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banner -dangers of the fisheries - dangers to fisherman on vessels

Seas Striking the Deck.-- The most common accident which is liable to occur is Storm, shipwreck, and sea monster - In: Meteorologia philosophico-politica caused by heavy seas, which strike the fishermen as they stand upon the desk of a vessel, knocking them down and often inflicting serious injuries.

In the winter of 1877 William Brown, one of the crew of the schooner Howard, of Gloucester, was struck by a sea and severely injured by being knocked against the bows of the dories which were lashed amidships.

In December, 1880, one of the crew of the schooner David A. Story was standing on watch at the bow of the schooner when a heavy sea struck the vessel. To avoid being thrown overboard, he grasped the iron braces of the forward stove funnel. The sea knocked the vessel upon her beam-ends, and when she righted he was found insensible, with his leg broken and several splinters from the fore boom, which had been broken by the force of the sea, driven entirely through the limb.

Instances of this sort might be multiplied, but it is sufficient to say that they occur frequently every winter, and rarely without serious or fatal results to the victims, who are sometimes washed overboard.

Dangers of Falling from the Rigging.-- Another serious danger is that of falling from aloft. This kind of accident, however, occurs less frequently than the former.

Capt. Garret Galvin, in the spring of 1875, fell form the masthead of the schooner Restless, while on the Grand Banks, striking the cable-tier. He received no serious injury. His was a very fortunate escape, for lives are sometimes lost in this way, and a person thus falling rarely escapes with less serious results than the fracture of a limb.

In the spring of 1878 Capt. Joseph Campbell, of Gloucester, fell from the masthead of his vessel, which lay at anchor on the Banks, and was killed. Men sometimes fall from the main boom while engaged in reefing the mainsail. In most cases these accidents are fatal, since at such times the weather is generally too rough to permit their being rescued. Such falls are usually occasioned by a sudden lurching of the vessel, causing the men to lose their hold.

Whalemen sometimes fall from the rigging. Such accidents are usually the result of carelessness on the part of the sailors themselves. At times, while the crew are taking in sail, the canvas wraps itself around a sailor and throws him form the yard. Whether he falls on deck or overboard depends upon the position he occupies on the yard.

Dangers from Movements of the Booms.-- Fishermen are sometimes injured by a blow from one of the booms, usually the fore boom, as it swings from side to side. The injuries are usually to the head, though sometimes the man is further wounded by being knocked upon the deck. It is quite common, also, for them to be thrown overboard by the blow of the boom or by becoming entangled in swinging ropes.

Men are sometimes thrown overboard by a sudden lurch of the vessel. They are generally lost, for at such times it is too rough to lower a boat to rescue them.

Danger of Being Washed from the Bowsprit or Jib-Boom.-- Another danger is encountered by fishermen while on the bowsprit engaged in furling or reefing the jib. As the vessel plunges up and down, the bowsprit is often completely submerged. It is then very difficult for a man to retain his hold and to prevent being washed off and drowned. The force of the sea added to the resistance of the water to the rapid motion of the plunging vessel brings tremendous power to bear upon any object on the bowsprit.

A remedy for disasters of this class is possible. If, as in the English cutter and some other European vessels, our schooners were provided with two jibs, or rather with a fore staysail and a small jib, instead of the immense jib which is now commonly in use, in heavy weather the jib could be furled and men would not be obliged to go outside of the bow to shorten sail. This style of rigging has been introduces to some extent upon the New England pilot-boats and upon the larger class of Nova Scotia schooners, and is quite as applicable to all fishing vessels.

Men going on to a jib-boom to furl the flying jib are liable to be washed overboard, and many instances are on record of disasters of this kind, most of which have resulted in loss of life.

Men also sometimes fall overboard by the parting of the foot-ropes, or by missing their hold during a sudden lurch of the vessel.

Dangers Met with in Holding the Cable.-- There is danger in connection with "holding the cable" when it is "hove up" or hauled in, either to change the arrangements of the chafing gear or to "weigh the anchor." The sudden rise of a vessel on the crest of a wave may jerk the cable forward and thrown the persons who are holding it with much violence over the windlass and into contact with the iron brakes, thus inflicting injuries.

Danger from Lightning.-- Vessels are sometimes struck by lightning, their masts shattered, and injuries inflicted to the crew. This sometimes occurs on the Banks, and in 1878 several vessels were thus injured while lying at the wharves at Gloucester.

