SAFETY at sea still remains an issue taken very lightly by experienced seafarers and regular commuters in the maritime zones in Fiji.
And that is one of the main reasons authorities are bent on beefing up regulations for all seafarers.
This was one of the main purposes for hosting Fiji World Maritime Day at the Amex Port facility in Lautoka last week.
Speaking to 1500 primary and high school students, Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji (MSAF) CEO Neale Slack said keeping people going out to sea safe was one of their main priorities.
In addition, Mr Slack elaborated on some of the amendments they were working on to improve compliance for the safety of all.
"The Marine Act of 1986 has been reviewed and there are two decrees — the Maritime Transport Decree and Ship Registration Decree — that have been gazetted and endorsed by Cabinet," he said.
"They are also bringing in seven new International Maritime Organisation obligations to increase the requirement on us as a state or mariners operating here within Fiji to have a far higher level of safety than they have been at before."
Mr Slack said MSAF was reviewing the commencement dates of the decrees which were gazetted on July 5 but had yet to be implemented.
"All the stakeholders tell us that they need time to save up and train their officers to understand clearly and be able to regulate that legislation.
"So, we are allowing them time to train their staff and this is a good thing because we are giving them time to afford the compliance that will come into effect on March 5, 2014.
"What we are also doing in parallel to that is reviewing the marine regulations of 1990 because they are so old they don't apply today.
"There are many changes, so we expect to also have those endorsed by our minister in Cabinet by March 5 next year, so as you see, the safety standard is being increased traumatically across the country.
"We have to bring in a high standard of safety and we have spoken extensively through consultations with the public and the stakeholders."
Mr Slack said through the talks, they had concluded some stakeholders needed as much as six months to comply with the new decrees.
"We have given them that time and we also have a Cabinet paper presented to Cabinet I expected would be endorsed.
"This will mainly be for the small craft under 10 metres, to reduce the survey fee and regulation fee for those operating commercially by about 70 per cent during that six-month period.
"This will make it much easier for the stakeholders to comply."
Maritime safety does not only include sailors and fishermen but all members of the public who venture out to the sea.
Mr Slack said life jackets were an important aspect of maritime safety.
"We are already having awareness programs about maritime safety for schools, we also carry out boat master training in villages and hotels.
"When we go there, schools are visited as well so that children can be aware of what precautionary measures they need to take while out at sea.
"This program is free and we have also spread it to most of urban Suva and will take it across the nation."
Mr Slack also said in addition to safety, people needed to realise as citizens of the nation, they had a responsibility to protect the marine environment and practise safety at all times.
Similar sentiments were expressed by World Maritime Day celebrations chief guest, Praveen Bala, special administrator Lautoka/Ba/Tavua.
Mr Bala said it was sad to see people not taking safety measures seriously while out at sea.
"Despite the efforts of MSAF to improve safety of lives at sea, the general public still treats safety at sea lightly," he said.
"You will be surprised to note that most of our fishermen don't carry the necessary safety gear and as a result, quite a number of families have been traumatised as their loved ones have not returned home due to disasters at sea."
Mr Bala urged the public to adhere to safety measures because that would save their lives in difficult situations.