Editorial July 2009

From the outset it was evident that the media frenzy in America, following the Cosco Busan allision with the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, would ensure that the role of the pilot, John Cota, would be subjected to detailed scrutiny. What wasn’t anticipated was that criminal negligence charges would be brought against him to which he subsequently pleaded guilty in a plea bargaining agreement. The court’s decision to impose the maximum possible 10 month prison sentence on the pilot, has set an alarming precedent which has profound implications for all pilots worldwide. As criminal charges commence against a pilot in France, all pilotage organisations need to work together to decide how we can address this issue. As Australian pilot and IMPA vice president, Steve Pelecanos, aptly states:

“We need to send a strong message to industry that it is an inherent part of the human condition to make mistakes and pilots, like all humans, are capable of making mistakes. If, as an international maritime industry, we are to acknowledge that the criminalisation of pilots who make mistakes is acceptable, then we must be prepared to accept the potential detrimental impact this might have on international trade”.

Every day around the world, thousands of pilotage acts ensure that the world’s trade keeps moving with the minimum of delay. Many of these acts will be undertaken in challenging conditions at the limits of operational parameters. Pilots are expected to cope with such conditions but the considerable skills employed and stress endured go totally unremarked when the ship is berthed alongside and cargo operations commence! Although the Master and Officers of the Cosco Busan received immunity from prosecution by cooperating with the NTSB enquiry, the ship operators, Fleet Management are facing court proceedings later this year. They will no doubt argue that the pilot has admitted liability and walk away after paying a nominal fine. With the shipping industry’s opinion of pilots generally low, John Cota’s fate will inevitably fade rapidly from the headlines but I, for one, will be thinking of him and his family throughout his prison ordeal, especially when piloting in marginal conditions!

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