea in unsafe vessels”.

ISWFO chief executive Eibhlín O’Sullivan has appealed to Mr Dempsey to review the issue, without “any lessening of safety standards”. A number of 50ft/15m vessels which are “cultural icons” will no longer be able to go to sea due to the punitive costs involved, her organisation pointed out.

The new regulations were initiated in the wake of the loss of seven fishermen in two sinkings off the south coast in January of 2007. A statutory instrument initiated under Merchant Shipping Regulations after the sinkings required introduction of a survey regime for vessels in the 15-24m category to ensure stability tests were carried out and safety requirements complied with.

The industry was given several years to comply, with a deadline of late last week (September 30th) for an estimated 99 boats registered in this category around the coastline.

However, some vessel owners have been forced to spend up to €100,000 to comply, starting with a survey fee of €100 per metre, the ISWFO said.

The organisation is seeking an exemption or some flexibility from the Minister for smaller inshore boats.

Otherwise, wooden vessels in Castletownbere, Co Cork, such as the Ard Carna, built in a Bord Iascaigh Mhara boatyard in Killybegs, Co Donegal, in 1961, and the Ard Casta, built in 1957 in Crosshaven, Co Cork, may be forced to tie up – along with many sister vessels around the coast.

Recent State decommissioning schemes do not cover this category of vessel, Ger Harrington, owner of La Petite Edelweiss in Castletownbere points out.

“My vessel is glass-reinforced plastic (GRP), built in France to the highest standards 26 years ago, and in very good condition,” he said.

“If I cut one foot off my boat, I’d meet the safety standards required for that smaller category,” Mr Harrington said. “To try and comply with the new rules, at a time of enormous challenges for the industry and with prices for fish similar to 20 years ago, is virtually impossible for many owners.”

However, the Minister’s spokeswoman said: “In good conscience, we had to do something.”

“The Marine Survey Office (MSO) is being very flexible, and is taking a very practical approach,” she said.