Meester Pilot, Where are You? Cape Flattery & APL Panama


All pilots know that the pilot boarding and landing area is one fraught with hazards, not least because whilst awaiting their pilots many vessels’ masters appear to forget about navigation and seamanship, either in their desire to be first in the queue or because once they see the pilot cutter they relax their guard. Collisions and near misses are regrettably not infrequent. IMO resolution A960 and the boarding and landing code detail the need for such areas to be placed where there is adequate sea room to manoeuvre but there have recently been two serious groundings as a result of Masters failing to wait a safe distance off the port and proceeding past the charted pilot boarding area into disaster. These groundings involving the vessels Cape Flattery and APL Panama, occurred despite there being no other vessels navigating in the vicinity to restrict their ability to manoeuvre and both highlight how poor navigation, coupled with a loss of vigilance by the bridge team, can, in a few moments result in claims running into tens of millions.

Whilst the report into the Cape Flattery has recently been released, the report into the grounding of the APL Panama off Ensenada has not yet been concluded but there is sufficient evidence to point to a total failure of the bridge team during the approach to the port.

Link to the original illustrated pdf article (Page 7):

M.V. Cape Flattery:

Barbers Point Harbour. Oahu, Hawaii.

The 170m long bulk cargo ship Cape Flattery loaded with around 27,000 tonnes of cement went aground on a coral reef about 4 cables from the harbour entrance on the morning of February 2, 2005. The ship remained aground for nine days until enough cargo was removed to refloat it and the damage to the ship is estimated at around $21 million. Fortunately no one was injured and there was no pollution but the reef was badly damaged and the restoration costs of this will be considerable. The Coast Guard investigation of the incident concluded that the grounding was caused by negligence by the captain and he was condemned for:

· Not waiting for the Honolulu-based pilot to board prior to entering port as required by port rules.

· Failing to respond to the pilot’s radioed advice that the vessel was standing into danger and that he should alter course. _ Not using radar, not paying heed to channel lights and markers, and not following the charted course for the harbour entrance. The investigation also faulted the ship for not having a functioning echo depth-sounder and not having enough ship’s officers on the bridge.

In his defence the Chinese Captain told Coast Guard interviewers that he had expected Aloha Tower to inform him if he needed to wait for the pilot and the report also states that he also was angry that neither the Coast Guard or Aloha Tower had warned him that he was in dangerous waters!!

APL Panama: Ensenada, Mexico.

Although the official report into this grounding will not be released for some time there is a wealth of comment on this disaster on the Internet mainly because the vessel found its way onto a popular tourist beach on Christmas day where during the next 80 days it provided an interesting spectator event as containers were offloaded by helicopter, a temporary roadway and quay was constructed and an increasing number of tugs arrived to try to salve the vessel. The vessel was finally towed clear on 10th March following the construction of a special dredged channel!

In an almost identical set of circumstances to the Cape Flatterygrounding the vessel failed to stop and wait near the pilot boarding position. It is alleged that although the pilot was booked for 1900 the Master had advised his agent that he would be at the pilot boarding position at 1800 and was annoyed that the pilot was not there to meet him. There are several press reports which indicate confusion and failure of the bridge team, but whatever actually happened on the bridge the result was that the APL Panama ended well up the beach indicating a high speed grounding. The pilot was on his way out to the vessel and saw the impending disaster unfolding. The following is an extract from

The San Diego Union-Tribune. “Capt. Fernando Ramirez Martinez (the allocated pilot) said he and a co-pilot were leaving the port to meet the vessel about 6pm Dec. 25 when they spotted the 880-foot vessel heading across the harbour’s entrance channel and aiming straight for the shore. “I saw the lights and I couldn’t believe it, I just couldn’t believe it. I told the tugboats, ‘Leave the port, because the ship is about to run aground. I suggested to him that we get the tugboat Coral and send it a line so that it could try to keep (M/V APL Panama) at that position. The captain said he didn’t want to give the line, that he couldn’t because that would mean it was salvage and would prompt a host of legal problems”. The report goes on to state that half an hour passed before the Captain agreed to pass a line to the tug but by then it was too late. The Newspaper also consulted experts on the possible claims that would be made which they listed as follows:

Delay expense, salvage operators, equipment rental, lost cargo bookings, lost revenue, security, vessel rotation disruption, cargo claims, environmental claims, lawsuits, legal expense, environmental clean up expense, increased insurance premiums, fines, penalties, lost manufacturing time, product delivery delays, bribes and crane expense for pizza delivery up to the crew. (They are probably still liable for the pilotage charge as well!! Ed.)

Despite these two dramatic cases there are still those who feebly argue that compulsory pilotage is a waste of money and restricts free trade!!

An on-line weblog with some excellent photos cataloguing the whole saga can be found at:

Loads of other interesting links there as well.

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