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Progress on pilotage standards

Monday, 30 January 2012 | 00:00
As the pilot clambers over the ship's rail and makes his way to the bridge, how does the Master know that this is a competent person who is now about to advise him on the conduct of his ship into port? There is no shortage of anecdotal reports of Masters having to take over the con and countermand the orders of pilots who are standing the ship into danger. Pilots, for their part, respond by their own recollections of bridge teams who speak no known language and worrying lack of competence.
The debate about “the Master-pilot” relationship has been rumbling on for years, complicated by more complex ship control systems and pilots now arriving on board accompanied by their own electronics, effectively shutting out the ship’s people from their close monitoring function. Is the pilot an “extra crew member”, an external adviser, or perhaps an additional member of the ship’s “bridge team”?
But rather more to the point is this issue of pilot competence. It may be less of a problem at a port where our ship is a regular caller, in a developed industrial country with a highly developed regulatory infrastructure. In such place there can be reasonable assurance that the pilot’s skills and training will be appropriate to the size of ship he or she will be boarding, and that the pilot’s local experience will be all that is expected.
But what of a completely unfamiliar port in a part of the world not traditionally celebrated for its maritime expertise? The pilot bouncing through the wheelhouse door might exude confidence, wear a smart uniform and prefix his name with “Captain”, but what of his ship-handling skills? After all, the liability for the pilot’s mistakes will remain with the ship and its Master and there may be limited time for intervention after the pilot’s errors or negligence has become obvious.
So what is clearly required is some international benchmark that will provide some reassurance that the pilots in a particular port have the requisite skills. It is easier to suggest this than to develop the criteria, hence the considerable delay in discovering this helpful set of rules. Pilots themselves need to be closely involved in their particular interpretation of the assessment of their own skills, and it has not been an easy process, with these markedly independent people often finding it difficult to agree amongst themselves.
But at long last, with the assistance of the International Maritime Pilots Association and chiefly the European Maritime Pilots Association which has employed the drafting skills of Netherlands’ pilots, it has been possible to develop International Standards for Pilotage Organisations. These, now known as the ISPO Code, effectively provide performance criteria by which the operational procedures of a pilotage authority can be assessed. Modelled in some respects on the International Safety Management Code, the code covers all aspects of the operation of a pilotage service, which can be transparent and independently audited by a qualified assessment organisation.
The hope is now with this system in place, pilotage providers all around the world will adopt it, giving the users – their customers – the assurance they need that their vessels will be in good and competent hands.
Source: BIMCO
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