Hats off to Iceland Fishermen’s Training

Posted by Keir Day, Safety Theme Leader on 03 April 2012

During a recent visit to Iceland by Jon Harman and myself we were kindly invited by Captain Hilmar Snorrason who is Principal of the Maritime Safety and Training Centre in Reykjavik, aboard their training vessel.

This fine ship was once a car ferry which was bought for £10 and then converted into a mobile training vessel by local fishing companies, fishermen, engineers and donations from interested parties. The vessel delivers courses all around Iceland and beyond.

My interest in this visit to Iceland was sparked off by the fact that in their fishing industry they have had two years in the last 4 years without fatalities, I wanted to know why and what were they obviously doing right that we in the UK were not. My first surprise was seeing the trainees jump off the back end into ice cold water (temp 1˚C) as part of their sea survival training whilst I tried to steady my freezing cold hand to take pictures (temp -4˚C)(Fig 1). Once they were all in the water they were instructed to lay face down for 30 seconds. After various drills the trainees took it in turn to right an upturned life raft and climbed back on board the ship via a ladder (Fig 2).

iceland 1

iceland 2

Whilst all this was taking place I quizzed the instructor about mandatory refresher training in Iceland and how it was being received by the fishermen. He informed that training had been in place since 1994 (and refresher training from 2001) and that the fishermen were a bit put out at first but because it was law they knew they had to do it. From speaking to some of the fishermen on the course they told me they actually look forward to refresher training where they are learning more and more each year and meeting up with other fishermen to share the experience and generally catch up. Since 2001 it was from this point that they saw the accident rate and fatality rate drop to it's present day figure of very few accidents and zero fatalities. Surely this couldn't all be down to training? Well, speaking to Hilmar, the Principal much of it is but like any problem that has many facets such as fishing accidents the answer to problem has many facets too. I will list a few but Jon Harman et al are currently writing a comprehensive report that compares the two nation's fishing industries from many safety aspects as well as behavioral and technological. A few things that the Icelandic do that we don't:

• Every size vessel has to have a qualified skipper
• Every vessel down to 6m has to have location monitoring system
• All vessels must log skipper, crew and qualifications on central database before   sailing
• Every vessel has an annual inspection (think M.O.T)
• Every vessel has to radio report when they set out and are monitored by AIS till returning back to port..
• All crew have to refresh their basic courses every 5 years
• It is mandatory for all vessels to carry floatation suits and liferafts.

You may be interested to know that whilst there I was introduced to a member of the Icelandic Parliament who was a student on the sea survival refresher course! The very next day it was announced that an act of parliament required all fishermen to carry floatation suits. I'll say no more……Next I was shown the classrooms that are used for sea survival and exams. I was told that the walls are kept completely bare to save distraction, so I suppose the 'forest' was to keep pupils calm during exams.

The vessel also has an excellent fire school on board where compartments are set out darkened with wobbly floors. Trainees can don breathing apparatus and carry out very realistic search and rescue drills. On shore the Centre has containers for real fire fighting.

Another problem for fishermen in the UK and indeed the world is that of man overboard and recovery. I witnessed several methods of one man and two man recovery systems and must say I was very impressed by all of them but one in particular which looked as if it could be easily made by a fisherman himself using trawl twine of varying thickness and small floats. This system can be used by one or two men and brings them up in the horizontal position to allow blood to stay in the vital organs rather that run to the feet as with vertical lifting methods. We do have a similar system in this country but needs to be promoted a lot more.

Jon and I also visited the Icelandic Maritime Administration equivalent to our Maritime and Coastguard Agency who showed us their metrological website for fishermen which is based on measuring wave height over a period of years and can now predict the waves over 11 days ahead with (so I was assured) 100% accuracy! This means that a fisherman can, with confidence, look at this weather picture and decide whether to go fishing or not. In my own experience of the UK fishermen will tend to go anywayeven if the forecast is not right and in some cases have been caught out.

iceland 3

At the start of this blog I said that there had been no fishing fatalities in Iceland in the last 4 years. Not quite true. A couple of weeks before a fishing vessel was lost with 3 fatalities 1 survivor. The vessel was not engaged in fishing but in transit being sold and delivered to another country. Ironically as I was sat in Hilmar's office the 1 survivor walked in and threw his survival suit he had been wearing during his rescue in the corner (same type as Fig 3) and said "this is good kit, keep it and show fishermen!". I just looked incredulously at Hilmar who just smiled and said " don't worry, we are Vikings!"

Hats off to the Viking Fishermen of Iceland!

Keir Day, Safety Theme Leader