Tag Archives: transportation

MARITIME SAFETY: Playing the pilot

HFW’s Joseph Botham explains why proposed UK pilotage changes have global influence

[Originally published in Port Strategy, 2013.03.29. Comments within brackets]

As the UK-Government supported Marine Navigation Bill (No.2) comes under close scrutiny by the national Parliament, there are wider implications for the Bill than its UK-centric focus implies.

Although comments, contributions and discussions surrounding the Bill are primarily UK directed, it would seem that the Bill is providing a platform for the consideration of issues which are of interest and of relevance to the industry internationally.

In the words of the International Marine Pilots Association, “…shipping is a global business and the position in the UK in terms of pilotage has to be considered in this international setting”.

Against this backdrop, the outcome of the consultation of the Bill may prove very interesting and influential in the call for a review and the shaping of international standards, regulation and requirements in respect to pilotage.

The Bill makes provisions in relation to marine navigation and harbours in the UK by proposing amendments to the current UK legislation relating to pilotage, harbour authorities, the general lighthouse authorities, the manning of ships, marking of wrecks, as well as extending the powers of port police in the UK.


Repeat business 

A previous draft marine navigation bill was presented to the UK Parliament by the UK Department of Transport and consulted on in 2008. The current Bill revives much of the contents and scope of this 2008 draft bill. Most importantly it revives certain provisions which came under close scrutiny during the previous consultation and the discussions which remained open. These relate largely to the levels of training and proficiency, and the standards required for pilotage in UK harbours in respect to the holding of a Pilot Exemption Certificate.

The Bill aims to reduce the burden on ports and the shipping industry while reducing regulation and improving safety for ships navigating in and out of harbours and the seas around the UK.

In particular, the Bill seeks to reduce the risk of potentially expensive accidents involving the improper use of PECs and providing ports with new powers to help implement their safety responsibilities under the UK’s Port Marine Safety Code which establishes an agreed national standard for port safety in the UK.

Under the current regime, only the Master or First Mate of a ship may hold a PEC.

A PEC effectively allows a Master or First Mate of a ship to act as his own pilot. Without any PEC holder onboard, a ship would need to make use of a pilot provided by the relevant competent harbour authority, which would involve the payment of pilot’s fees to the harbour authority providing such service – qualified pilots provide their services to ships for a fee, calculated in relation to the ship’s tonnage, draught and other criteria. 

Both a pilot’s expertise and that of a PEC holder relate to the specific navigational conditions in relevant specified harbours. This means that in order to be granted a PEC the applicant Master or First Mate must satisfy the relevant competent harbour authority of their experience and knowledge of the particular waters in respect to which they are applying for a PEC. It also means that PECs are not transferable between harbours/harbour authorities.

The Bill seeks to make the process of granting PECs more flexible by proposing to: (i) remove the restriction on the granting of PECs to exclusively the Master or First Mate of a ship; and (ii) extend the eligibility criteria and process for the granting of a PEC.

[The result would be that someone less prepared and probably more fatigued than a pilot could do his or her job, corroding the layer of safety represented by the pilots. This is mediocracy in action.]


Clamp down 

Initially, it was proposed that any bona fide crew member may hold a PEC. However, following certain comments and stages of consultation in the UK Parliament this wording of ‘bona fide crew member’ has since been amended to the now agreed term of ‘deck officer’.

This amendment of the wording sheds light on the central point of concern – the rank and level of experience that must be met for the granting of a PEC. There has been much discussion as to whether the pilotage of any ship might now be placed ‘in the hands of a deck boy, the cook or the man on the street’. 

In order to grant a PEC, the relevant competent harbour authority must be satisfied that the applicant has the skill, experience, local knowledge and sufficient knowledge of English to be capable of safely piloting one or more specified ships within its harbour without a qualified pilot onboard. 

[The level the applicant would have to attain must be at least as high as the one where the pilot is. Will it?]

The supporters of the Bill argue that this shift from the level of rank to the level of experience will ensure enhanced security while promoting efficiency and cost savings in respect to the execution by harbour authorities of their legal obligations.

