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.