Dangers of Pilotage Deregulation: The “Godafoss”


For years there has been a campaign by ship owners’ lobbyists to deregulate pilotage and extend PEC useage. This lobby pressure has been having an effect amongst politicians, particularly in Denmark. In January 2011 the Norwegian Government relaxed PEC requirements on 1st January 2011 and the dangers posed by such de-regulation were revealed on the 17th February 2011 when The container ship GODAFOSS (GT: 14664, LOA 165m) grounded departing from the port of Fredrikstad in the southern part of the Oslofjord, shortly after the pilot disembarked. The area of the grounding was well inside of the compulsory pilotage area and also within an area designated as a National Park. Shortly after the incident the Norwegian Pilots Association (NPA) sent the following report to IMPA.               JCB


The rather narrow fairway in the approaches to Fredrikstad is covered by VTS, and the dangerous shallow on which the vessel grounded is well marked with the light beacon that can be seen in the photo. The weather was favorable at the time of the grounding, with no wind and good visibility. But it was after dusk, and the temperature was well below zero.

The compulsory pilotage rules in Norway were changed, effective from 1st January. The Norwegian Pilots’ Association has criticized the  amendments which, among other issues, slackened the requirements for obtaining a PEC, and also permitted the pilot to disembark inside of the compulsory pilotage area if he and the captain agreed that this was appropriate.

The GODAFOSS is a frequent visitor to the port of Fredrikstad, and the captain is familiar with the fairway, but does not hold a PEC. The pilot and the captain agreed that the pilot could  disembark shortly before the ship ran aground, and the pilot notified the VTS before leaving the bridge that he was disembarking.

The captain was alone in the wheelhouse after the pilot left, and (according to the newspaper reports) admitted that the cause of the grounding was navigational error.

The question as to whether the pilots should be allowed to disembark early when conditions are favorable, and when the captain has good local knowledge, has been a subject of debate in this particular pilot district, and the Pilotage Authority subsequently decided that such a procedure was allowable. The custom is not something that is unusual in other pilot areas in Norway.

After the accident, which attracted quite intense media attention, the Norwegian Pilots’ Association made a press statement in which we recommended that the rules should be changed, so that the pilot should always stay on board the ship out to the pilot embarkation area.

The accident has caused many to open their eyes as to the safety benefits of having a pilot on board, and politicians and environmental organizations have demanded that the compulsory pilotage rules now should be tightened. Also the shipowner stated that he thought that it was better if a pilot was always on board in these waters.

The VTS Operators’ Association, however, publicly criticized the pilot (who is a member of the Norwegian Pilots’ Associaton), stating that he should not have disembarked. The VTS Operators Association also publicly criticized the Pilots’ Association for not being firm in this question at an earlier stage. Both the VTS operators and the pilots in Norway are government employees of the same Coastal Administration, and these public attacks in the newspapers are something that the  NPA is particularly concerned about, especially bearing in mind that one of our members could be subject to investigation.

The ship was re-floated on 23rd February and despite the fact that it had a quantity of heavy fuel oil on board in tanks that were punctured by the grounding impact, the spill seems to have been limited, probably partly due to the cold water temperature causing the fuel oil to solidify in the tanks.

Both the police and the Accident Investigation Board have started their investigation into the accident. However, another area of serious concern is that newspapers reports state  that the police have confiscated the VDR and other records. The Norwegian Pilots Associaton has previously stated that the VDR other records should only be analysed by the no-blame Accident Investigation Board and that the police should not have access to such data until after the safety investigation issued its report.

I have been unable to find any official report on this incident but this report couldn’t be clearer in exposing the dangers of deregulating proven safety regimes. JCB

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