As I compile this issue the world is rightly hailing pilot Sullenberger of US Airlines a hero for his skill in landing his crippled airliner on the Hudson River. At the same time the maritime headlines detail the criminal conviction of Captain Chawla and Chief Officer Chetan from the VLCC Hebei Spirit. The Hebei Spirit was at anchor whilst a crane barge was being towed along the South Korean coast. When the tow parted the barge drifted down onto the Hebei Spirit and despite valiant attempts to avoid a collision by paying out the anchor cable, a collision occurred which caused Korea’s worst pollution incident and the immediate response was to arrest the Captain and crew. I am in no doubt that had the accident on the Hudson involved a ship rather than a plane, the pilot would have been arrested and the media focus would have been on trying to find someone to blame rather than seeking a story of heroism regarding the pilot who may have displayed equal skill levels to those of pilot Sullenberger. 

In the maritime world there is no longer any such thing as an  “accident” and the Cosco Busan accident has highlighted this since, despite having retired, the pilot. John Cota is still facing criminal prosecution. But is he really a criminal? Entering into a dense fog bank and having lost confidence in the radar, John Cota turned to the ship’s electronic chart whose operation was unfamiliar to him. A misinterpretation of the chart display resulted in the accident and subsequent pollution for which he is now being held liable. 

It is highly probable that had John Cota had his own electronic chart and been trained in its use, this accident wouldn’t have happened and one outcome of his trial will probably be a recommendation that all US pilots carry a Portable Pilotage Unit (PPU). 

This quarter’s feature on POADSS reveals how technology can support a pilot and the question is no longer, do pilots really need a PPU but how much longer can pilots continue to conduct passages based on hand written, non dynamic, plans?

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