The Saint Lucia Marine Police have said that training for fishers has reduced the number of annual distress calls from fisherfolk who encounter difficulty at sea.
“We used to have maybe ten a month since the 1990s going up to 2012, but we have significantly reduced it to two or three per month,” Marine Police Commander Kentry Frederick disclosed.
“We have done remarkably well over the years,” Frederick told St Lucia Times.
He explained that certification training usually lasts about eight weeks in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries and the Saint Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority (SLASPA).
“We have had workshops, seminars and sensitisation programmes,” the Marine Police Commander observed.
Frederick explained that the government and the police have insisted on continuing the annual four to six training sessions, covering matters like tides and currents, navigation, boat handling, search patterns and situations where someone is overboard.
With the approach of the annual Atlantic Hurricane Season beginning in June, the Marine Police expect a spike in distress calls from boaters.
“The education process is working,” Commander Frederick asserted.
And although unsure about one hundred percent compliance, he felt that eighty to ninety percent was a reasonable goal.
So far, about fifty fishers have benefitted from the specialised training.
Marine Police personnel are also benefitting from a three-day search and rescue workshop by Florida National Guard.
The training, a refresher course for senior personnel and designed to build capacity in intermediate officers, was underway at the Marine Police base in Vigie, Castries.
“We have an obligation to save lives, not necessarily property,” Commander Frederick told St Lucia Times.
In addition, he emphasised the need for fishers to have appropriate safety gear, including GPS, radios, life jackets, food and water, as the authorities are seeking to make that mandatory.
“We are encouraging fishers to join cooperatives where they can import those things and get concessions rather than obtain the gear as an individual,” Frederick said.
He also stated that heading to sea without safety gear is illegal, would endanger lives and cost taxpayers in the event of a search and rescue operation.