Danger from Furniture.-- Minor accidents are frequent on shipboard. When a vessel is knocked down by a sea the cabin stove may break loose and tumble about, burning some of the men. In the gale of December 9, 1876, such an accident occurred to one of the crew of the schooner Ruth Groves, of Gloucester.

Dangers from Cuts or Bruises.-- In dressing fish or cutting bait sudden movements of the vessel are likely to cause fishermen to cut their hands. Such accidents, however, are not generally serious, though fingers and thumbs are sometimes sacrificed. When a man is engaged in fishing the least cut or scratch soon becomes a painful sore, for it is impossible to protect the raw surface from the slime and salt with which the hands are constantly in contact. Sometimes painful abscesses, or what are called by the fishermen "gurry sores," are the result. In the summer months fishermen suffer a great annoyance from the stings of "sun-jellies," "sun-squalls," or "sea-nettles," usually of the species Cyanea arctica. The tentacles of these animals cling to the lines and seines and the stings of the lasso cells cause the most intense pain at times. On the southern coast even more serious results are caused by contact with the tentacles of the Portuguese man-of-war, which sometimes produces a temporary paralysis of the muscles and always acute suffering. All fishermen protect their hands, when dressing fish, by wearing mittens, but nevertheless, slime will penetrate between the fibres and get upon the skin. In handling the lines, the fishermen use the so-called "nippers," knotted from woolen yarn. Cots of rubber or wool are used by the mackeral fishermen in order to protect their fingers when fishing with hand-lines; and sometimes they wind yarn around their fingers for the same reason. Almost all of the fishermen upon the Banks are afflicted with small boils
( called "Pin-jinnets" ) upon the forearm, caused by the chafing of the heavy clothing saturated with salt water and the contact of the cuff of the oil-jacket with the flesh of the wrist.


The fishermen in trawling on the Banks usually go out in their dories from one to three miles from the vessel for the trawls, and are exposed to numerous dangers.

CAPSIZED BY HEAVY SEAS. - Boats are capsized either when the men are rowing to and from the vessel, or when they are engaged in hauling or setting the trawls. Pages could be filled with instances of this kind, often resulting in loss of life, and frequently remarkable for examples of heroism on the part of fishermen who have made attempts, at the risk of their own lives, to save their weaker comrades.

"Schooner Neptune's Bride was wrecked at Malcolm's Ledge, Me., September 22, 1860. Twelve of her fourteen men found a watery grave by the swamping of the boat in which they sought to reach the shore. One man, Henry Johnson, was enabled to regain the boat. She was full of water, but fortunately there was a bucket in her, and a coil of rope. With the former he commenced bailing, and by dint of hard labor managed to free her, although she was continually taking in water. A hogshead tub from the vessel had drifted across the boat amidships. This he secured with his rope, and that made the boat ride more easily. When he got tired of bailing the boat he would crawl into the tub, and when that got full of water he would commence bailing the boat again. He knew not whither he was drifting, and became so utterly exhausted that, long ere daylight dawned, he fell asleep. At noon-time a Belfast schooner sighted the craft, bore down to her, and her single passenger was received on board and kindly cared for. One other of the crew, named Marsh, secured a resting place at the foremast-head, where for eighteen hours he endured greater agonies than death could inflict. The surging waters reached to his waist, while the pittiless rain beat upon his unprotected head, and the pangs of thirst and hunger clamored that he should cease the unequal strife and seek oblivion in the seething flood. But the instinct of self-preservation was strong, and he maintained his position until his feet were chafed and raw, and delirium set in. His critical position was at last discovered by two fishermen on Seal Island, and he was taken off and tenderly cared for until reason resumed its throne and he was able to take passage for home." * [* Gloucester and its Fisheries, pp. 66, 67.]

CAPSIZED BY WEIGHT OF TRAWL.- There is danger of being upset by the strain on the trawl line, as the dory rises upon the sea when the men are hauling in the line. The line is usually, in such cases, around the trawl-winch, or "hurdy-gurdy," and cannot be slackened quick enough to prevent upsetting the dory.

