18-Mar-2005 -- From this West African far offshore confluence, 11N 17W, the closest land, the island of Unhocomo in the Archipélago dos Bijagós, is too far away and certainly never visible, not even in best visibility (which is anyway never the case in this permanently humid and hazy area). However, our course from Las Palmas (Canary Islands) to Port Harcourt (Nigeria) brings us over this Confluence, and when being there, we realized that it is full of activity. The water in this area is quite shallow (average depth about 50 m/160 ft), and thus there is plenty of fish. So we are not surprised to see several different kinds of vessels engaged in fishing around the Confluence.
Looking East there is a Russian trawler. The trawler is only a 2 nautical miles (3.6 km) from the Confluence, and the picture gives you an idea of how hazy the air, and how restricted the visibility is.
This boat is engaged in what we do call "Stern trawling". It is the commonest form of commercial fishing. The net is towed from the stern (the rear part of a ship), and recovered back into the boat over a large ramp, which we can clearly see when having a closer look. Such trawlers can operate in almost all weather conditions. The trawl can be along the sea bed (which is not allowed everywhere) or in mid-water and is normally kept open by otter boards. This Russian vessel is engaged in mid-water or "Pelagic Otter Trawling", which can be best understood when having a look at the drawing.
Such huge trawlers generally do not call a port to discharge their catch, but they transship it directly into cargo ships on the open sea. Our ship as well does occasionally take over fish in direct transshipment, which I have described in my visit to 21N 17W. Looking again at the picture of the trawler we see that he has three huge rubber fenders hanging over his side. These so-called "Yokohama-fenders" act as bumpers when he has another ship alongside during transshipment. Further have a look on his signal mast: There is a black diamond shaped body hoisted which tells me that he is engaged in trawling. Due to the water pressure that keeps his net open it is very difficult for him to manoeuvre and therefore I have to remain well clear of him.
Looking towards South we see another fishing vessel. It is the "Barracuda" – DAK 803, a Senegalese so-called "Beam Trawler". How beam-trawling works can be best seen at this sketch. When beam trawling, two nets are towed from derricks ("beams") on either side of the vessel at a speed of about 2 to 6 knots (1 knot = 1 nautical mile/hr = 1.8 km/h).
Looking towards Southwest there is another Senegalese beam trawler, the "Marcantonio Bragadin" – DAK 1074.
And finally, looking towards North, we see that not only larger commercial fishing boats are busy here. Intrepid local Guinean fishermen do come out so far with their small wooden boats in order to try their luck and catch the fish the big trawlers did "forget". They of course do not trawl, which requires quite complicated equipment. They are mostly just "handlining", the simplest method of catching fish. Fishing is a tricky operation, and there are many other methods, as Jigging, Longlining, Potting, Gillnetting, Seine netting, Purse netting, and Purse seining.
The waters in this area are shallow and not completely surveyed. Having a look on the navigational chart, we learn that especially west of the Arquipélago dos Bijagós there is a large unsurveyed area and of course to be avoided.
The territory that today is called Guinea-Bissau was discovered in 1446 by Nuno Tristão, one of the Portuguese explorers sent out by Prince Henry the Navigator. It was named "Portuguese Guinea" and trading rights were granted to Cape Verde islanders, but few prominent posts were established before 1851.
The chief export of this colony's early period was slaves for South America, a practice that adversely affected trade with the native people and retarded subjection of the interior. The African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau was founded in 1956 and several years later began a guerrilla warfare that grew in effectiveness until 1974, when the rebels controlled most of the colony. Portugal's costly overseas wars in her African territories resulted in a military coup in Portugal in April 1974 that appreciably brightened the prospects for independence for Guinea-Bissau. In August 1974 the Lisbon government signed an agreement granting independence to Portuguese Guinea, and the new republic took the name of Guinea-Bissau in September 1974.
Sketches about "Pelagic Otter Trawling" and "Beam Trawling" taken from The Mariner's Handbook, Nautical Publication 100, 11th
ed. 1999, Hydrographer of the Navy, Taunton, England.