A massive Wilbur Smith fan and movie buff, Selwyn Bailey spends most of his time dedicated to making life safer and more comfortable for South Africa’s valued fishermen. Having started his career as a fisherman and officer himself, serving on close to 30 vessels over a period of 13 years, Selwyn eventually came ashore to assist in the training and development of fishing cadets. He then moved on to managing fleets for impressive big fish like Irvin & Johnson and eventually snagged the title of ‘Fishing Safety Specialist’ in the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) fishing unit.
How Selwyn – who was a keen scholar with many opportunities awaiting him following matric – came to find himself working in the fishing industry can only be described as divine intervention.
“Shortly after the final exams in matric, a number of us were spending time on the beach when a newspaper clipping blew past us. It wound up being an advertisement looking for new deck cadets to join the fishing industry. I impulsively applied, and I’m still in the industry today!”
Selwyn says he has no regrets whatsoever for making the decision to pursue that lead that day.
“I’ve loved being at sea. I’ve loved being a manager, and now I have the privilege of being a go-between for the industry and the authorities. I know that I’m making a difference.”
Selwyn’s main focus nowadays is to constantly engage with the various players within the diverse industry, particularly in terms of ensuring appropriate education and compliance when it comes to safety at sea. This engagement takes place predominantly through safety awareness programmes, indabas, webinars and as chair of the National Fishing Forum.
“We are active in making sure that the industry is aware of impending changes to existing conventions and regulations so that the necessary action can be taken to prepare ahead of time. Once these conventions and regulations enter into force, it’s up to us to ensure compliance through training and regular communication,” he explains.
Since Selwyn has spent a sizeable chunk of his career onboard vessels and managing fleets, he has a superior understanding of what these new regulations mean for the individuals at sea.
“I can put myself in their shoes as I’m fully aware of the complexities and challenges faced when onboard a fishing vessel. My goal is to make it as easy as possible for them to comply.”
He also has to adapt his messaging to suit the individuals involved in the industry.
“Back in the day, the vessels were managed by individuals with Merchant Navy background. Now that that has changed, so too must the engagements and our approach to creating a rapport. The message essentially stays the same – it’s the approach to communication that needs to evolve.”
Selwyn says that the potential for both serious injuries and fatalities within the industry is what keeps him up at night. Since he plays a lead role in optimising safety for fishermen in South Africa, he’s passionate about keeping these numbers down. Thankfully, there have been great improvements in this regard in recent years.
“In the late 1990s and early 2000s, we would see well over 50 fatalities amongst our fishermen every year. Since then, the industry has come to the party and various interventions have been put in place to prevent these catastrophes. Over the past decade, we’ve reduced the number of annual at-sea fatalities to single figures. Of course, we’re angling towards zero annual losses going forward. That’s the goal.”
The country’s notable accomplishments in fishing safety are certainly something to be proud of. According to Selwyn, South Africa has one of the best track records when it comes to looking after its fishermen.
“We have one of the safest fishing industries in the world. When other countries are looking at implementing new conventions, we’re always invited to speak at conferences to introduce the local industries to our methodologies and successes.”
Of course, the industry still faces a great deal of challenges – one of which is the lack of manpower.
“Before they are cleared to go out to sea, all vessels must comply with minimum requirements regarding who is onboard and which qualifications they possess. Nowadays, it’s a lot more difficult to get officers up the ranks. There’s a further problem when it comes to the pool of resources. Very few kids leave school with ambitions to start a career in the industry. That has to change,” explains Selwyn.
“We need to embrace the opportunity to convince the youth that this is a career of choice offering security, endless possibilities for adventure, and lots of room for growth – because it truly is,” he concludes.