Never before has the profession of the Maritime Pilot been subject to such trials and tribulations. Following on from the ‘criminalisation of seafarers’ we are now faced with the ‘criminalisation of Pilots’. In the USA a Pilot has suffered such incursions on his personal life, that the ‘Vultures’ who lay in wait, to pounce at an opportune moment, have all but removed his dignity. In Australia a Pilot who narrowly averted a collision with a yacht in a restricted channel has been stripped of his worldly wealth, trying to defend a case brought again him for causing stress and trauma to the crew of the yacht.

The emerging culture is one of ‘blame’. Whom can we ‘turn over’? Where does the ‘accountability’ lay? More importantly, who can be considered ‘liable’?

Following on from the Master of the vessel the next target in the ‘chicken coup’ is the Pilot (if aboard). If aboard then, any mishap is likely to be determined ‘Pilot error’. Many of the industry stakeholders show naivety in their definition of incidents that they attribute to ‘Pilot error’. They use terminology such as ‘Pilot assisted collisions’. In the dictionary assisted means to help and support, one assumes with a willingness! Stand up please the pilot who has willingly assisted in any collision or incident. The latest training aid video produced by the American Club P&I Insurance group, has the unfortunate title ’Stranger on the Bridge’, hardly an endearing choice of words. One incident report published by an investigatory body contained the phrase ‘the Master had an unhealthy trust in the Pilot’. A leading voice of the International Group of P&I Insurers told the UKMPA conference that if a Pilot is aboard during an incident then it falls into the category of ‘Pilot error’ and is recorded as such. His defining comments stated that, as a member of the ‘Bridge Team’ and as the vessel is under Pilotage, the Pilot is therefore responsible. An example offered demonstrated a vessel nearing its position on a berth moving astern at 0.4kts. The Pilot orders half ahead to bring the vessel to a stop; the order is conveyed by the Master to the Officer on the telegraph, the action is relayed back to the Master, who confirms the order with the Pilot. Unknowing to the Master and the Pilot the Officer has put the engines to half-astern. Before the engines of this large vessel could be stopped and put to ahead, the vessel grounded aft and damaged the main pipeline to the jetties. PILOT ERROR. Yes, we were equally horrified at this generalisation by a major stakeholder, who has since agreed to engage with the UKMPA and to the offer of a Pilot on the IG Pilotage Committee, which at the moment seems lacking in Pilotage knowledge.

Now I am no legal expert but let me give a personal opinion from the ‘coalface’ of how I view the liability matter. I for one am very glad that the UKMPA had the foresight to source and recommend to its members (in fact it is a condition of membership) an insurance for ‘Legal Protection Policy and the Authorisation and Professional Legal Protection Policy’. Our sincere thanks have to go to Simon Campbell (SecCom) for his doggedness in scrutinising the detail and securing the policies on our behalf. Many have scoffed at the need for this and consider that we are adequately covered under the contents of the Pilotage act or as an employee of the ports. This has since been both legally qualified and sadly for some of our colleagues qualified in the practical sense too. You had better believe that the employers will do all in their power to limit their own liability when the attorneys turn up in reception. Are they likely to be there standing alongside you voicing support and offering protection – dream on, that myth, has already been dispelled. Insurance cover now forms part of my passage planning, along with will my family be put at risk, do I risk my authorisation; now lets consider tides and tugs. Whilst the IG of Insurers and the ship owners it represents, seek to lay blame and apportion liability in the lap of Pilots, they will have to consider that in assuming the liability, Pilotage service companies will have a need to increase the Pilotage tariffs, to cover the added expense of insurance premiums, that Pilotage service companies will be forced to take out. Pardon me if I am being cynical but it would appear to me that the only winners in this case, are the insurance companies, who are in a ‘win win’ situation, earning from both the owners and now from the Pilotage service companies, whilst at the same time reducing their own risk.

Now let us put the ‘risk’ that any pilot may be prepared to take, into context. Here we are professional, properly qualified, trained and faced with a job that we know is ‘do-able’ with two tugs. With the ‘weighting’ of authorisation and livelihood, is it prudent to consider the third tug assistance. The owner will berate us for any damage caused and will seek to lay blame and apportion liability whilst at the same time will be aghast at your decision to call upon another tug for assistance. The point I am trying to make is that the current trend will inevitably lead to an increase in costs the ship-owner / charter incurs, as the Pilotage service provider raises tariffs to augment insurance cover and the amount of personal risk a Pilot may put into a job is reduced by extra provision.