CAPSIZED BY SHIPPING WATER. - A dory heavily loaded with fish is liable to be upset by shipping a quantity of water which brings the gunwales below the surface. When a boat is upset in this way the men seldom escape drowning. They are clothed from head to toe in heavy clothing, besides stiff outer clothing of oiled cotton or rubber, and with heavy boots, so that they have little power of movement in the water. In addition to this the water is extremely cold on the Banks, in summer being rarely above 40o or 42o, and in winter nearly at the freezing point; the unfortunate fishermen become so chilled that they are incapable of much exertion. Of late years the Gloucester fishermen have adopted the custom of fitting the dories with "plug beckets," which are loops of rope fastened to the under side of the plug in the bottom of the dory. This loop, or "becket," is large enough for a man to thrust his arm through, and he can thus cling to the bottom of the boat until help may reach him. A "life-line" is also occasionally used. This is a light rope stretched along the bottom of the dory nearly from stem to stern, being fastened at each end and in the middle to small staples, and with two or three "beckets" large enough for a man's arm. These are preferable to the "plug-beckets" because they enable two or three men to cling to the bottom of one dory, which is sufficiently buoyant to support them without difficulty, but not to allow them to rest upon it. Numerous instances of the preservation of life by the useof this simple means are on record, and it is simple inhumanity to send men away from the vessel in dories which are not equipped with some such means of safety, for it is almost impossible for a fisherman to retain hold of the smooth slippery bottom of a capsized dory, constantly swept by the breaking seas. The "life-line" was introduced a few years ago, but the "plug-becket" has been in use 10 or 15 years, though not to much extent until recently. These ropes do not impede the speed of the dory, and they only objection ever urged against them is that they interfere with sliding the dories about on the decks of the vessels.

Washed from the Boat.-- The fishermen are quite often washed out of their dories by breaking seas. In the fall of 1880 Thomas R. Lee, of Gloucester, while engaged in hauling a halibut trawl on the Grand Bank, was struck by a sea and thrown 15 or 20 feet from his dory. He rose to the surface twice, but was so much encumbered by his clothing that he was unable to swim. As he was sinking the third time he caught the trawl, which was fastened to the dory. By means of this he tried to haul himself up, but when still about three fathoms underwater one of the hooks caught in his finger and went completely through it. He then grasped the trawl above his head with the other hand and by a sudden jerk tore the hook from his finger. He hauled himself up and reached the gunwale, but just then another hook caught in his clothing, which rendered it difficult for him to get into the boat. He called to his dorymate for help, but the man was too frightened to assist him. By a great effort he pulled himself over the side of the dory and fell down exhausted. This is an instance of the dogged pluck of the typical Gloucester fishermen, for after recovering from the first exhaustion he persisted in hauling his trawl and filling his dory with fish before returning to the vessel.

Danger from Squalls.-- While tending their trawls fishermen are liable to be overtaken by heavy squalls, especially in the winter season, and are unable to reach their vessels. Such squalls are particularly dangerous because of the force of the wind, which creates high seas, and they are often accompanied with dense snow, which adds to the anxiety and peril. Instances of this kind are constantly occurring, and afford some of the most exciting episodes in the fisherman's life, since, in every instance, a determined and heroic effort is made to regain the vessel in spite of the wind and sea. Their efforts are often aided by their shipmates on the vessel, who fasten a line to a dory or buoy and allow it to drift out to the men who are struggling to reach the vessel. Sometimes over a mile of rope is paid out in this manner, which expedient has resulted in the saving of numerous lives. When that is not available the cable has sometimes been cut or the anchor broken out by putting sail on the vessel, which then runs down toward the dory and rescues the men. At night a light is sometimes rigged to the paid-out dory. When all these expedients fail the lost fishermen may be rescued by other vessels in the neighborhood, but too often they drift about for several days before being picked up. Fishermen have been thus adrift for six days without food or water and finally rescued, and many more have perished after drifting for a long time or have been soon swamped by the breaking waves. When fishermen are thus adrift and exposed to heavy seas they may succeed in keeping the dory afloat by means of rigging a "drag," a contrivance by which the head of the dory is kept to the wind and sea, and it is thus prevented from swamping. This "Drag" is often made of the body of a dead halibut by tying it by the head and tail. A buoy keg, with a hole in it, which will fill with water and thus present a resistance to the sea, is also used with the same result. The men meanwhile steady the boat with their oars to prevent it from swinging "side to the wind."

