Sunday, January 05, 2014

A Speck in the Sea - Trying Very Hard to Die?

Check out this remarkable story by Paul Tough in the New York Times magazine A Speck in the Sea, the story of a working fisherman, John Aldridge, who fell overboard from the deck of a lobster boat in the middle of the night off the tip of Long Island, of the search for him, and of his own efforts to survive and increase his odds of being found. It's a long read - but worth it. It filled me with huge respect for the hard-working brave men who risk their lives to put food on our plates, not to mention great admiration for the US Coast Guard and the volunteers who searched so diligently to find a "speck in the sea."

Then read this opinion piece by Mario Vittone on gCaptain, also about Aldridge's experience and commercial fishing generally, Trying Very Hard To Die: The Preventable Disease in Commercial Fishing. (Vittone has twenty-two years of combined service in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard and writes regularly on maritime safety.) 

Vittone seems to think that commercial fishermen almost have a death wish. His article details the various actions that Aldridge could have taken to have avoided his accident in the first place, and the things that he and his fellow crew members could have done to mitigate the risks and improve his chances of being rescued. 

"Perhaps it is time for commercial fishermen to realize that their job is more dangerous than it needs to be, that most of the risk in their work is unnecessary, and perhaps they should stop trying so hard to die out there."

Harsh words? Or common sense? What do you think?


Keep Reaching said...

Great post - and the 2 articles are gripping. I think Vittone nailed it. Although it is not easy to judge people who work very hard for the living as those fishermen do, what he says makes a lot of sense and he has the credentials to back it up.

GP said...

a slightly different story:

bonnie said...

Very eye-opening - I'd read the Speck in the Sea article in a very "oooh aaaah those professional mariners are so amazing the way they can stay so calm" frame of mind. Funny, if it had been kayaks I would have been far more critical, it did briefly cross my mind that he could have been wearing some Mustang suspenders and I was also sort of surprised that the partner didn't wake up worried in the middle of the night when the 11:30 wakeup call didn't happen - but I kind of brushed those doubts off because OOOH THEY'RE PROFESSIONALS!

Tillerman said...

One thing that I am still puzzled about is WHY the fishing industry is allowed to take such risks and ignore such basic safety precautions that Vittone proposes. After all, we are all used to safety regulations at shore-based workplaces.

After a bit of googling around I discovered that OSHA (the US occupational safety and health administration) has some authority over work on fishing vessels when in port, but their remit only extends to the 3 mile limit. So they can't do anything about offshore work. Apparently the US Coast Guard is responsible for safety issues at sea and I am pretty sure they must enforce some basic regulations such as carrying lifejackets on board, navigation lights, flares etc.

And I did discover some USCG websites that issued advice to fishermen on some of the issues that Vittone raised - like taking a sleep every now and then for example - - and encouraging crew to wear PFDs while working on deck - - but there don't seem to be any mandatory regulations on many such issues.

Have I got that right?

And do most USCG personnel share Vittone's views about safety in the fishing industry?

Mario Vittone said...

Well, I don't think they have a "death wish" - but I think that their job is "the most dangerous" because they make it that way, not because it must be that way, and I have the data to back that up. It's a fishing culture that is slowly changing. You can bet that John Aldridge agrees with at least some of what I said, and is probably Montauk's loudest proponent of life jackets now.

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