At UKMPA conference in Harrogate, we received an address from the head of MAIB, Stephen Meyer. One of Mr Meyer’s contributions in the press in recent months covers the topic of complacency. You know what I mean – we have always done it that way, if it works why change? Mr Meyer has this to say about complacency:

Complacency must be addressed at every level:

  • Professional pride and standards have an important part to play – professional bodies need to tackle this;

The UKMPA have been calling for professional standards for Pilots for quite some time, as you will have read in this journal on many an occasion. ETCS and NOS have been lodged with the Dft / MCA for a number of years but sit on the shelf. Recently there has been talk of Certificates of Competency (CoC) for Maritime Pilots and in my view, not before time. Ship Masters / Owners / Charterers have the right to expect the highest possible standards from Pilots and Pilots should aspire to those standards. (At least we agree on something with the IG P&I Ins) Don’t start shooting the messenger yet guys. I’m not saying that what we do is not good, in fact if you read the IG of P&I Insurers report by their ‘Pilotage Committee’, you will see that in the UK we rank exceptionally well compared to many countries of the world and some closer to home. The point is, whilst we sit back considering ourselves to be ‘good’ compared to the rest, in the back of my mind is Mr Meyers reference to ‘complacency’. Now you may have to start reading between the lines. Who is being complacent here? The Pilots? No, we have been calling for NOS for what seems like time in memorial and CoC would be a valuable addition. Could it be that some of the stakeholders consider it not in their interests to see the status of Pilots officially recognised by statutory qualification and certification. The same stakeholders, after our lead, compiled their own NOS and are now forging ahead towards implementation after maybe wakening up to the same complacency, whilst NOS for Pilots continues to be ignored. The same stakeholders would have to make a firm commitment towards training and the Continual Professional Development (CPD) of Pilots. Money, that is what it is going to cost and whilst some stakeholders invest admirably, many invest little and some nothing at all, of the Pilotage income. I am not sure what has changed principally since 1988 but the direction of the money paid by the ship owner in Pilotage dues seems to have been channelled away from investment in training and resources, particularly launches. The ship owner has a right to expect that a portion of his ‘dues’ are invested in the training of Pilots in whom he entrusts his very valuable asset.

Here’s my cynicism again, if the (what the hell) ports denounce or continue to ignore NOS for pilots and everything else that goes with it they can keep our ‘status’ as Pilots just where they want us. It is my personal opinion that the Dft / MCA and the meeting, of the Transport Select Committee should not permit this to happen. We read on an almost daily basis of the falling crew standards. The crew, that is the Bridge Team, which we are supposed to integrate with. From the demise of the European Seafarer in the 1980, we have seen the fall from grace of the Indian and Polish Officers. Not happy with the crew contract rates, the owners moved to the South China Seas and the Philippine National. Many of whom are trained to relatively high standards in the third world context. With a never ending hunger to cut costs and what easier way than on crew wages we have experienced, Indonesian, Chinese, Vietnamese. None of which can be described as traditional seafaring nations.

So now the crux. If the holding back of standards in Pilotage continues, we will not recruit the calibre of seafarer needed to fill the growing void. It is already happening in mainland Europe. Germany for example needs 400 pilots NOW. Keep the standards as low as possible and the ports will be able to ‘employ monkeys and pay them peanuts’. It opens the doors for a substandard Pilotage service in the United Kingdom, which will be destined to integrate with an already substandard Bridge Team. The standards in the shipping industry are dire.

Consider the latest study and admissions from the US Maritime Administration:

  • “It used to be that there were too few jobs and too many people looking. This study shows that the tide has turned, and the situation is reversed.”
  • The US Maritime Administration would “continue to find new and innovative ways to recruit, train and retain qualified US mariners”
  • 89% tried to recruit mariners last year, but 71% had trouble
  • 88% indicating retention issues affected their business operations.
  • – several shipping companies have been unable to sail their full fleets or have been sailing with sub-standard crews because of the workforce crisis. He gave this as one reason behind the major uptick in marine casualties in recent years.

This state of affairs is worldwide. It is ever more important that the UK government does not permit the standards in Pilotage to be dampened down by operators who see more in the development of viable quay space as apartments than supporting national assets and the technical nautical services that ensure the safety of navigation and the protection of the environment of our rivers and estuaries.

The qualities of Pilots need to be enhanced to guaranty that they are able to meet the ‘modern day’ (I use that term loosely) needs of the vessels which visit our shores.