Precautions Against Loss of Life.-- Much suffering and loss of life might be prevented if the fishermen would carry food and water in their dories when they go out to haul the trawls. So many vessels are passing daily in the vicinity of the fishing grounds that the changes are against a boat drifting for many days without being picked up, provided the men are able to keep up their strength and spirits. Many of the banks are so near the land that the men could succeed in reaching it if they had provisions to support their strength for a few days. The custom of carrying water and occasionally provisions in the dories in thick weather is, it is claimed, coming more into favor, but this simple precaution against disaster and suffering should be insisted upon by humane public sentiment, and possibly also by legal enactment.

It has been suggested that it would be useless to make laws for the government of fishermen when they are out of sight of the officers of the law, but no matter how careless the crew and skippers may be, if a law allowed the fishermen to bring a suit for damages against the master and owners of a vessel which sent them out in a small boat without provisions, it would be clearly to the interest of the latter to oblige them to carry the necessities of life, no matter how careless the men themselves might be.

John Maynard, of New London, and William Corthell, of Lyme, Conn., of schooner Gilson Carman, left that vessel on George's on Wednesday, March 17, 1869, in a dory, to haul their trawls, and while doing so a very heavy thunder-squall sprang up, driving them from the banks. They had at the time several halibut and form sixty to seventy codfish, which they had to throw overboard, with the exception of one, which they retained to eat. After eating a little it made them sick, and they were obliged to throw it away. On Thursday night they saw a vessel, but were unable to attract her attention; were drifted about all day Friday and Friday night, without anything to eat. On Saturday morning a duck lit in the vicinity of the boat, which they managed to kill and ate it raw. On Saturday night, when they had nearly given up the idea of being saved, they made a light a few miles ahead. They immediately pulled for it, when it proved to be the schooner Henry Clay. During the time they were in the boat they had a steady storm of rain and snow and were frequently capsized, but with the aid of a bucket they managed to keep the boat clear of water. Corthell had his feet badly frozen. Maynard's arm was badly chafed and swollen, and both suffered greatly.* [*Gloucester and its Fisheries, p. 66. ]

"The Dominion Government steamer Newfield, Captain Guilford, arrived at Halifax from Sable Island to-day, and brought up William Coleman and James McFrath, who had landed on the island. The two men belonged to the fishing schooner Procter Brothers, of Gloucester, Mass. They left the vessel in a dory on the western banks of Newfoundland on the morning of Sunday, April 18, to attend to their trawls. While at this work a gale sprang up, and they were unable to get back to the vessel. For five days they drifted about at the mercy of wind and waves, without food or water. Their sufferings were intense, as the weather was very cold. McGrath had both feet badly frozen. On the evening of Tuesday, April 22, their dory drifted ashore on Sable Island, and the two men are kindly cared for by the men stationed there to aid wrecked people."** [**Boston Herald, April 30, 1880.]

Dangers of the Fog or Thick Weather.-- There is constant danger, at all seasons of the year, of fishermen, while out in the boats, losing sight of the vessels. In summer, when there is no snow, the fogs are most prevalent. To prevent accidents of this sort, so far as possible, vessels are provided with bells, horns, and guns. The common tin horn and Anderson's patent horn, in which the air is forced through a reed by a piston, are the most common horns in use. Occasionally the old-fashioned conch-shell horn is carried, and this is considered by many experience fishermen superior to the tin horn. Some vessels carry muskets and a few of them small cannons. The firing of a cannon is so expensive and dangerous that they can only be used in an emergency, and they are not generally fired until too late to be of any assistance to the men who are astray. It is estimated that an ordinary horn can be heard in calm weather from 1 mile to 1 miles; with an ordinary breeze it can be heard to the windward perhaps not 200 yards, to the leeward perhaps a mile' but in much of the weather in which fishermen are out hauling their trawls such a horn cannot be heard to a greater distance than one-quarter the length of one of their trawl-lines.

An objection to the Anderson piston horn is that it gets so easily out of repair that sometimes, after being used for a few hours, it is of no further service until it has been overhauled.

