Without effective enforcement at sea, impunity and associated unlawful activities in the waters around the Falkland Islands threaten not just wider ocean conservation but the responsible management and value of the natural resources.
Over the past weeks, Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) has been in the Falkland Islands speaking with, and listening to, fisheries stakeholders to gauge the ongoing efforts being made to assure both environmental sustainability and improvement predominantly of onboard conditions for foreign-flagged fishing crews.
The Falkland Islands Government (FIG), through the Department of Natural Resources working alongside industry and with the operational actions of the Falkland Islands Maritime Authority (FIMA) under the Department for Emergency Services and Islands Security, is targeting and improving non-compliant vessels and their onboard crew living and working conditions.
The Government’s fisheries focus is around consistently improving commercial fishing activities in the surrounding South Atlantic waters through not just upholding existing international standards but driving demonstrable behavioural change of both current and future licensed operators.
This coastal state approach is strongly welcomed by civil society.
Legal compliance of the coastal state is intimately entwined with associated deterrent effect thereby combating unlawful activities and upholding of the rule of law at sea. In short, such compliance and enforcement, de facto, upholds human rights protections at sea.
Working closely together with the Director of Natural Resources, Andrea Clausen and her fisheries team, FIMA has operational responsibility to discharge the Falklands Islands’ Flag, Coastal and Port State obligations and enforce Falkland Islands maritime legislation.
Annually, over 100 squid jigger licenses are issued with 106 issued in 2023. There are, however, the potential of around 120 vessels applying. In addition, there are 18 Falkland Islands flagged and 13-15 Spanish flagged trawlers operating in the Falklands waters.
Since the start of the last fishing season in early January 2022 over 22 vessels have been inspected across the jigger, trawler, reefer and tanker fleets.
In 2022, three squid jiggers comprising two Taiwanese and one Vanuatu flagged vessels were detained for multiple transgressions including: not being in possession of an International Fishing Vessel Certificate (IFVC), not having an approved stability book, poor watertight integrity, poor fire suppression systems and fire protection issues, poor engine room systems, limited safety equipment, poor general vessel hygiene and cleanliness, unsafe electrical installations, lack of bunk-lights and lack of fresh water for crew washing and their personal hygiene.
In 2023, one Panamanian flagged ¬¬¬reefer was detained for insufficient sleeping rooms for the number of persons carried, and lack of valid seafarer employment agreements for stevedores.
Enforcement and Improvement Measures
FIMA enforcement measures taken in terms of the specific rectifications required have been varied. For the Jiggers, the vessels were detained for between 3 - 7 days while remedial works were undertaken.
In addition, improvement notices were issued to jiggers for improvements required prior to 2023 licensing. This was reinforced with presentations given to all jigger operators at close of 2022 season to highlight issues and expectations for 2023 season. Backed with a FIG visit to Taiwan and Korea to meet with flag states, classification societies, ministries and vessel owners and operators to discuss issues and highlight Falklands requirements moving forward, this proactive approach is delivering results.
In terms of the reefer vessel, the vessel was formally detained until the onboard additional persons deemed to be more than the necessary ship’s compliment could be transferred to other vessels. Dialogue was established with vessel operator, flag state and embassy of the nationals concerned.
Improvements: 2022 – 2023 Fishing Seasons
The new approach through the Government licensing regime being implemented, has resulted in demonstrable improvements. This includes the fact that nine jiggers were inspected this season with no detainable deficiencies identified. Further, in 2022 the average number of deficiencies per vessel in 2022 was 20. In 2023, it was less than five.
Today, it is reported to HRAS that many vessels have had additional freshwater showers fitted, with many vessels also having additional toilets added.
Onboard standards of hygiene and cleanliness are reported to have greatly improved with the general condition of vessel accommodation improved, including new bulkheads, deck and deck head panels installed.
Concurrently, crew training and knowledge of onboard systems has been reported as being greatly improved with most vessels implementing new safety management systems.
In the 2023 season, all vessels had an English speaker identified for emergency communications while overall, the sizes of crews were reduced and backed with certifications from the flag State and classification societies for onboard inspections.
Wi-Fi has been installed in most vessels, though at the time of writing, continuity of access, data packages for crew and at sea speeds have not yet been corroborated.
Next Steps in Improvement
Amongst the improvements being identified through pro-active FIG engagement and licensing improvements, the most important next steps for improved enforcement measures are focused around three key areas.
First, the continuation of collaborative working with fisheries to ensure that regulation and licensing activities work together to drive improvements in standards.
Second, the continuation of work with flag states, classification societies and owners to ensure that vessels are fully inspected and certified as complying with the Torremolinos Agreement. This notes that the responsibility for this lies with the vessel’s flag State administration combined with ongoing communication and co-operation in support of the vessel owners.
Third, consideration of the adoption of the ILO C188 Work in Fishing Convention. If signed and ratified by FIG, this will provide significant improvements to crew accommodation and welfare standards through the then legal requirement to be held accountable at state level for international labour standards at sea.
Captain Jo Cox, Harbour Master
Human Rights at Sea has spoken with Captain Jo Cox, FIG and FIMA Harbor Master, for a first-hand insight of the matters highlighted.
“The Falkland Islands Maritime Authority (FIMA) was established in 2018, with responsibility for all flag, coastal and port state obligations under the IMO III code.
“I joined the Falkland Islands Maritime Authority as Harbor Master in June 2021. As part of my role, I am appointed as an inspector and surveyor of ships. This encompasses inspections of all types of vessels that use the Ports and Harbors in the Falklands to ensure compliance with international regulations and to ensure that conditions onboard vessels are acceptable.
“The Falklands adopted the UK Fishing Vessels (Codes of Practice) Regulations 2017. It is compliance with these regulations that form the basis for the inspection of both Falkland flagged and Far Eastern Fishing vessels. The Far Eastern fleet consists of predominantly Taiwanese and Korean squid jigging vessels.
“From the establishment of FIMA, work was commenced to support the work already undertaken by the Falklands Fisheries department to improve standards across the fleet.
“Considerable work was undertaken engaging with authorities in the vessels home nations and the vessel owners and operators to ensure that they understood the regulations that FIMA would be looking to enforce.
“The first full year of inspections was 2022, with 5% of the fleet inspected. Of these vessels, there were an average of 20 deficiencies per vessel, which resulted in the detention of 3 vessels. The big stand out from the year wasn’t the inspections, or detentions, but rather the fact that the 2022 jigger season was the safest on record in Falklands waters, with no serious injuries reported on any jigger throughout the season.
“Following the 2022 season, I accompanied the Director of Fisheries and industry representatives to Korea and Taiwan to meet representatives from Flag States, Classification Societies, industry bodies and vessel owners and operators.
“The purpose of the visit was to highlight the significant improvements that had already happened in the fleet, and to emphasize what further steps were required if these vessels wished to continue fishing in Falklands Waters.
“This ongoing work was reflected in the 2023 season with significant improvements in all areas of the vessels inspected, resulting in no detentions of any jiggers in the 2023 season.”
The actions being taken by the Falkland Islands Government to actively address foreign-flagged vessel onboard working conditions and associated crew welfare demonstrates that the responsible use of license access and licensing conditions can be an effective tool for change. These are positive actions, and change is apparent. (HRAS)
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