[Nobody is in favour of inefficiency. Too much protection, and bankruptcy results. But one should not ignore that more efficiency often comes at the expense of ‘thoroughness’, as Erik Hollnagel puts it. In other words, there will be (over)simplifications, shortcuts and other actions that tend to erode safety.]

This proposed relaxation and widening of the requirements for the granting of a PEC has proved to be controversial. It has paved the way for an industry discussion in respect to the position onboard ship of a PEC holder and, the level of expertise and experience required by a PEC holder to navigate the passage of a ship in or out of a harbour both in the UK and internationally.


Safety first 

In particular, the level of personal knowledge and expertise of the local safe routes and hazards has been discussed and it is feared that the proposal could result in a reduction in pilotage standards among ships using UK ports. 

Some commentators see the changes as threatening safety in complex and often congested waters. In their view, the standard of training and examination of the PEC holder should be no more or less onerous than that of the pilot replaced. Others expect that the proposals would amount to a ‘dumbing down’ of pilotage capability and, in turn, increase the risk of accidents in UK coastal and restricted waters.

These concerns are not new; during the consultation of the 2008 draft bill it was also argued that pilotage requires experience, skills and professional judgment at a level which staff of lower ranks are unlikely to possess. One view was that a level of qualification for PEC holders should be set rather than empowering individual harbour authorities to assess each individual applicant’s merits.

In response, the UK Government has confirmed in the current consultation, that PEC regulation exemptions would only be made on the basis of demonstrable pilotage skill – harbour authorities will only be empowered under the Bill to award PECs to those who have the skill, experience and local knowledge sufficient to pilot a ship in the relevant harbour waters. 

The UK Government has also emphasised that, as a result of the proposed amendments, it would be easier for Harbour Masters to revoke PECs from individuals found to be lacking in ability.

Whatever the outcome of the consultation on the Bill, it has thrown an uncomfortable spotlight on the UK pilotage industry, one that has drawn global attention.

Joseph Botham is an associate at Holman Fenwick Willan, a law firm advising businesses engaged in international commerce.


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SAFETY: Sensible seamanship

Michael Grey 

THERE were some 270 pilots on the loose in London late last month, attending the 21st Congress of the International Maritime Pilots Association.

If you have read this column for any length of time you will realise that I like to support pilots all I can, believing that they are a force for maritime safety, insurance against accident and bring practical good sense into any operational discussions.

Their association is an important attendee at the International Maritime Organization, where those representing it bring a unique practical perspective to any debate.

There are many ex-mariners in national delegations and non-governmental organisations, but only the chap behind the IMPA card can say things like “on a VLCC I was piloting yesterday…” and apply this contemporary knowledge to the discussion. This matters.

The fact that they are on and off ships all the time also gives them a wide-ranging view on ship operating standards, along with the training and competence of their crews. It’s one thing for a government surveyor to sternly walk around a ship in port with his clipboard. A pilot sees that ship from the sharp end, in motion at what is arguably its most vulnerable time.

Some have suggested that pilots tend to be a bit prickly and defensive, but I would suggest that this is because so many shipowners like to think that they are a sort of optional extra and compulsory pilotage an unfair cost.

Those same shipowners have run their crews down to an overworked and exhausted minimum, and demand that Pilotage Exemption Certificates enabling practically anyone including the ship’s cat to substitute for a licensed pilot be available on demand.

The latest enthusiasm, now that the idea of “remote pilotage” from a VTS tower seems to have been discredited, is to inflict competitive pressures on pilots, to drive down the costs in a sort of Hayek-inspired fashion.

This seems to spring from a romantic notion of what pilots were like in the days of sail, when swarms of pilot cutters would meet arrived ships in places like the Western approaches to the Channel, all touting for business, with the shipmaster spoilt for choice.

Many professionals would rather think of pilots as a human addition to the safety systems, and generally fail to see how this is in any way improved by the imposition of a “market”, especially where there is not the level of business for such competition.

