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Congress to Pass Bill Requiring Safety Inspections on Fishing Boats

They that go down to the sea in ships merit special attention in the Bible. Unfortunately, they have not gotten much attention from the United States government. That may be changing shortly.

A bill presently awaiting signature by President Obama could be the first to require safety inspections of commercial fishing vessels. This is amazing considering that a commercial fishing boat is the most dangerous workplace in the United States. In 2009, 200 commercial fisherman died at work for every 100,000 employed. The next most dangerous job? Logging with 61.8 deaths per 100,000.

Fishing vessels are not only dangerous because of their relatively small size combined with the huge size and ferocity of the oceans they ply. Everyone on the boat is paid based on how much fish they catch. While this makes sense, it also causes dangerous conditions when heavily loaded fishing boats encounter bad weather when returning to port. The movie "The Perfect Storm" provides an accurate depiction of the tragedies that can and do occur in the commercial fishing business.

The new bill will require vessel safety inspections, to be undertaken by the United States Coast Guard, twice in every five-year period. The inspections will most likely include a rigorous review of lifesaving equipment such as life rafts, survival suits, and emergency position-indicating radio beacons, which can mean the difference between life and death in the event of a mishap.

Even more important will be the requirement of a "load line" for each fishing vessel. This is a mark painted on the side of a boat that measures when the vessel is fully loaded. When the boat has a full load, it settles down into the water. The heavier the load is, the further the boat settles, until the load line touches the surface of the water. Loading a vessel so that the load line goes beneath the water's surface would likely result in fines against the vessel owner and/or captain.

The legislation has been passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by President Obama shortly. It is long overdue, especially considering that in 2009 alone, nine Massachusetts and two New Jersey commercial fishermen perished at sea.


The Press of Atlantic City