Chairman’s Report: Spring 2015 : Don Cockrill

318 Don

Management policies prioritising financial profitability and commercial expediency above public safety and environmental protection continue to prevail on UK pilotage. There are individuals whose clear ambition is to operate cut price, low quality pilotage services in our ports rather than maintain the obligatory highest possible standards. It is a phenomenon apparent across all types of UK ports, be they privately owned, Trust or Municipal.

Notably in recent months, a UK Trust port administration has steadfastly refused to acknowledge the advice and comments from this and other expert bodies. Its ill-conceived policy, driven by openly admitted financial gain, has resulted in replacing its long-standing, safe and expert pilotage practices (based on a comprehensive 21/2 year training regime for the largest ships) with a cut-price, non-A960 (and arguably non-PMSC) compliant training of only a few months, a fast-track simulator based course without oversight by local senior port pilots.

The incumbent pilots, having had quite legitimately their contracts of service terminated, sought to prevent the CHA from pursuing its irresponsible policy by seeking judicial review. This policy is allegedly in contravention of its statutory and common law public safety and environmental protection responsibilities. The pilots settled out of court, following the judge’s indication that he would be unlikely to find in their favour, despite matters of pilotage law being explained to him. There were insufficient funds available to the pilots to pursue the action. There is no doubt that whilst no ruling was made under judicial review, the steadfast manner in which the pilots pursued this action is a great service to UK pilotage, ultimately serving to illustrate to those in Government the potential dangers of de-regulated pilotage services.

The DfT maintains that the matter was outside of its jurisdiction and powers of intervention and also beyond those of the Secretary of State. With ports being effectively exempted from the Freedom of Information Act (other than Municipal ports), along with a non-enforceable PMSC, the UK ports industry appears completely unregulated with regard to pilotage.

In stark contrast we witnessed the exemplary professional expertise shown by the Southampton pilot on board Hoegh Osaka and the actions of the port authority there. The incident provided an opportunity to illustrate to the UK’s and the world’s media the hidden profession that maintains safe and efficient shipping trade through our ports.  The pilot, having grounded the ship on the Bramble Bank to prevent further deterioration of the ship’s life threatening list, maintained his conduct of the ship and played a major part in the coordination of the crew’s rescue by the emergency services. This deft handling of the ship was possible as a result of the extensive high quality training that he and most UK pilots undertake. Their significant local knowledge and experience is irreplaceable; it is gained through years of professional practice, not only in ship handling but in all the other complex aspects of ship operations directly and indirectly related to manoeuvring, navigation and cargo transport.

There is sometimes a misconception that because everything is going right there is no need to operate pilotage services at such high levels of expertise and training. This attitude conveniently overlooks that it is because of proper investment in pilotage operations that daily UK pilots safely conduct thousands of ship movements without high profile incident, dealing with the situational complexities as they arise.  The manner in which the pilot handled the Hoegh Osaka situation is testament to the rewards inevitably reaped from realistic investment in training and operation of port pilotage services and the professionalism and dedication of UK pilots.

The ongoing Port Skills & Safety National Marine Pilotage Certificate project, which the shipping minister promised would be launched at the end of this year, ought to address this issue. Yet we already know that it will not be compulsory either for incumbent or for future pilots. Meanwhile, in other major maritime nations, constructive efforts are successful in ensuring that all pilots are trained and qualified to the highest possible professional, industry and academic standards in recognition of the huge range of skills and expertise maritime pilotage demands.

On reflection, consider what the outcome may have been had the Southampton pilot had the similar poor training background and limited experience of those in the other port described above…

Short climbs, Safe passages and Happy Landings.



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