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12:07 pm
Mon July 18, 2011

Texas Researchers Find Dangerous Conditions On Gulf Coast Shrimping Boats

When a shrimper goes out on the Gulf of Mexico for a day's work they are supposed to bring a laminated "Mayday" card in case of emergency. The card has instructions on how to call in an emergency from the sea by radio. It also includes a conversation guide printed in English and Vietnamese.

"Must use channel 16 and speak English when making Mayday calls," the card says in English. . The card then has a script for a conversation "Mayday...Mayday...Mayday. My emergency is _____. My emergency is ___________. " 

A Vietnamese translation is printed in italics below it. A Vietnamese speaker would need to identify his/her problem in Vietnamese and then attempt to pronounce the English equivalent over the radio, all during an emergency situation. Those emergencies could be flooding, fire, or man overboard.

This card is one example of how a new study by researchers a the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler is attempting to improve the workplace safety of Vietnamese shrimpers off the Texas coast.

"Mayday calls must be conducted in English," said Dr. Jeffrey Levin, one of the study's authors. "What we did essentially was recognize that the Vietnamese fisherman in the Gulf coast were experiencing obstacles with making the mayday call or fear of conducting a mayday call because of the language barrier."

In addition to the card, the study has also led to the development of an interactive CD-ROM that allows  fisherman to practice the Mayday call and become comfortable making them in English. The CD can be used in Spanish, English and Vietnamese.

Commercial fishing is America's most dangerous industry. And the Gulf Coast has the second highest level of vessel losses and crew fatalities, according to U.S. Coast Guard statistics.

Researchers with the UT Health Science Center at Tyler asked hundreds of fisherman to identify their top workplace safety threats. Then researchers chose three of them to try to fix. Those were:

  • workplace related hearing loss,
  • entanglement and injuries related to the machinery and
  • fatigue.

Vietnamese speaking mariners now help train the fisherman both onboard ship and on shore with how to handle these situations and better communicate their problems. But the program is in jeopardy due to its federal funding being eliminated in February.

Congress decided the safety programs were too similar to programs already offered by OSHA and the FDA. But Levin says these programs are different and more successful than the other agencies. He says cutting these prevention programs will be costly on a financial and human level.

“This program costs just $150,000 each year,” Levin said in a press release, referring to the commercial fishing research project.   “That may sound like a lot until you compare it to the cost of using a C-130 fixed wing aircraft for an offshore search and rescue operation that bills nearly $10,000 per hour."

While many of the fisherman reported speaking little to no English, Levin estimates 85 percent of them are American citizens.

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