PEC Abuse


Earlier this year the Government produced the draft for a Marine Bill which, as well as introducing new legislation to cover the marine environment would also replace the 1987 Pilotage Act. Although we now understand that no Parliamentary time has been allocated for the passage of this Bill in the current legislative programme, the draft was put out to consultation and at the conference the DfT indicated that despite the probable lack of formal legislation, the DfT wished to incorporate the proposals into the Port Marine Safety Code as an interim measure pending parliamentary time for the Bill to be formally incorporated. The consultation process was therefore extremely important and I know that in addition to the UKMPA submission, many pilots submitted individual responses.
One area in particular was of deep concern to pilots and that was the inclusion within the draft of a proposal to remove the requirement for a PEC holder to be the “Bona Fide” Master or Mate of the vessel and to replace it with “any person”!
Ever since the implementation of the 1987 Act, pilots have been aware that the “Bona Fide” requirement was being seriously abused by many operators who quite openly transferred an existing PEC holder from one vessel to another which had no valid PEC holder on board. Another common abuse was for a regular trading ship to obtain one PEC and then to permit relieving Masters and Mates to use the same number, even though they may never have navigated in the port to which the PEC was valid!
Such abuse was exposed by incident investigations and occasionally by random checks or by the “Bona Fide” PEC holder reporting the scam to the relevant authorities. Despite this practice being against the law, the difficulties involved in proceeding with a prosecution coupled with a general lack of enthusiasm by CHA’s to prosecute important customers resulted in such abuse becoming common practice amongst some operators. The arguments put forward by the operators for amending this clause of the Bill is that on some trades, the requirements of the Working Time Directive introduce practical difficulties in ensuring that a bona fide officer is available to undertake the PEC role when required. Whilst it is possible to have some sympathy with this viewpoint, in practice the majority of vessels where this may potentially be a problem tend to be short sea traders and if there are insufficient PEC holders on board the vessel to adequately manage fatigue then the operator should either place additional officers on board or take a pilot. After all, the sole reason for establishing a compulsory pilotage district is safety.
The operators other  claim that the title of “First Mate” is now obsolete is total nonsense since any officer who holds the relevant certificate can be signed on the articles as a bona fide First Mate. Since the majority of officers on well run short sea traders have a Master’s certificate this argument is just a smokescreen. So why does all this matter? Well, anyone who may be in doubt as to how safety can be compromised by PEC abuse should read the MAIB report into the collision between the Ursine and Pride of Bruges in Hull in November 2007.The following is an extract from the MAIB synopsis of the full report.

Ursine was on her first voyage into Hull, having recently been chartered to undertake a service between Hull and Rotterdam.  In accordance with the terms of the charter party agreement, P&O had placed its representative on board to perform the pilotage duties for both ports. In accordance with local regulations the P&O representative, who held a Pilotage Exemption Certificate (PEC) for the river Humber, was on Ursine’s bridge with the vessel’s bridge team when the vessel entered the river. As Ursine approached Hull, the PEC holder gave a briefing to the rest of the bridge team on the approach and entry into the lock for King George Dock. The master, who was not experienced in handling ro-ro vessels, assumed that the PEC holder would be in control. However, the PEC holder, who was not an experienced ship handler, assumed that the master would take charge of the manoeuvre. Eventually, with both men involved in the ship handling, Ursine berthed in the lock. In the lock, the PEC holder and the master, who had not been to Hull before, discussed the required approach for berthing at the P&O terminal. Again, there was no clarification as to
who would be in control of the vessel. Once the lock had filled, Ursine proceeded stern first towards the berth, with both men handling the controls. From the conning position, on the port bridge wing, neither of them could see the P&O terminal. In the absence of any formal berth allocation, the PEC holder directed Ursine towards the berth which he assumed had been allocated to the vessel. This berth, 5 Quay Middle,
was adjacent to the one regularly used by Pride of Bruges. However, on this occasion, for operational reasons, Pride of Bruges had been berthed on 5 Quay Middle. In the confusing situation, during which key bridge team members found themselves undertaking tasks for which they were inadequately prepared, Ursine was manoeuvred stern first towards the berth already occupied by Pride of Bruges until contact was made between the two vessels.

The 1987 Pilotage Act states that only the bona fide Master or Mate of the vessel can apply for an exemption certificate, yet here we have a supernumerary placed on board “in accordance with the terms of the  charter party agreement” to circumvent the compulsory pilotage requirements of a port. Where’s the prosecution?
Policing and prosecutions regarding PEC abuse are the responsibility of the CHA and although evidence produced by an MAIB enquiry is inadmissible in a court of law their recommendations provide an indication as to where responsibility lies and what action may be required. This investigation produced the following recommendation:

Additionally, a recommendation has been made to the British Ports’ Association and UK Major Ports Group to promulgate to Competent Harbour Authorities the importance of ensuring candidates for PECs are bona fide masters or first mates, and of carefully assessing a candidate’s ship handling ability before a PEC is issued or vessels of particular types and sizes are added to existing certificates.

I have frequently piloted vessels chartered for a regular trade where the Master has started logging trips to obtain a PEC, not because he wants one but because he has been informed that it is apparently a condition of the charter party that he must obtain one! It was therefore with great interest that I read a “flyer” issued by the MAIB to the shipping industry which included the following recommendations regarding charter policy:

o    When appointing a representative to a time chartered vessel to perform the duties of a pilotage exemption certificate holder the charterer should ensure that the representative is sufficiently trained and experienced for the task.
o    When appointing senior officers to a vessel, the owner should ensure they have the necessary ship handling and bridge team management training and experience.
o    The charter party terms allowed for the representative to perform pilotage duties as a PEC holder, but did not stipulate that the representative must be bona fide the master or first mate of the vessel in accordance with the requirements of the Pilotage Act 1987, Chapter 21, Section 8.
o    When evaluating the suitability of a vessel for time charters, the charterer should consider the training and experience of the vessel’s key personnel, taking into account the customs and requirements of the trade concerned.

This is a very interesting document since it also places an onus on the charterer of a vessel to ensure that the PEC system isn’t being abused which effectively divides the responsibility for ensuring compliance with the law between the CHAs and the charterers. However, I’m sure that it is a pure coincidence that the intense lobbying by the ship operators to remove the term “bona fide” from the proposed Marine Bill intensified with the publication of this MAIB report!

The full report is available in printed form from the MAIB or can be downloaded from: of Bruges.pdf


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