Cape Town Agreement on vessel safety gains public support from nearly 50 countries

Forty-eight countries have signed a public declaration that they intend to bring the Cape Town Agreement on vessel safety into force by October 2022, including major fishing countries such as China, South Korea, Indonesia, and the United Kingdom. South American countries also made a strong showing with Peru, Chile, and Argentina signing the declaration.

The countries signaled their intent during the Torremolinos Ministerial Conference on Fishing Vessel Safety and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, which took place in Spain from 21 to 23 October.

The Cape Town Agreement addresses safety aboard fishing vessels, including vessel construction and safety equipment. It will only enter into force 12 months after at least 22 states, which together have a total of 3,600 fishing vessels over 24 meters in length fishing the high seas, agree to it.

Thirteen countries have ratified the agreement so far: Belgium, Congo, Cook Islands, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Sao Tome and Principe, South Africa and Spain. Two of them, Cook Islands and Sao Tome and Principe, deposited their official ratification letters at the Torremolinos conference.

Representatives returned to Torremolinos more than 40 years after the first global treaty to address the safety of fishing vessels was adopted in Torremolinos in 1977. That agreement did not enter into force, and neither did a 1993 follow-up protocol. The 2012 Cape Town Agreement addressed the technical issues that were preventing the treaty from entering into force.

Today, observers say momentum is now gathering behind the agreement.

"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," International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary-General Kitack Lim said during his closing remarks. "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 urged countries to adopt the agreement to improve maritime safety and help prevent illegal fishing.

"There is no time to lose. If the fishing sector remains insufficiently regulated, fishing-related activities will continue to cause more fatalities; pollute our oceans; place [search and rescue] services at risk; and harm developing states affected by illegal fishing activities," Lim said.

The Cape Town Agreement includes mandatory safety measures for fishing vessels 24 meters in length or longer, with stipulations on vessel construction, stability and seaworthiness, machinery and electrical installations, life-saving appliances, communications equipment, and fire protection.

The vessel safety standards in many countries, such as the United States and some European countries, already exceed the requirements in the Cape Town Agreement, according to Peter Horn, project director for international fisheries at The Pew Charitable Trusts. In developing countries, the standards will serve as a good baseline.

"In terms of building vessels, these are not very expensive or onerous requirements. You really should not be sending a vessel to sea if it's not stable. You should never go to sea without lifesaving equipment, firefighting equipment, navigation equipment, or radio,” Horn told SeafoodSource. “Most countries don't need any assistance in that part of the construction of the vessel. They need assistance putting it into law."

The Cape Town Agreement joins a handful of other international agreements on fishing that have gained ground in recent years.

In 2012, the IMO's International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel entered into force, while the International Labor Organization's Work in Fishing Convention did so in 2017, setting minimum requirements for work on board fishing vessels, including hours of rest, food, minimum age, and repatriation. The Food and Agriculture Organization's Port State Measures Agreement entered into force 2016 and seeks to prevent IUU fishing through measures in port states.

"[The Cape Town Agreement] has the potential to work with other international treaties and instruments to help combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and countries realize that,” Horn said. In years past, "for many countries, they just didn't think it was that important. One of the things that has changed since that period is the recognition of the level or degree of pressure on the ocean and the levels of fishing and the amount of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and the impact that's having on societies around the globe.”

The countries that signed the declaration signaling their intent to ratify the agreement, including those that have already ratified it, are: Argentina, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, Central African Republic, Chile, China, Congo (Republic of), Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Croatia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Ecuador, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Guinea (Republic of), Guinea Bissau, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Kiribati, Lebanon, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Republic of Korea, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Spain, Togo, Uganda, United Kingdom, and Vanuatu.

Photo courtesy of International Maritime Organization


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