Safety in the fishing industry - can technology save lives?
14 09 2018

Recent events in India have brought into sharp focus the urgent need for better communication systems between seafarers and land-based services, especially in times of distress. Cyclone Ockhi at the end of 2017 caused havoc in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, taking hundreds of lives. In particular, many fisherfolk were completely cut off from rescue services, rendering assistance nigh-on impossible. Unsurprisingly, the response from the community was impassioned.

Among other initiatives, responsible agencies in India have responded by exploring technological advances including, just last week, investigating the use of SAT phones for the fishing community to allow them to stay connected even when 150-250 km off the shore. While admitting that 15,000 such phones are needed, this first proposal from the Fisheries Department seeks to procure 1,000.

The Indian authorities are tackling a problem that has been rising in prominence in recent years. NLAI was pleased to speak last week with a range of organisations exploring what can be done to improve safety for the fishing community, convened by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

Their recent insight report analysing safety in the fishing industry set out the charity’s stall on what will come next – more research, targeted training and exploration of the application of relevant technologies.

NLAI is particularly interested in this last theme, and we are – as ever – encouraged by the range of relevant approaches we found in our database of emerging technologies.

As is to be expected, a number of technology approaches are becoming apparent, some still emerging from the concept phase, others undergoing trials. These include the following initiatives:

  • Norwegian start-up ScanReach is developing its In:Range system, capable of locating anyone on a vessel or offshore installation in real time.
  • A German consortium is developing a radar and lifesaving system that can identify and visualise those accidentally sent overboard from a ship.
  • The Royal Malaysian Navy’s K3M mobile app, which aims to bolster naval security by engaging with maritime communities, is already having success.
  • Several winners of this year’s XPRIZE Ocean Initiative focused on providing weather data to ocean farers to enhance safety.

Other initiatives – ostensibly focused on solving other problems in the fishing industry – also have relevance, including:

The themes we can begin to see emerging from these and other approaches include:

  • Most are built on partnership (technology companies, telcos, navies, NGOs, etc).
  • Safety at sea functionalities may best be embedded in apps with broader utility (e.g. broader communication, fish traceability apps, etc).
  • Providing weather data via mobile applications looks popular, but that may not provide enough of a user ‘pull’ in isolation.
  • Proper, sustained user involvement will reduce the risk of apps not being adopted by end users (e.g. to loop back to Ockhi, devices being used as toys by the children of fisherfolk rather than deployed as intended!).
  • Emerging approaches in linked areas of fisheries management (e.g. utilising technology to counter slavery at sea, predicting high-yield fishing areas) may be worth tracking to see how they may provide useful input to safety at sea initiatives.

Thanks again to the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, the FISH Safety Foundation, OceanMind and GeoData for the engaging discussion on this topic.

We look forward to more engagement in this area. If you know of a technology or initiative that you would like to bring to our attention, please get in touch!

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