Sailor drowns because of language barrier

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Sailor\'s cap

Let me see if I get this straight. On Tuesday, 28 October a Czech sailor fell off a German boat into a canal in the province of Limburg, which borders Germany and French-speaking Belgium. A French sailor saw this and ran to warn the Dutch sluice guard in French. The sluice guard could not understand French at all and the fire brigade came 30 minutes later when the man had already drowned.

“Despite the large number of international boats on the canal, sluice guards are not required to speak several languages.” However, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Water Management said that “attention is paid to French and German” and that the “French sailor could have just dialled ‘112’ (the Dutch emergency number)”.

“Attention paid to French and German” means absolutely nothing and was said rather sheepishly in the video (link below). The French sailor not speaking any English is odd too, as I assume the sluice guard spoke some English, as most Dutch do, and that would have sped things up. Working on the border of two other countries and not understanding any French is weird, even though it is not required, but that’s just me. As well, most Dutch who live on the border with Germany do understand some German, but asking the French to speak German or Dutch for that matter is a stretch.

Just like in aviation, everyone could try and learn some English to avoid this kind of deadly mix up. And expecting sailors to know all the different emergency numbers throughout Europe is unrealistic.

Why doesn’t the EU have just one emergency number? Too much to hope for maybe.

(Link: nu.nl)

9 Comments »

  1. The greater question is, why be a sailor if you can’t swim? We’re talking a canal here, not an ocean!

    Comment by Darth Paul — October 29, 2008 @ 5:21 pm

  2. So true, so true.

    Comment by Orangemaster — October 29, 2008 @ 5:37 pm

  3. “Why doesn’t the EU have just one emergency number? Too much to hope for maybe.”

    112 is the emergency number in all EU member states and works on most mobile networks around the world.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1-1-2

    Comment by niblox — October 29, 2008 @ 6:01 pm

  4. England is 999 though: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/7668701.stm

    And this is scary: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6336099.stm

    Comment by Orangemaster — October 29, 2008 @ 6:09 pm

  5. Limburg, which borders Germany and French-speaking Belgium

    The Retour à Liège movement is getting cockier by the day.

    Why be a sailor if you can’t swim?

    According to TFA this all took place in a sluice, and I imagine there being some strong undercurrents there.

    England is 999 though

    I thought it was 0118 999 881 999 119 7253?

    Comment by Branko Collin — October 30, 2008 @ 9:56 am

  6. The IT crowd joke is wearing thin :)

    Comment by Orangemaster — October 30, 2008 @ 10:07 am

  7. 999 is the ‘standard’ emergency number in the U.K. but, as in all EU countries, 112 also works.

    Comment by ark — October 30, 2008 @ 1:16 pm

  8. “The French sailor not speaking any English is odd”

    You must be joking. The French do not feel the need to learn any other language than their own. Especially not English, the tongue of their longtime arch rivals.

    Comment by Fritz P. — November 1, 2008 @ 10:03 pm

  9. Statistically, the British are worse. But we still don’t really know what happened. And I can’t just say stuff like that when all the French people I know speak several languages.

    Comment by Orangemaster — November 1, 2008 @ 10:10 pm

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