As has been already reported in Penguin News, the Falkland Islands' (Malvinas) weekly newspaper, two crewmen are missing, presumed dead, after jumping into Stanley Harbour in an attempt to escape from a Taiwanese fishing boat, the Jih Da Gan. Eight companions were rescued by emergency services and have been helping local police with their enquiries.
The incident happened on Monday, at the beginning of a week in which the Falkland Islands Government and private sector are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the Islands' fishery. On Friday, during the Motion for Adjournment at the end of the quarterly session of Legislative Council, Councillor Dr. Richard Davis, said that while the Falkland Islands should be proud of the effective and sustainable way in which the fishery is managed, it should not be forgotten that the wealth it brings to the Islands relies on "the labour of hundreds of men on the ships over the horizon". Referring to Monday's incident, Dr.Davis, who had met the survivors in hospital and described them as "bright, pleasant, courteous, grateful people, mourning the death of their two sea-mates"talked of the desperation, which had caused them to jump into the harbour's bitterly cold waters. He continued ÃÂ¢€" "The sea round here is in itself a harsh, unforgiving and dangerous environment and life is going to be hard on the best managed ships. Nevertheless young men from poor countries get a living and we get our fishery. What is intolerable is that we get cases where men have been tied up, imprisoned, beaten and otherwise abused. And it is also intolerable that life is made worse by unsafe working practises and lack of basic safety equipment, which would cost little or nothing to correct."Commending all the organisation and individuals in the community, who had helped with the recovery of the survivors, Councillor Davis said that criminal incidents coming to light within Falklands territorial waters should be dealt with by the force of law. It was commendable that the government could afford to be moderately generous with medical expense and the cost of repatriations where these were not recoverable, however Councillor Davis did ask whether this was enough. Dr. Davis continued, "I don't believe that there is any thread of consistent concern to proactively protect human rights in the fishing fleet. Although individuals are concerned about the issue, there doesn't appear to be any great enthusiasm for investigating the core problem or taking effective action."Apart from non-accidental injuries to crew, which constituted a clear breach of their human rights, Dr. Davis considered a lack of safety precautions on some vessels to be a similar breach. Some progress had been made in this area, the Councillor claimed, in particular the broadening of fishing licence conditions to include checks on safety equipment. It was important, said Davis, to make sure that existing measures were properly implemented for commercial as well as for humanitarian reasons; accidents resulted in loss of fishing time and expensive transportation and medical costs. In some cases these could be avoided by changes in working practices, better maintenance of equipment or the provision of relatively cheap safety equipment such as hard hats. Dr. Davis said that his critical remarks were only addressed to some parts of the fishing fleet, and suggested that "the rare incidence of gross violations of human rights brings our whole fishery into disrepute, which is unfair to the majority of responsible companies." Concluding his speech, Councillor Davis said that he hoped the Falkland Islands could celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the fishery with a determination to take a more proactive approach to the welfare of the men who bring in the country's revenue. - At this time of year, Stanley harbour begins to fill up with fishing vessels, like the Jih Da Gan. These vessels, mainly from Taiwan and Korea, are known as 'jiggers' due to their fishing method, which involves continuous fishing lines with bright plastic lures running in a jerky manner over eccentric cams. The jiggers call into Stanley to pick up fishing licences at the beginning of the catching season in Falklands waters for the Illexsquid. This fish, which is sold to the Far East, is the principal cash crop of the Falkland Islands fishery. Clipper-bowed, with low superstructures, obscured by the davits from which the fishing lines are deployed, and the racks of powerful halogen lamps which attract the prey, these vessels streaked with rust and stained with squid ink, have a somewhat rugged, even piratical air about them. Their crews, recruited from anywhere in the world where labour is cheap, may go several years without getting home and rarely set foot on land. Anecdotal accounts of systematic brutality practised aboard these vessels, and at least one prosecution in the past, have caused rumblings of discontent in the Falklands over the years. Legal action, however, has been difficult, due to lack of evidence, language difficulties and the fact that while operating within the Falkland Islands Fishing Zone, the vessels are at the same time, usually outside the country's legal jurisdiction. John Fowler (MercoPress) Stanley