Editorial April 2009

This quarter’s feature focuses on four MAIB reports into Fog related incidents. Tragically, one of these resulted in the loss of three lives on board a tug which capsized whilst towing in fog. The relevance of all of these investigations to members is that all the vessels involved were being conducted by experienced pilots and all had begun as routine acts and even though fog provides additional challenges, all pilots should be sufficiently trained to cope with reduced visibility and lack of training for fog navigation was not identified as a factor in any of the investigations. Indeed one of the key reasons for any pilotage service is to provide well qualified, highly skilled, pilots to ensure the vessel arrives / departs on time regardless of the weather conditions but therein lies one of the key risks! With the arrival of a pilot on the bridge, the Master and his bridge team invariably relax and place their trust in the competence of the pilot. This is understandable because in pilotage waters the vessel is operating in an environment for which it was not designed and the both the Master and his bridge team are also in an unfamiliar environment for which they haven’t been trained. This places enormous responsibility on the pilot and he is grave danger of being left unsupported not just by the bridge team but also by all others involved in bringing ships in and out of port such as the Harbour Authority, VTS and tugs. It is here that the MAIB’s findings can be summed up in two words, “procedures” and “communication”!  Pilots must include the bridge team in the Master / pilot exchange and monitoring of the passage and pilots should communicate any changes to passage plan to the Master and encourage him to discuss any concerns.

Finally, the major fog incident that will inevitably affect us all is the Cosco Busan. Although the NTSB has yet to publish its full report, a very worrying development is that the pilot has been charged with, and pleaded guilty to, causing pollution.

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