So what can pilots do? Embrace NOS and ETCS for Pilots, impress on your CHA’s that you consider these to be the minimum standards for Pilots. Raise the issue too at your next Port stakeholder meeting. You should be a part of the stakeholder meeting which are supposed to be convened under the PMSC criteria. Ask why your Port is not embracing NOS and ETCS. If you are a self-employed provider for Pilotage services, ask yourself why it is not part of your operating procedures. Further, for self-employed ports look towards ISPO, International Standards for Pilotage Organisations. ISPO is a safety management system, the criteria of which identifies, many of the safety management procedures contained in the provision of Pilotage Services. ISPO like NOS and ETCS was produced by the sub-committees of the European Maritime Pilots Association. This self-effacing ‘Trilogy’ of documents should be seen as the stepping-stones for the modern day needs of Pilotage. The power in these documents should not be underestimated, and that, is what I consider, the UKMPG and the BPA to be afraid of. The UKHMA are putting NOS in place for their Harbour Masters and quite rightly. So why do they not compliment the status of one qualification with the other? I leave you to form your own judgement on that.

It is my personal view that ISPO is a necessity for independent Pilotage Service providers and self-employed Pilots. You have a duty to compliment the onboard ISM Code for ships and the voluntary PMSC for Ports. Demonstration of safe operating procedures and the management of those procedures is essential. Not to be confused with an ISO standard (though not a lot needed to upgrade) it simply needs for providers to document the procedures that they are already practically involved with.

The final question; are the Pilots of the UK living in that world of complacency described by Stephen Meyer? Or, are they prepared to form the an allegiance with the IG of P&I Insurers and the Owners / Charterers? to ensure that the modern day demands of Pilotage are met head on in the UK. Such allegiance must persuade the Ports and the government agencies that they have a duty of care to the national public interest.

The MAIB repeatedly following a shipping accident investigations provides recommendations that to the greater extent appear to go unheeded. In 1996, they made bold statements regarding the expectations for training of Marine Pilots and the PMSC places ‘obligations’ on ports for the training of their pilots. The PMSC sadly, remains voluntary. It will be a missed opportunity for the Marine Navigation Bill not to be amended during the consultation process and for the PMSC not to be made a statutory obligation. An omission, if unchallenged, I fear the Dft will, in the future, regret. And what for the MCA, god bless ‘em. Underpaid, under staffed and quickly loosing the leadership, drive and will. MIN307 still awaits the proof in the pudding. Paragraph 2.3 provides best practice for the issue of PEC’s. Paragraph 2.2 again provides sound advice with A960 thrown in for good measure. Are these recommendations being adhered to, I fear not. Could cruising up and down a river on a pilot launch and an afternoon on a dredger qualify for the revalidation of a PEC? Could five days training qualify a candidate as a Pilot? but then he is restricted to daylight operations! Why does this wilful disregard go unchallenged? The recently published accident report on the Ursine tells its own story with respect to PEC abuse.

I find it unfathomable as to why these three government representative bodies do not have the political will and listen to the practitioners who see the obvious benefits in Examination, Training and Certification Standards. Please don’t get me wrong, I have the greatest respect for our government agencies, the workload of whom and level of resource, which probably don’t match. They must have a vision that looks to the long term and they must ensure that other stakeholders listen to recommendations and are compelled to face up to their obligations.

There is an obligation on the government agencies too and they all have to respond to the public interest and not just the economic interest of stakeholders. IMO Resolutions on Marpol, STCW, SOLAS, have all been ratified by the UK government, why not Resolution A960? They will have to stand up and be counted, at the next major disaster on our shores, because whilst they fail to take heed of their own recommendations of 1996 they will be held, in part, culpable.

Dave Williamson

UKMPA Section Committee

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2 Responses to “PILOTS UNDER SIEGE?”

February 12th, 2010 at 21:33

Very informative post. I’ve found your blog via Yahoo and I’m really glad about the information you provide in your posts. Btw your sites layout is really broken on the Kmelon browser. Would be great if you could fix that. Anyhow keep up the great work!


February 14th, 2010 at 17:44

Hi Zane,
Thanks for the feedback on my site, I am pleased that you have found the content of interest.
Ref the broken layout, I am using WordPress and most of my articles were written in Microsoft Word. All worked fine in IE6 but when Microsoft introduced IE7most of the text became gobbledegook. I contacted MS but naturally never got any reply! From the blogs it appears that the code within MS Word os “messy” and ironically IE7 & 8 can’t read it properly so reject it ( you couldn’t make it up!).
I now upload all articles in rich text format but unfortunately I don’t have the time to redo all the olld articles.
The good news is that all the content is viewable in Firefox, Opera, Safari browsers. Mozilla Firefox is the most popular 3rd party browser and better than IE8. Free to download it is very secure:


Hope this helps,


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