The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) is calling for legislation to make it compulsory for fishermen to wear lifejackets on commercial vessels after four men lose their lives.

Wearing a lifejacket on board a commercial fishing boat should be compulsory, according to the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB).

It comes as the government agency publishes three reports into the deaths of four commercial fishermen.

All of them might have survived, said the MAIB, if they had been wearing a lifejacket.

In a statement, the Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents, Steve Clinch, said introducing new legislation was the only way to prevent the further loss of life.

“The MAIB rarely recommends the introduction of new legislation to solve safety problems, but the rate that commercial fishermen are losing their lives due to drowning shows no sign of reducing,” stressed Clinch.

“Indeed, this has been a particularly bad year: the MAIB has investigated the deaths of nine commercial fishermen, and today (3 November 2016) is publishing three reports covering the deaths of four,” he explained.

“All four might well have survived had they been wearing a lifejacket when they entered the water,” he stressed.

Clinch said that in the cold waters around the UK, survival time “can be measured in minutes unless a lifejacket is being worn.”

“However, this message is not getting home despite a three year campaign that has seen almost every commercial fisherman in the UK receive a free lifejacket,” he stated.

“Evidence from other countries shows that education campaigns alone have little effect on behaviour, but when backed by legislation the change is both significant and sustained,” explained Clinch.

“In order to prevent further unnecessary loss of commercial fishermen’s lives, I am therefore recommending today that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency moves quickly to introduce legislation making it compulsory for fishermen to wear personal flotation devices on the working decks of commercial fishing vessels while they are at sea,” stated the Chief Inspector.

The MAIB has released the findings of three investigations into fatal accidents on one day to highlight its concerns.

A report into the death of fishermen Gerry Gillies reveals that despite not being able to swim, he wasn’t wearing a lifejacket when he was pulled overboard from the Annie T.

Annie T

The Annie T. Credit: MAIB

The fatal accident happened on 4 October, 2015 in the sound of Mingulay, at the southern edge of the Western Isles of Scotland.

Investigators found that Gillies was pulled overboard by the fishing gear when his foot became caught in a bight of rope while he was moving an end weight on the working deck.

The skipper recovered the crewman back on board about 10 minutes later, but was unable to resuscitate him.

The MAIB stated that neither the skipper or the crew members of Annie T ever wore lifejackets.

Three working lifejackets that had been supplied to Annie T’s crew free of charge by the Scottish Fishing Federation were found on board, still in their original packaging. They had never been used.

The report into the sinking of the fishing boat, Harvester on 28 April, 2016, revealed that the two crew members who died were also not wearing  lifejackets.

Harvester which sunk off Wales

The stricken Harvester. Credit: MAIB

Daniel Willington, 32, has not been seen since the boat hit rocks at St David’s Head, Pembrokeshire on 28 April, 2016.

His father, 59-year-old Gareth Willington was rescued from the water that night but later died.

Investigators believe that the “likely scenario” is that a crew member working on deck became entangled in the back rope. The other crew member could then have gone to his assistance, resulting in the father and son going overboard through the large opening in the transom.

A fishermen who fell overboard from the fishing vessel, Apollo was also not wearing a lifejacket, according to the MAIB.

Craig Reid, 25, fell overboard in rough weather on 18 April, 2016, from the stern of the fishing vessel while the nets were being hauled.

Although a lifebuoy was thrown to him, the effects of cold water incapacitation resulted in Craig letting go of the safety device after seven minutes in the sea.

An extensive search off the Orkney Islands in Scotland was carried out. Craig’s body was recovered by the crew of another fishing boat four months later

Apollo fishing vessel

Apollo. Credit: MAIB

The MAIB stated that Craig’s “chances of survival once in the water were reduced as he was not wearing a PFD.”

It also found that the crew had “no adequate procedure for recovering a casualty from the water” and had “not undertaken practical manoverboard drills.”

The Apollo crew had worked on deck for the last few years without PFDs or safety harnesses, despite these having been identified as necessary by risk assessments undertaken following a fatal accident on the same vessel in 2007.

Statistics released by the MAIB reveals that between 2000-2015, there were 139 fatal drowning accidents, where fishermen had entered the water from UK fishing vessels.

Of these, 93 of the casualties were not wearing lifejackets.

The MAIB stressed that statistics show that the likelihood of surviving a man overboard incident is five times greater if a lifejacket is worn.