There’s gold in Them There Pilots!



You may well find that the ideal of providing the services of well trained and competent pilots, the substance of the Port Marine Safety Code and the 1987 Pilotage Act is ‘old fashioned’. I have always prided myself on the fact that I provide a competent and professional service to any vessel appointed to me by the CHA. This is a service required by the 1987 Pilotage Act and intended solely for the safety of the ship, its crew, the environment, the port and its infrastructure with the costs of this service being covered by the payment of the pilotage charges and as such, kept in line with inflation and other competitive restraints. However, the pilotage service is increasingly looked upon as being ‘a nice little earner’, with some CHAs using the old smoke screen of blaming compulsory pilotage for high pilotage charges and pilots themselves for all ills.

I believe that pilotage has become an industry, and just like any other industry, it has to make a profit. Do I hear you asking why? Then let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a pilotage district which was run effectively by two Marine Officers and a part time Marine Officer who would cover for holidays and sickness, a Harbour Master-come-Pilotage Manager and 14 happy and experienced pilots. No ship ever went without a pilot. The pilots were treated courteously but when pilotage became compulsory a new management decided that the extra workload would of course be absorbed by the happy pilots.  But this was not enough! “The pilots must become more ‘productive’. We will cut their numbers and increase the shipping by 15%”, the management were heard to say. And so it was. Pilot numbers fell to 12, “Ah” said management, “that’ll do nicely”.  But the pilots said “We have already absorbed a 15% increase in shipping and a 15% increase due to compulsory pilotage, how do you expect us to provide a service under these conditions?”.

The management in their usual manner made “No comment”.

The so-called happy pilots were exasperated and frustrated by this, and, enamoured by the scenery from the Lord of the Rings, decided that it was time to move to pastures green and found positions in New Zealand. Other pilots considered this to be a sound move, and soon New Zealand became awash with applicants.  This reduced the pilot numbers to 10.  Management during this time had not been idle. Oh no, VTS had been installed and the duties of the two-and-a-half Marine officers were taken over by 5 VTSOs, a new Marine Manager evolved, also a new Pilotage Manager, Harbour Master and Assistant Harbour Master were appointed. The 5 VTSOs, not trained in the ways of pilotage, complained that they were over-worked and over-stressed. This resulted in management instantly appointing two secretaries to assist in mopping their brows and thus adding another layer of potential misinformation.

It is said that the management became concerned that they had gone too far; it was the more senior pilots who had gone to “Hobbitsville” and a shortage of senior pilots could prove very embarrassing. In their wisdom they questioned the junior pilots as to the reasons for not wishing to be examined and progress up the pilotage ladder. They replied that it was impossible to train while on watch as they were always working and that they had not been sent on any of the courses required by the Company’s Training Programme.

The shortage in numbers obviously made the pilots very productive but extremely tired and stressed. It was not always possible to be in two places at once which caused the Ships Agents to be aggrieved as they could not get a pilot when they wished and indeed had to send vessels into port without pilots but still had to embrace a 25% increase in charges over five years.  Management held their breath and placed adverts in obscure publications hoping that, if they weren’t too fussy, they could find a few replacement pilots to boost numbers.

What of Government officials, do I hear you say! Surely they would intervene to ensure the PMSC was not ignored and as for the insurers, who have to foot the bill for all the accidents, they ought to be calling for the Pilotage Act to be repealed and for the pilots to once again offer a professional and cost effective service.  As I say, it is only a story. If it were true, surely, the shipping industry would never put up with such a situation, paying through the nose for a second rate service?  This is an abridged version of what was told to me, the full story (which has not yet come to an end) would make your blood freeze or boil depending on your viewpoint.

Let’s hope it remains only a story. The only concern is that behind every story there is a modicum of truth. Pilot Gandalf


Leave a Reply

UK Maritime Pilots' Association
European Maritime Pilots' Association
Internation Pilots' Association SITE SPONSORS
Navicom Dynamics
OMC International