Opinion Article: ‘Lets keep our marine pilots safe’

As this year’s UK Seafarers Awareness Week draws to a close the UK Maritime Pilots Association (UKMPA) and the British Ports Association (BPA) have today jointly called on the global shipping industry to raise the bar on pilot transfer safety arrangements for ships arriving and leaving ports.

Writing an opinion piece jointly in the shipping publication Lloyd’s List, the UKMPA Chairman Mike Morris and BPA Chief Executive Richard Ballantyne have highlighted the ongoing occurrences of unsafe and defective pilot ladders for embarkation and disembarkation. The article is as follows:

Keeping marine pilots safe

Ships across the globe continue to regularly provide substandard or badly rigged ladders, which means pilots face a big moment of risk every time they use these to board vessels, especially in parts of the world not renowned for good health and safety

With the recent attention of the global maritime industry firmly directed to environmental issues and the ever moving political and trade climate, you could easily overlook maritime safety issues. This week is UK Seafarers Awareness Week, which gives us the opportunity to promote the good things the maritime industry has achieved in terms of safety but also to highlight that there are still some challenges we need to overcome.

A continuing challenge is the sometimes difficult process for pilots to transfer to and from the vessels that they are tasked with assisting. Most pilot embarkations and disembarkations around the world are still carried out using a traditional pilot ladder, consisting of wooden steps supported and secured by side ropes.

Following a number of fatal accidents, the International Maritime Organization updated the SOLAS V Regulation 23, over a decade ago. These include minimum requirements on pilot ladder arrangements and compliance as legal obligation, not just an aspiration.

Despite the rules, regular issues with defective pilot ladders remain. Results from recent surveys carried out by the International Maritime Pilots’ Association (IMPA), and separately the British Ports Association, continue to show that a considerable number of Pilot Transfer Arrangements are not compliant with legislation. The reasons for this are many and varied. A contributory factor includes a lack of understanding of the regulations due to an educational gap, which leads to a subsequent lack of knowledge and the core seamanship skills required.

The last three annual IMPA Safety Campaigns revealed that while identifications of defective pilot ladders have decreased as a proportion of all pilot ladder inspections, the actual number of incidents has not been falling. Such ladder deficiencies pose a risk of serious harm or even fatal injury to pilots

Further to this, results from the IMPA surveys and other similar initiatives consistently record that approximately 20% of pilot transfer arrangements presented are non-compliant. This figure, which is potentially underestimated, means that at least one pilot ladder in every five offered is putting a pilot’s safety at risk. This is simply not acceptable.

Many ports now require a pre-arrival declaration that ‘Pilot transfer arrangements comply with the IMO’s requirements’. This declaration may be requested either verbally by radio or as part of a written statement. Where a vessel is found not to have a compliant pilot ladder, it may be denied entry by the port until the situation is rectified, potentially causing a significant financial cost to the shipowner.

On occasions Masters commonly suggest ‘it’s always been like that’ or ‘we’ve never had a complaint before’, or produce a certificate stating that the arrangement is ‘class approved’. However with better understanding, pilots are now more likely to challenge these statements and highlight that class approval does not necessarily indicate compliance.

The UK shipping industry has worked hard to improve safe practices onboard British ships. This is not the case for many ships from other parts of the world and most ships visiting UK ports are now internationally registered and owned meaning that UK pilots are regularly greeting ships with non-compliant ladders.

In many countries, pilots have a legal obligation to report deficiencies they find. However despite the rules and these processes, ships across the globe continue to regularly provide substandard or badly rigged ladders. We are therefore calling for further consideration of this at IMO level as progress must be made. The message to our partners in the shipping industry is; let’s use the opportunity of Seafarers Awareness Week to highlight that this is still a problem and you can definitely do more to raise the bar on safety.

Mike Morris, Chairman  - UK Maritime Pilots’ Association                              

Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive - British Ports Association