India, ranked third in fisheries, is yet to ratify a global regulatory regime adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for safety of fishing vessels.

A three-day ministerial conference, co-hosted by the IMO, began on Monday in Torremolinos, Spain to garner support to push forward ratification and entry into force of the Cape Town Agreement that seeks to introduce mandatory safety measures for fishing vessels of 24 metres and over in length.

The Cape Town Agreement was adopted by the IMO in 2012 to help combat illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.

The treaty will enter into force 12 months after at least 22 nations, with an aggregate 3,600 fishing vessels of 24 metres and over in length operating on the high seas, have expressed their consent to be bound by it. Thus far, 13 countries have ratified the Cape Town Agreement: Belgium, Congo, Cook Islands, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, The Netherlands, Norway, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Sao Tome and Principe, South Africa and Spain.

“The loss of life on fishing vessels remains unacceptably high — but the ratification and entry into force of the Cape Town Agreement, a key international treaty on fishing vessel safety, could have a significant positive impact, saving lives at sea,” a spokesperson for the UN agency looking after global maritime said.

The Cape Town Agreement includes mandatory international requirements for stability and associated seaworthiness, machinery and electrical installations, life-saving appliances, communications equipment and fire protection, as well as fishing vessel construction. It is aimed at facilitating better control of fishing vessel safety by flag, port and coastal states.

On Monday, 44 countries (46 in total) signed the Torremolinos Declaration, a non-legally binding political instrument, to publicly indicate their determination to ensure the Cape Town Agreement reaches entry into force criteria by the tenth anniversary of its adoption (October 11, 2022).

Earlier this year, the Modi government created a separate department of fisheries by carving out a new Ministry of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries which were earlier functioning under the Ministry of Agriculture.

India has over 2.4 lakh fishing crafts operating along the coast, seven major fishing harbours, 75 minor fishing harbours and 1,537 landing centres, catering to the needs of over 4 million fisher-folk.