53The General Meeting and Conference

Liverpool 22-24 May 2019: James Foster (Medway)

Jonathan Mills and Ian McMahon and me (James Foster) attended the above conference in Liverpool. It was a three-day conference with over 250 attendees, primarily pilots from all around the world, with 25 presentations, coupled with discussions and Q&A sessions.

It was an extremely busy conference programme and apparent that every single minute was going to be filled (which it was!). It’s going to be impossible to detail and write up everything that was said and done, but I’ll try my best to condense it into a summary.

John Pearn (Chairman UKMPA), summed up the whole EMPA conference: ‘It’s a case of all getting together from all over the world, as Maritime Professionals, in order to discuss and digest, in an effort to make us do our job, in all aspects, that little bit better.’

The first morning consisted mainly of pilot boat operations from all around the world concentrating on lives that had unfortunately been lost in a pilot boat that capsized.

• It was interesting to see that a district in America and one in the Baltic worked with a single pilot boat crew member, and, in contrast, districts in the Netherlands with a mandatory three pilot boat crew members.

• It appears that many Standard Operating Procedures, and Risk Assessments play an important role in many of the districts worldwide.

• Discussions took place on the future of pilot boat manufacture and design. One pilot boat has a Gyro Heeling system and gave a reduction of heel by 80%, whereas another pilot boat with jet propulsion, rudders and buckets, is enabled if necessary to embark/ disembark pilots at an operating angle of 45 degrees from the ship’s heading. This proved successful when dealing with embarkation and disembarkation in the vicinity of a vessel’s stern and ‘cut aways’ of some vessels.

  • One pilot boat in use had a Bow Rotor, which consisted of a fixed bow rudder/rotor configuration, to be able to control the bow when the cutter is embarking/ disembarking pilots.

• SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull), Monohull, Twin Hull, and X Bow pilot vessels were all discussed and presented.

• Whole Body Vibration in pilot boats with faster speeds and more powerful engines are beginning to have an effect on pilots and pilot boat crew members. Work and research is being carried out on pilot boats, reducing long-term injuries caused to pilots, and crew, from the surprising g-forces and vibration that are exerted on the body.

• The next presentation rolled onto pilot boat/FRC seat design and safety. It was 100 times more in-depth than just ‘suspension seats’, and included deck dampening and further isolation of FRC engines from the crew.

• It was actually a shame no one from ESL was present, as I think there would have been a lot of important and interesting information shared. Surprisingly, our pilot boat operations appear to be of average standard in terms of efficiency and safety operation.

• Airbus was present and is keen to get into helicopter pilotage operations in the UK. It already covers multiple pilot stations, by one helicopter, in Germany, giving some positive aspects of pilot embarkation/ disembarkation.

The afternoon saw a more sombre atmosphere, with investigation reports into the deaths of two pilots, and another person at sea.

• A Portuguese pilot died last year, having fallen into the water when trying to climb a three-metre ladder that was unfortunately non-complaint.

• It was at night and the pilot boat had no trouble locating him, but the problem came when trying to retrieve him from the water, as the recovery equipment had failed and its use had not been regularly exercised.

• The pilot was in the water for 50 mins, consequently trying and then failing to climb the pilot boat ladder, after which he drowned. The president of Portuguese pilots gave the sad presentation, and reported on what they had done to ensure that an accident doesn’t occur like this again.

• Unfortunately no support had been given to his wife and young family and they became bankrupt before the port stepped in to offer financial and emotional support.

• It was reported how important our Pilots’ Circle Insurance Policy is, which all UK pilots personally pay at considerable expense. The pilots who don’t have it, or cannot have it, are seriously disadvantaged, especially in circumstances of pilot injury or death.

Nick Lee gave the report of the death of pilot G Coates at the PLA, onboard the vessel Sumni. From a relatively straightforward pilot embarkation the accident occurred with sad consequences.

• Nick Lee was the duty DPC at the time and explained just how difficult it was for him to deal with emotionally after the event.

• The embarkation was ‘only’ a step across; no ladder needed to be climbed, which most of us consider to be the easiest method of transfer, but much underestimated. One element that we all personally remembered for the wrong reasons was that the news about Gordon’s death had been circulated widely on social media – well ahead of his wife being able to be informed officially by the Police.

A Tees pilot gave the presentation on a fatality of an unknown person that occurred after he was found in the water at the Pier Heads in Tees. He was located, retrieved, all efficiently, but then the obvious decision was to bring him back onto land at the port’s pontoon (similar to the Royal Bridge) for Air Ambulance embarkation. Unfortunately, the result of what was considered to be more logical and safe, resulted in an hour’s delay for the casualty, who later died. Mainly due to its down draft the helicopter had problems landing in any area of the port.

Had the unusual and illogical decision been taken, to keep the casualty in the recovery boat at sea, the helicopter would have had no problems recovering him and resulted in a much shorter transfer-to-hospital time (the Golden Hour). After that event, the whole Port, VTS and staff underwent a massive restructure of Emergency Situation Check Cards and Procedures.

