Practitioner Corner

How to develop a fishing vessel compliance audit

Owners of marine vessels have to conduct a fishing vessel compliance audit every three months in South Africa, says Rudy D. Maritz, Executive Partner at Le Roux Maritz & Associates.
Regulation 39A of Chapter IV of the Maritime Occupational Safety Regulations (MOSR), under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1951, applies to fishing vessels above 25 gross registered tons, and a crew of six people or more.

A fishing vessel compliance audit must measure the effectiveness of the fishing vessel safety management system; and review the minutes of Safety Committee meetings; and records of incidents, also named ‘accidents’ or ‘dangerous occurrences’.
The commercial fisheries sector is worth about R6-b per year, and employs about 27 000 people
The main functions of a fishing vessel compliance audit is to:

  • determine if each vessel has an effective safety management structure which includes a safety officer, a safety appointee to represent the crew, and a safety committee;
  • review accident reports relating to fatalities and serious injuries, where the injured were hospitalised for 24 hours or longer;
  • determine if accident investigations where done, and if appropriate rectifying steps were taken;
  • determine if the vessel is, as far as reasonably practicable, a safe workplace;
  • determine if the structure, equipment and arrangements are maintained to comply with statutory requirements.

Statutory requirements that have to be considered during the audit are specified in the regulations. These include:

  1. Chapter V of the Merchant Shipping Act;
  2. Section 355A of the Act, in respect of Safety officers, safety appointees, committees and safety representatives;
  3. International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (London SOLAS Convention);
  4. Chapter 1 of the MOS Regulations;
  5. Code of Safe Working Practices for Fishing Vessels, issued by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA);
  6. Applicable SAMSA Codes;
  7. Applicable Marine Notices issued by SAMSA.

A careful assessment of the applicable sections of the Act, MOS Regs, IMO Conventions and Codes of Practice, is necessary before a fishing fleet compliance audit is developed.
SAMSA said fishing safety is not up to standard

The South African Maritime Safety Agency has reported that safety and health practices on fishing vessels owned and operated under the South African flag, are not up to standard, against the Merchant Shipping Act. They warned owners and masters of the insurance risk in the event of loss.

Safety on board fishing vessels is governed by the Maritime Occupational Safety Regulations of 1994. During 2016 SAMSA embarked on an ad-hoc inspection program on 34 fishing vessels operated under the South African flag and found many vessels not managing safety as the law intended.

Most vessels comply with standards when surveyed, but owners, masters and skippers fail to maintain standards of sea-worthiness once the Safety Certificate has been issued.

Legal responsibility for ships are the duty of both the owner and the master or skipper of the vessel, depending on the time of year.

When a vessel is “in-service”, the master (captain) or skipper is responsible for compliance with the MOS Regs.

When the vessels are taken “out of service”, the duty for compliance falls back onto the owner of the vessel.

SAMSA’s report in Marine Notice 3 of 2017 revealed a steady downward trend in safety compliance since the introduction of their ad-hoc inspection campaign in 2001.

No Emergency Drills

EDThe number of vessels where safety drills are not held or not recorded at all, has decreased significantly. If the crew is not trained to deal with an emergency, the result could be panic and loss of life.

Safety familiarisation is a legal requirement. There is no time in an emergency to show the crew the drills, and where safety equipment is.

A few years ago I saw a video recording of a ship collision off the coast of Nova Scotia. A steel-hulled vessel collided midships with a wooden hull fishing trawler in thick fog.

When the steel ship pulled astern (reversed), it took only 29 seconds for the fishing vessel to completely disappear under the water. Fishermen had less than 30 seconds to find a life jacket, put it on (donning), and get into the life raft.

In that incident, four people went down with the fishing boat. The rest of the crew were picked up by the steel ship.

[sheqafrica managed to locate the footage: click here]

Safety officers not appointed, or failing in their duties

SOThis mandatory requirement has been in force since 1994. The safety officer must be appointed in writing. In many cases the requirements of the regulations are being met by safety committee meetings, but without written evidence to prove that there is a safety officer appointed.

