Legal opinion: Piloting oversize vessels


Following the HA’s taking over rrsponsibility for aothorising pilots following the 1987 Pilotage Act, many districts retained the authorisation structure and wording from the Trinity House authorisations. In some areas this included a clause stating that the authorisation limits could be overruled if a pilot of the appropriate grade wasn’t available. This meant that if a pilot boarded, say a Class 4 vessel and discovered that, as a result of its draft, the vessel was in fact a Class 3 vessel then his authorisation would cover him.  Following a recent case whereby a pilot, finding himself in such a position, refused to pilot the vessel, the UKMPA has sought a legal opinion on this historical anomaly and the following are extracts from the response:

There has never been a test-case on the point, but it would be very difficult to defend any pilot who willingly undertakes pilotage beyond the limits of his authorisation.

The leading relevant case is the Sea-Empress, where of course there was compliance with the regulated limits, but the rationale of the observation that the highest possible standards need to be observed was that the Milford Haven rules were themselves inadequate at the time.

….A pilot who undertakes the pilotage of a ship the size of which is beyond the limits of his authorisation is not only not authorised for that ship (and is therefore acting unlawfully) : but , in relation to that ship , is not truly authorised at all. acting unlawfully) : but , in relation to that ship , is not truly authorised at all.

It follows, therefore, that the statutory protection provided by Section 22 of the Pilotage Act (the £1,000 limit) would not apply in such a case; because the protection  benefits only an “authorised pilot”.

In consequence, a pilot who pilots a ship whose size is greater than the regulated limits of his authorisation forfeits the statutory protection and exposes himself to liability for unlimited (and probably enormous) civil damages.

The message therefore is perfectly clear and with modern communications there is no excuse for the draft to be incorrectly declared prior to pilot boarding especially since such errors are inevirably caused by laziness on behalf of the agent to check with the Captain prior to making the pilot booking. Let him take the blame!!


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