There are very serious objections to the use of the mouth horn. The labor of blowing this devolves upon the skipper, who remains on board the vessel, and is obliged to keep blowing from morning until night, in order that the boats may keep within a safe distance of the vessel. This continual blowing is very exhausting, so that the skipper's power to aid his men is very much diminished at the close of the day, when the sound of his horn is generally most needed. Some device by which a succession of loud blasts, at frequent intervals, can be kept up on board of the vessels, especially some horn which can be worked without the aid of the human lungs, and powerful enough to be heard a long distance, would be of the greatest importance to your fishermen, as well as to sea-faring men of all classes and nations.

Much of the danger incurred by the thickness of the fog preventing the men in the dories from seeing their vessel may be averted by the use of a compass in each dory. Although this custom has been growing in favor within the last ten years, yet probably not more than one-half of the dories belonging to Gloucester vessels are provided with this instrument, and the proportion in vessels from other ports is very much less. It seems culpable negligence on the part of the owners not to provide compasses for their crews, since the cost of an instrument sufficiently accurate to answer every purpose does not exceed $3. It is a fair question whether they should not be obliged by law to furnish such additional safeguards to prevent suffering and loss of life. It should be mentioned in this connection that where compasses are used they are in every instance furnished by the crews, and not by the owners of the vessels. * [*Lost in the Fog.-- James Burke and Henry Fitzgerald, of schooner E. B. Phillips, from Le Have Bank, 14th, left their vessel at 4 p. m. New Year's day. A thick fog setting in, they were not able to regain her, and they rowed all night and the next day, when, at 6 o'clock, they were fortunate enough to get alongside schooner Tragabigzanda, where they got something to eat, and, taking a fresh start after getting rested, reached their own vessel at midnight, after having been absent thirty-six hours. - Cape Ann Advertiser, January 21, 1876. ] Fifty-two men were reported to have gone astray, from Gloucester vessels, in about two months, in the spring and early summer of 1883.

Dangers from Collision.-- There is danger, in foggy weather, of a dory being run down by steamers or passing vessels, though disaster can usually be avoided by cutting the trawl or anchor line. Dories are sometimes capsized by heavy seas when unloading their fish and gear alongside the vessel. The manner of setting trawls under sail is described in the chapter on the halibut fishery. This is the only method of setting trawls in the haddock winter fishery. As the vessel under sail approaches the dories to pick them up, there is a danger of the man at the wheel miscalculating the exact distance, and, striking the dory, of upsetting her. Many instances of this kind are recorded. Seine boats, with ten or twelve men on board, have been upset in this way, though loss of life has not been frequent as a result of such accidents.

Danger of the Upsetting of Small Boats when under Sail.-- This is a not uncommon cause of loss of life, not so much in the case of the Bank fishermen in their dories as in the shore fisheries, often carried on in sail boats by men who are reckless in their management.

Danger from Drifting Ice.-- During the latter part of winter and in early spring the halibut catchers on the Grand Bank and Banquereau are in danger of drifting ice, which may separate the dories from the vessels. In the spring of 1875 several dories got astray in this way, though they were afterwards picked up and the men were returned to their vessels or brought into port.

Dangers of Being Blown out to Sea.-- The liability of fishermen, who are engaged in the shore fisheries in small boats or dories, to be blown off to sea by sudden and high winds is a danger to which this class are especially exposed. Instances of fatal results from this cause are not uncommon in most of the fishing communities, and narrow escapes from perilous positions have been frequently recorded. A mishap of this very kind is vividly described in Celia Thaxter's "Isles of Shoals":

