Missing fishermen: Gov’t seeking legal advice on penalties as probe faults Noble House

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By Vishani Ragobeer

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The Board of Inquiry (BoI) launched to investigate the disappearance of three fishermen after their boat capsized on February 19 has in part faulted the employer, Noble House Seafoods.

With the findings out, the government is currently seeking legal advice to determine whether the company can be penalised.

On Friday, Minister of Public Works Juan Edghill told the News Room that the Attorney General Anil Nandlall will advise Cabinet soon on possible sanctions for the company. 

“I don’t know that as the minister I can impose penalties. I have to wait on the advice of the Attorney General on the next steps,” Edghill said.

Asked if that advice has already been sought, Edghill said that efforts were being made to engage the Attorney General.

The report of the Board was released to the media on Thursday, days after it was presented to Edghill.

The detailed report included evidence from 25 witnesses, relevant government agencies and two fishing companies – Noble House and Pritipaul Singh Investments Inc.

The report concluded that the unfortunate incident “was mainly due to the unpreparedness of the captain and crew in emergency procedures, due to the absence of proper training.”

Moreover, it concluded that a properly trained and certified captain would have been able to institute the necessary emergency procedures that would have ensured the survival of himself and his crew members.

Lapses were found at Noble House Seafoods, though it was highlighted that some of the lapses were not mandated but were known safety features and procedures. The government has already promised tighter restrictions for vessels.

Three fishermen – Captain Harold Anthony Damon and his crew members Ronald Burton and Winston Sam – went missing in the vicinity of the Mahaica River after the Noble House Seafoods vessel capsized. A fourth crew member Vincent Dazzel survived and was rescued within an hour of the incident by another fishing vessel.

One month after a dive team started rescue efforts, the search was suspended. The vessel was not located during the course of the investigation.

The Board was unable to determine the exact cause of the reported flooding and eventual sinking of the vessel since issues regarding the structural integrity of the vessel remain unknown.

Importantly, the report noted that no major structural deficiencies were recorded during an inspection conducted by Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) on July 15, 2021.

Additionally, it was found that the vessel’s firefighting and safety equipment, including life float, lifebuoy and life jackets were adequate. The vessel was also equipped with a radio and a flare gun at the time of inspection.

Noble House’s pre-sail inspection sheet for the vessel, dated February 9, 2022 (about 10 days before the incident), recorded no defects in the vessel.

The report’s conclusions were made after the investigating team discovered that the captain nor the crew were properly trained or had the experience to deal with emergencies.

Damon’s captain’s license was also deemed fraudulent; the investigation revealed that two other Captains in the employ of the company were not found on the records of MARAD. But, there is no mandatory requirement for companies to verify the validity of seafarers’ certificates.

Beyond the crew, it was found that Nobel House had insufficient knowledge and lacked policies and guidelines on the procedures to follow for vessels in an emergency at sea. For instance, the record of the distress call from the vessel was made on a notepad without any timings included.

Further, the vessel was not equipped with any early warning safety equipment. Such equipment is not mandatory but it is an added safety feature.

 

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