You don’t have competing bollards on the quayside, or competing locks into the same enclosed basin, do you?

And in most of the places where competition has been imposed, surprise, surprise; the actual costs of the pilotage to the users have increased, not least because of all the additional management extras.

In Australia, in Argentina, Denmark and a number of other places, competition has meant change for the considerably worse, with the job a darned sight less attractive for the people carrying out this important safety work.

However, there was little sign of such complaints at the recent IMPA Congress, with sessions on personal safety (pilots still take their lives in their hands as they board and leave ships), the design of pilot boats, pilotage administration and perhaps unsurprisingly, some important sharing of ideas on technology.

Pilots know they must “stay current” with fast-changing technology, while being very aware of the risks of over-dependence on electronics, as they tend to see this a great deal aboard ships they are handling.

“Technology is great — when it works,” an IMPA past president famously said.

With the arrival of electronic charts, ship’s officers are vulnerable to the march of technology and a new type of navigation. They might be on a new ship, and have to get attuned to new equipment every year or so.

A pilot faces one of at least 30 different Ecdis units every time he or she boards a ship. How can the pilot tell that the equipment has been properly set up by some second mate who is also unfamiliar with the equipment?

One pilot made the point that half the Ecdis units he sees are not set up properly, many using pirated or out of date software.

Maybe we should worry more about this revolution now taking place, especially when one third of 500 respondents asked about Ecdis revealed that they had encountered serious problems. “It’s still embryonic,” was one remark. Sure, but it is also mandatory.

Pilots really earn their crust when they board a ship and find that the pilot station to berth passage plan on the Ecdis takes the ship right over several shoals, because the wrong draught had been entered.

Or clambering up a ladder in a storm off New Zealand to find the ship on its “electronic leads”, heading straight for a cliff, with the bridge team following their electronics assiduously, without any adequate check.

Many pilots themselves use the Personal Pilot Unit, now laptop size but quickly becoming smaller. There was fascinating discussion about how this can be integrated into the training of new pilots.

“Brilliant kit, but it should not lead me to a place my brain had not visited first,” was the very sensible pilot advice.


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MSC boxship grounded in Brazil

MSC Regina aground off Itaparica, near Salvador, on September 12

The Panama-flagged boxship MSC Regina (built 1999) reportedly ran aground off the Island of Itaparica, located approximately 20 km (11 nautical miles) to the east of Salvador, at about 05:15 hours on September 12.

According to the Brazilian surveyor Charles Rotta, the ship unberthed and disembarked the pilot without incident and then engaged herself in a series of maneuvers, the last of which ended in the grounding.

In Rotta’s Facebook, there is a video that shows the track of MSC Regina during the minutes that preceded the accident and photos of the ship with some list to port.

MSC Regina reportedly managed to refloat herself with no tug assistance at 13:00 hours of the same day. She was held by the local representative of the Maritime Authority for about a day afterwards and, according to the information presented by the site Marine Traffic at http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/datasheet.aspx?datasource=ITINERARIES&MMSI=357332000, departed from Salvador in the evening of September 13.

No hull damage has been reported and there was no pollution.

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COSTA CONCORDIA: Carnival boss, a ghost?

From The Independent (United Kingdon), 2012.01.25. :

The US owner of the passenger liner wrecked off the Italian coast 12 days ago with the loss of up to 32 lives was accused last night of failing to take responsibility for the tragedy, as prosecutors shone a light on failed safety procedures.

Angry consumer groups are demanding to know why Micky Arison, the billionaire head of Costa Cruise’s Miami-based parent company, Carnival Corporation, has failed to make an appearance on the island of Giglio, where passengers’ bodies are still being dragged out of the wrecked Costa Concordia.

Kendall Carver, president of the US-based International Cruise Victims group, said: “The response, or lack of it, by Carnival is disgraceful. This is a PR disaster for the company.”