"On of the most hideous experiences I ever heard befell a young Norwegian now living at the Shoals. He and a young companion came out from Portsmouth to set their trawl, in the winter fishing, two years ago. Before they reached the island, came a sudden squall of wind and snow, chilling and blinding. In a few moments they knew not where they were, and the wind continued to sweep them away. Presently they found themselves under the lee of White Island Head; they threw out the road-lines of their trawl, in desperate hope that they might hold the boat till the squall abated. The keepers at the light-house saw the poor fellows, but were powerless to help them. Alas! The road-lines soon broke, and the little boat was swept off again, they knew not whither. Night came down upon them, tossed on that terrible black sea; the snow ceased, the clouds flew before the deadly cold northwest wind; the thermometer sunk below zero. One of the men died before morning; the other, alone with the dead man, was still driven on and on before the pitiless gale. He had no cap or mittens; had lost both. He bailed the boat incessantly, for the sea broke over him the livelong time. He told me the story himself. He looked down at the awful face of his dead friend and thought `how soon he should be like him'; but still he never ceased bailing- it was all he could do. Before night he passed into Cape Cod and knew it as he rushed by. Another unspeakably awful night, and the gale abated no whit. Next morning he was almost gone from cold, fatigue, and hunger. His eyes were so swollen he could hardly see; but afar off, shining whiter than silver in the sun, the sails of a large schooner appeared at the edge of the fearful wilderness. He managed to hoist a bit of old canvas on an oar. He was then not far from Holmes' Hole, nearly two hundred miles from the Shoals! The schooner saw it and bore down for him, but the sea was running so high that he expected to be swamped every instant. As she swept past, they threw from the deck a rope with a loop on the end, tied with a bow-line knot that would not slip. It caught him over the head, and, clutching it at his throat with both hands, in an instant he found himself in the sea among the ice-cold, furious waves, drawn toward the vessel with all the strength of her crew. Just before he emerged he heard the captain shout,'We've lost him!' ah, the bitter moment! For a horrible fear struck through him that they might lose their hold an instant on the rope, and then he knew it would be all over. But they saved him. The boat, with the dead man in it all alone, went tossing, heaven knows where."

An early accident of this kind is recorded by a chronicler of colonial history:

"In January, 1641, a shallop, with eight men, would go from Piscataqua ( though advised to the contrary ), on the Lord's day, towards Pemaquid, but were by the northwest wind driven to sea for fourteen days; at length they reached Monhegin, and four of them in this time perished with the cold."

Danger from Drowning.-- In considering the various dangers to which the fishermen are exposed by the upsetting of boats and being thrown overboard, it is well to remember that the men have little chance of saving themselves by swimming, however expert they may be. Overloaded, as they are, with thick clothing, rendered doubly heavy by saturation, they have comparatively very little use of their limbs, and besides, the water is so cold that their muscles would soon become paralyzed. The majority of New England fishermen are completely ignorant of the art of swimming; in fact, the ability to swim is not considered by them to be of any special importance, as it scarcely increases their chances for safety. In talking with fishermen upon the subject they will refer to instances which have fallen under their observation of two men in a boat, one of whom could swim and the other could not. The former, trusting to his skill when the boat was capsized, attempted to swim to a place of safety and was drowned, while the other, clinging to the boat, was rescued unharmed.

Precautions, actual or possible, for the safety of life Strange to say, there are rarely any provisions on our fishing fleet for the succor of those who are overturned into the water. If fishing vessels, like merchant and other vessels, could be compelled by law to carry life-buoys or preservers, many lives might yearly be saved. This law might be enforced much in the same way as has already been suggested for the provision of life-ropes and eatables upon the fishing dories. A small outlay by the owners of the fishing vessels to provide such simple safety apparatus as would be needed by a vessel and its crew of twelve or fifteen men, would yield results of immense importance in the way of preserving valuable lives.

Dangers of Salmon-Fishing in the Columbia River.-- As the salmon have become less abundant up the river, the men go farther down, and now the best fishing is found near the bar at the river's mouth, where the breakers are very dangerous, especially in the spring.

Many of the fishermen are drunk or asleep in the bottom of the boat when it nears the bar, and hence lose their lives. Often, too, sober and skillful men take dangerous risks for the sake of a good catch. Sometimes miscalculations as to wind and tide result in the boats being driven into the beakers, where they are swamped at once.

In stormy weather, for various reasons, some men are drowned almost every night. In 1879 about forty men were drowned, and more than that number in April and May of 1880. Little outside notice is taken of these accidents. Most of the fishermen are foreigners, without family or friends, and, unless their bodies are taken up in gill-nets, when drowned they drift out to sea and the boat is reported as missing.

Dangers to Whalemen and Sealers.-- The whaleboats sent out from the vessels to kill and secure the whales are often struck by the whale's flukes, and many whalemen have lost their lives at such times. Sometimes the men are caught by a foul line and being carried overboard are drowned. Men engaged in the fur-seal and sea-elephant fisheries have lost their lives by the capsizing of the boats while making a landing on the rocky shores of the seal islands. In the description of the whale and seal fisheries, in another section of this report, numerous instances of these and other dangerous to whalemen and sealers are more fully discussed.

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