Fisheries Minister Ezechiel Joseph is hoping that the death of two Vieux-Fort fishermen serves as a lesson for other fishermen “that they should be out there with the respective gears that they have been advised to go out with”.
Boat captain Mervin Gilbert, 42, and Jermaine Edward, 33, left the Vieux-Fort Fishing Port on the pirogue ‘Emmanuel’ sometime after 7 a.m. on Thursday, March 1, 2018 on a fishing expedition.
After the men left the port, it was observed that their fishing vessel was not equipped with adequate safety equipment. They did not even took their cell phones with them.
On Monday, March 19, the badly decomposed bodies of the two men were found in their fishing vessel by the US Coast Guard, about 76 miles off the coast of Puerto Rico.
Joseph said it is time fishermen in Saint Lucia take their personal safety seriously because too many of them are getting lost at sea – and dying.
“The fishermen have been asked to go out with safety gears, and I mean, they have been trained in that regard,” Joseph told DBS. “So some of them are not listening and behaving, and appreciating the advice that they have been given. Is for them now to take the advice they have been given to avoid this thing happening. In fact, I heard … that they were found dead. That is unfortunate and I want to extend to the family, our sincere condolences, but I am hoping that it is a lesson for other fishermen that they should be out there with the respective gears that they have been advised to go out with.”
The minister said while the government has a responsibility to enforce the laws, to ensure that fishermen are equipped with adequate safety gears, the onus is on individuals, because they already know what’s right from wrong.
“Well we have a number of laws and the customs of monitoring the laws. I mean we have a lot of laws here and is the question of people not adhering to the laws. I believe you have that responsibility to create and behave in a manner that will create that same safety net for you. Is not for government to force things unto you. We are all mature individuals and we understand and appreciate when we do not do things the right way, the negative impact it will have. So, I believe that we should learn from the negative experiences that our counterparts … are having. And that is something that the fishermen should adhere to,” he said.
Asked for his response about allegations that many St. Lucian fishermen are involved in drug trafficking, Joseph said: “The policemen will deal with that. And whenever they are found, I mean, I am sure we will realise that the police will do whatever they need to do to make sure that this thing cannot continue to happen. We cannot have persons utilising or under the disguise that they are fishermen and doing illegal activities. That is not something that a government or any government would tolerate. So it’s for now, for us to have the information, that’s one, and for the policemen to react positively to do what is necessary to prevent this from happening.”
According to information coming from the Department of Fisheries, Gilbert and Edward were genuine fishermen, and their fishing vessel was registered with the department.
Fishermen of Vieux-Fort have ruled out the possibility that the boat may have experienced mechanical problems, because according to them, the boat has a new engine.
The incident has however raised awareness among fishermen of the importance of going to sea with most of the safety equipment which the Department of Fisheries requires a boat owner to have before being issued with a boat license.
Among some of the safety equipment a boat owner must have before being issued with a boat license includes two night flares, a compass, a reflective mirror, waterproof flashlights, water containers, life jackets, radar reflectors and a sail.