Pilot Ladder Accident

Agha Umar Habib

This is a first hand account by a pilot at the port of Sohar, of what it is like when a pilot ladder being climbed, breaks. The article has been kindly reprinted from a post in Linkedin. (Ed).

One never appreciates life unless one encounters death!

My fall in the water on July 23 th , 2019 was an event which re-affirmed my faith in God. The accident was something I had to encounter due to someone else’s negligence. I was gratified to my God for not inflicting any mental or bodily harm to me.

I am a Marine pilot in the Port of Sohar, Oman with more than 13 years experience. During my night shift on 23 th July 2019 I was on the Pilot boat Svitzer Al-Kharara, to board the m.v. Opal Fortune at 0130 hours. Like any regular day, I put on my safety equipment as per international safety standards and departed the pilot boat by stepping on the pilot ladder. As soon as I stepped on the third step of the pilot ladder I heard a shout from the ship’s crew and had the horrific realisation that I was falling into the sea. The broken ladder started tumbling down and resulted in me falling between the ship and the pilot boat.

The inflation of my life jacket jolted me to the severity of the situation

and my instant reaction was to open both my arms to avoid being crushed between the pilot boat and the ship. This effort caused some scratches on both of my hands. Once I resurfaced, I saw the Ship’s propeller behind me. Immediately I started to swim away from it, as it was churning slowly. By my deliberate and conscious swimming, I was able to miss the propeller. During this swimming effort, I realised that my backpack was hindering my efforts and pulling me down so I immediately took off my bag.

Though it was pitch dark, I spotted the broken pilot ladder and a life buoy floating beside me. I swam towards the buoy and held it tightly. In the meantime, I saw the pilot boat had turned around and was searching for me. I started shouting “Ali..Ali”, who was one of the crew on the pilot boat. This made it possible for the boat crew to locate my position and update the Captain (Abu Shaker) regarding my position in the water. The Captain tried to bring the pilot boat beside me and he succeeded at the second attempt. They threw a rope to me which I tied to my arm. After that they pulled me toward the aft of the pilot boat. I used the ladder to climb up the pilot boat. I was later taken to the hospital by the officials and was very well taken care of. The

presence of my Harbour master and colleagues at the hospital at that hour of the night, was very humbling. I felt very much relaxed in their presence. My family was also updated by them which made it easy for them to reach me.

Those 15 minutes in the sea were the scariest of my life as I was not sure of what would happen next or even if I would survive! God’s special blessing it was!!! Thanks to the bearable temperatures of the water in the Gulf of Oman, its low swell and quick response of the pilot boat captain, who switched off its propeller immediately upon seeing me fall, I was able to survive this accident unharmed, which could have proven fatal.

The accident was over and I was back on duty the next day, but a lot of questions needed to be answered and many concerns need to be addressed for the safety of marine pilots all over the world and for the risk involved in this profession. Pilots are no less than heroes who work day in day out and risk their lives to keep the world’s shipping moving. Do the safety standards on ships and facilities for pilots which are covered by international regulations adequately manage the risk? Think about it!

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