The non-appointment of Safety Officers should be apparent if managers /owners are undertaking the compliance audits required by regulation 39A of the Maritime Occupational Safety Regulations.

In 2015 -201/6 the trend was that safety officers were appointed, but not carrying out their duties. This can be seen in the decline in the condition of equipment, in the graph below.

Eq1 Eq2

Expired, missing and inoperative equipment is a clear indication that nobody is responsible for performing inspections of the equipment.

No Medical Certificates of Fitness

Many fishers die at sea of natural causes. A medical examination may have enabled early identification of a medical condition and treatment that may have avoided these deaths.

In many inspections, there was no proof that all the crew had been medically examined, as the certificates were not on board.MC

In 2016 the fishing industry experienced a high incidence of deaths involving suspected suicides, indicating possible substance abuse in some of the cases investigated.

Lack of safety training


As with the medical certificates, in many cases the safety training certificates were not available for inspection.

Developing a Fishing Vessel Safety Management System (FVSM)
The Code of Safe Working Practices for Fishing Vessels, require a marine safety management system to cover at least these aspects:

  • Assignment of responsibility
  • Safety of the vessel
  • Safety on deck
  • Safety in fishing operations
  • Safety of machinery spaces and mechanical equipment
  • Special safety precautions
  • Life-saving appliances
  • Fire precautions and fire-fighting
  • Vessel maintenance.

The structure of the FVSM depends largely on the legal structure of the vessel owner’s business. In the Pelagic Fishing Industry, or Purse Seine fishing, the vessel belongs to the owner, and the skipper is an independent contractor, who in turn employs the crew.
In the White Fish Industry, or Stern Trawling, the skipper and crew are generally employed by the vessel owner. Each fishing operation may structure their business differently.
In terms of the MOS Regulations, the assignment of responsible persons and legal duties may have complex implications. For instance, the owner of the vessel and the employer may not be the same entity.
In the Pelagic industry, the owner and employer are different entities. A careful analysis of the Merchant Shipping Act, and the MOS Regulations, are therefore required.
Components of fishing vessel maintenance
During a fishing fleet compliance audit, owners of fishing vessels must cover all maintenance aspects in the FVSM. These would typically include daily, weekly, monthly, bi-annual and yearly maintenance tasks.
Historically, the fishing industry had a fishing season, and a maintenance period when vessels were out of service.
The MOS regulations have specific appointment requirements for in-service and out-of-service periods, where the responsibility for vessel safety is transferred between the Safety Officer and the Safety Appointee.
The distribution of maintenance activities should therefore take cognisance of these periods.
Typical in-service maintenance should include daily, weekly monthly and quarterly maintenance schedules.
Maintenance schedules requiring more time, are best performed during out-of-service periods, and should at least include:

  • Visual inspection of watertight bulkheads and fittings
  • Replacing of fuel filter and strainer
  • Change of marine gear oil and clean filter
  • Testing of main engine under full load.


  • Replacing Main PVC valve
  • Renewing of lube oil filter elements and change lube oil (or every 500 hours, whichever is sooner)
  • Adjust and clean valves in fuel system; clean fuel injection pumps and injectors
  • Replacing main engine final fuel filter
  • Examining exhaust system for leaks
  • Inspection of hull structure for fouling, cracks and corrosion
  • Examination of the propulsion system for corrosion, fracture, bent blades or shafts, worn bearings and loose fittings
  • Inspection of sea chest covers, and through-hull valves.

The MOS regulations have more requirements applicable to other ships, shore contractors, incidental persons, and stevedoring operations.
Each Chapter in the regulations refers to a different Code of Practice, and covers a specific Scope of Application.

Fishing vessels under 25 GRT moored in Cape Town
Fishing vessels under 25 GRT moored in Cape Town – Source:

It is advisable to consult a maritime safety specialist before developing a Fleet Safety Management System, or a fishing vessel compliance audit.

  • Sources: SAMSA. Cygma Marine’s Fishing Vessel Safety Manual.
  • Cygma Marine is a division of Cygma SHEQ South Africa (Pty) Ltd, a subsidiary of the Cygma Group.