50 States Sign Fishing Vessel Safety Declaration

October 23, 2019

A global regime to create much-needed safety standards for fishing vessels has moved a significant step closer following the International Maritime Organization (IMO)-led international Ministerial Conference, organized in conjunction with Spain, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

During the conference (21-23 October), nearly 50 States signed the Torremolinos Declaration, publicly indicating their determination to ensure that the 2012 Cape Town Agreement on fishing vessel safety will enter into force by the tenth anniversary of its adoption (11 October 2022).

The Cape Town Agreement includes mandatory safety measures for fishing vessels of 24 m in length and over. It covers key parameters such as stability and associated seaworthiness, machinery and electrical installations, life-saving appliances, communications equipment, fire protection and fishing vessel construction. Although adopted in 2012, it will only enter into force after at least 22 States, with an aggregate 3,600 fishing vessels of 24 m in length and over operating on the high seas, have expressed their consent to be bound by it.

When it does, it will improve the safety of life at sea for hundreds of thousands of fishers worldwide, who currently do not benefit from a global mandatory regime for fishing vessel safety. It is also seen as key tool in combating illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.

Speaking at the close of the Conference, which adopted the "Torremolinos Statement on the Cape Town Agreement of 2012, relating to fishing vessel safety, and combating illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing", IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim noted that IMO had once again returned to Torremolinos to finish the endeavors started more than 40 years ago, when the first global treaty to address safety of fishing vessels was adopted in Torremolinos in 1977 (it did not enter into force).  

"In 2019, with this conference, we now have a broader consensus on the urgent need for the Cape Town Agreement to enter into force, as a significant contribution to the long-term sustainability of the fishing industry," Lim said.

"This work must now continue, in a pro‑active and cooperative manner, to bring the Agreement into force as soon as possible, so that fishers around the world can enjoy the safety and welfare benefits," Lim said.

The first international treaty on fishing vessel safety was adopted by IMO in Torremolinos in 1977, with a follow-up Protocol adopted in 1993. But their lack of entry into force has meant that fishers are not yet protected by a global, mandatory treaty – unlike cargo and passenger ships which are covered by international treaties for safety of life at sea and environmental protection, which have wide acceptance and have been in force for many decades.

The Cape Town Agreement, adopted in 2012, builds on the earlier treaties and will provide the global regime needed for safety of fishing vessels, alongside the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel, 1995 (1995 STCW-F Convention), which is already in force.

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