Meanwhile, yesterday, the La Repubblica newspaper, commenting on Mr Arison’s low profile, asked: “Who is this mysterious boss and how has he managed to remain like a ghost since the tragedy?” One US lawyer specialising in maritime law, Jim Walker of Walker and O’Neill Partners, said on his blog that Carnival executives “were close behind the disgraced captain Francesco Schettino in trying to ruin their reputations”.

He added: “Arison admittedly expressed his condolences from the comfort of his 200ft luxury yacht in the Miami area. But carefully crafted corporate PR statements go only so far.

“He failed to appear at the scene. How hard is it to hop in a Gulfstream jet and fly to Rome and then head over to the island of Giglio? In Miami, we hear snickering that as the Costa Concordia sits on its side with dead passengers still trapped inside, some of the Carnival executives have been seen gallivanting around town at black-tie gala parties and even Miami Heat professional basketball games.”

Beniamino Deidda, the state prosecutor of Tuscany, the coast of which would be devastated should the Concordia’s 2,400 tonnes of fuel oil leak out, also launched a fierce attack on the owners of the liner that crashed after its captain made a showboating manoeuvre close to shore. “Who chose the captain?” he asked. “We need to turn our attention to the decision made higher up by the employer, ie the shipping company.”

Italy’s Codacons consumer group is launching a class-action suit over the disaster. A spokesman said last night: “We are launching the action against both Costa and Carnival of Miami. We consider them both responsible.”

A spokesman for Costa Cruises said the firm would not comment while prosecutors investigated. Carnival said: “Micky Arison and the management team of Carnival Corporation have been in continuous contact with the Costa executive team in Italy.”

[A statement carefully crafted to reveal nothing, except, it would seem, that Carnival is protecting itself while leaving the passengers, who trusted them, in the dark — as they were on January 13.]

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Costa Cruise Disaster: Spotlight Shifts to Carnival – Where’s Micky?

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VALE BEIJING: STX to repair the ship without cargo offloading

STX Pan Ocean has decided to attempt the repair of the damaged Vale Beijing without unloading the iron ore cargo on board, according to Brazilian newspaper Valor Econômico.

According to “sources close to STX”, the intention is to tow the VLOC to the mouth of the Pará River or to Fortaleza, pending permission from local authorities. In either case, the conditions would be more favorable than at the São Marcos Bay, where the ship has been at anchor since Tuesday (6).

STX reportedly managed to keep the ingress of water into the ballast tanks no.7 port and starboard, but is still in the dark about the causes of the incident.

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VALE BEIJING: Vale ‘really concerned’, hopes for ‘good explanation’

From Reuters:

In a further setback for the group, the damaged Vale Beijing, which is the world’s largest iron ore carrier, was towed on Tuesday from its berth in Brazil for repairs, raising potential safety worries about the mega-ships.

The ship, delivered in September to its owner and operator, South Korea’s STX Pan Ocean, is longer and wider than three soccer fields. It was about to start its first fully loaded voyage, a planned run to Rotterdam.

“Vale Beijing belongs to STX. It is an STX project, so we are awaiting their appraisal. The other ships have nothing to do with this. They are the same size but they are different projects. They are different,” Martins said.

“Now we are waiting … I am not minimising this, it is very serious and we are really concerned. But we need to wait for the conclusions. Everything we say now is speculation.”

Martins said he hoped the ship classification society [Det Norske Veritas] would have “a good explanation” for the damaged vessel.

He added that he was confident about the seaworthiness of other mega-ships already in service.

“Vale Brasil is now on its fifth voyage, and we have Vale Rio de Janeiro, Vale Italia. All those ships are already berthing, loading without a problem,” he said.

For the full article, please go to http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/07/vale-shipping-ironore-idUSL5E7N747Y20111207

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Fatal Explosion Risk Concerns For Shipping Containers At Sea

Contaminated refrigerant gas in cooling systems of reefer containers caused at least three accidents recently. As refrigerated cargo is increasingly containerized, this may become a growing threat.

Read more at http://www.handyshippingguide.com/shipping-news/fatal-explosion-risk-concerns-for-shipping-containers-at-sea_3230#.Tr24jkSGYPo.twitter

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