• Nick Lee (PLA Pilot/Tech Training), reported that the assessment of pilot embarkation and disembarkation, needs to be rethought, especially in times when pilots wonder, can I/ can’t I get on the ladder? The question we should be asking ourselves is that, if I fall from the ladder, due to whatever reason, can the pilot boat crew members retrieve me from the water? If the answer is ‘No’ then we should really be evaluating our pilot transfers.

• Time was then allowed for a session where pilots could share their experiences of falling off ladders. One event that sprung to mind was of a pilot who at disembarkation fell into the water six years ago. He was a good swimmer and seemed to be only bothered at the time with his new ‘I Phone’ that was probably ‘wrecked’. He was quickly retrieved and ‘signed off’ after finishing his job. VTS asked if he wanted to ‘return back into the roster’, to which he replied, having just got wet, ‘No’. He promptly went to bed, on his own, in rental accommodation (he was living away).

• It was not until he woke in the morning and realised what a stupid thing he had done, due to the after effects and possible secondary drowning during the incident. No one from port management had enquired after him or even suggested that he went to the local hospital to get checked out. He considers himself lucky that he even woke up after his incident that night.

• Pilot Ladder defects appear to be a ‘hit and miss’ affair. Australian Pilots have a zero tolerance policy, where they don’t board unless the ladder is exactly compliant. Their reputation is so strict that most, if not all, ships rig a brand new ladder when embarking a pilot in Australian waters.

  • Other UK districts appear to be a little ahead of us on ladder defects, which are handled more strictly, efficiently and reported more easily.

• The UKMPA along with Jonathan Mills (Technical and Training) are looking at producing an ‘Idiot’s Guide’ to compliant and noncompliant pilot ladders that we can have readily available when embarking/disembarking and be able to report any deficiencies.

• The conclusion of the first day was that pilotage is a very underestimated job that we as pilots do hundreds of times a year. We are all under a ‘can do’ attitude, which means at times we take calculated risks. Accidents can and do occur very quickly with results that not only effect our lives but the lives of our families. One element that we must not lose sight of is regular Sea Survival training, Rescue Boat craft training and training for emergency circumstances like these.

• The second day was more of an ‘electronic’ day, covering ECDIS, PPU, and something which seems increasingly common, ‘Whole Electronic Port Integration.’

• A presentation by Singapore pilots demonstrated that they use and integrate Port Management, all in one interface. Pilot booking, payment, passage planning, tug allocation, berthing, linesman are all integrated into a PPU. The conclusion is that this technology is present and will be integrated into pilot’s work in the future. It was interesting and surprising to learn of the number of ports worldwide already using this technology.

• A female Finnish pilot gave a presentation on Autonomous Vessel Developments. As much as they don’t want to ‘cost’ crew their jobs, they have realised that anything, just like driving, is increasingly autonomous.

• It is considered actually safer and better for pilots’ livelihoods to actually assist rather than resist this development, in order to influence certain decisions and actions taken, by people who know very little about marine operations.

• Svitzer talked about tug operations. One element that was very interesting was that very recently one of their tugs has a prototype Automatic Catching Arm on deck. How effective it was was not reported, but they admitted that this one prototype tug in Denmark is operating with no crew-member on deck to make fast to ships.

The third day consisted of ‘Blind Trust’ and over reliance on Electronic Means. It was clear that although pilots are receiving electronic assistance and port integration software, it is imperative that pilots’ skills need to be retained.

A pilot cannot question electronic equipment or aids without having the basic skills gained in pilot training and education.

Much discussion took place on whether entry intakes should be lowered below Master’s Unlimited Certificate of Competency (CoC), and whether training can be speeded up because of the electronic assistance available on ships. The conclusion was basically ‘no’: a pilot still needs to study, learn wind, tides, geographical area, course and distances, etc, as well as experiencing hands-on ship driving skills.

The need for Master’s CoC has never been more necessary for UK Pilotage districts in times when ship-crew standards and experiences have dropped over the years to employ cheaper crews. Of all the reputable UK districts, only the Humber is where ABP have lowered entry intakes, although it was reported that they feel the consequences.

Conclusion To sum up, the conference was a worthwhile and valuable three days. After talking to other reputable districts, including those in Europe, Medway pilots belong to a well-respected district, one which knows what it is doing.

Some members commented that we appear to have been a little quiet at UKMPA & EMPA conference and meetings over the last couple of years. This probably hasn’t been helped by the large number of changes we have had to ’embrace’ at Medway during this time.

All UK Pilots are aware of the Medway and our pride as a professional district. It was an invaluable conference that we really needed to be present at. We have lots of contacts within UKMPA, EMPA and IMPA, contacts we need to maintain to ensure that the Medway keeps abreast of pilotage developments.

I knew very little about EMPA and IMPA, but what this conference has shown me is that there are a good number of pilots constantly working to maintain pilot professional standards at a time when some ports worldwide are trying to demean their marine skills.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this:

‘When I pay to go to the dentist to have a tooth removed I consequently expect and pay for a qualified, fully trained dentist who possesses the necessary skills to get the job done safely and correctly. I don’t ask the dentist’s receptionist to remove my tooth, to endure pain and discomfort to save costs. This is exactly what Captains expect when pilots step onboard the bridge of their ship.’

I believe all of the presentations and discussion slide shows are on the members section of the UKMPA website.

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