Master / Pilot Relationship

Report Text:

This incident occurred while leaving a port in the Asia Pacific region.  The pilot was booked for 1200 hours.  At 1115 the engineers reported that they had trouble with a main engine and could not start it.  Due to the strong spring tides I decided to wait in the harbour alongside rather than leave on one engine.  I called the pilot to advise the delay.  He boarded at 1200 anyway and I explained the situation to him.  He said it was not a problem and just to give him two hours notice when needed.  At 1230 the engineers had fixed the minor electrical fault in the engines control system and I gave the pilot 2 hours notice.

The pilot boarded at 1430 this time with a trainee pilot.  We moved off the berth and proceeded on the passage out, and increased speed to 10knots.  The trainee pilot was requesting courses which I was monitoring and my 3rd Officer, acting as helmsman, was answering.  The 1st Officer was also on watch, he was maintaining the log, charting positions and monitoring passage and traffic.

As we came to starboard to pass through the narrow entrance cut, the trainee pilot started coming round too early.  It is a narrow channel with high rocky sides and the currents that pass through are very strong.  High water was at 1653 so we were on the flood tide in springs.  The 1st Officer immediately voiced his concerns to me which reflected my own.

I voiced my concern to the pilot as we were very close to the shore on the starboard side.  I had been through this channel several times with other pilots.  I requested that he not alter course any further to starboard until the vessel was further out from the shore.  The channel was empty of any other traffic.  When I voiced my concern, both pilots started to shout at me that this was the outbound channel and I did not understand.  We exited the cut without incident.

The pilot then asked me to sign the pilotage slip.  I agreed and reminded the pilots gently that they were there in an advisory capacity and really should communicate a little more with their intentions to the bridge team.  I felt this even more prudent for the trainee pilot to take onboard.

The pilot then told my helmsman to alter course to port – a course that would take us across and out of the buoyed channel.  I immediately asked the pilot his intentions and mentioned to him that this was what I meant previously.  The lead pilot then immediately started shouting at me a string of verbal abuse.  He punched the chart table, stamped his feet and started making ridiculous orders such as Stop Engines.

In this condition with two pilots shouting at the bridge team, who are legally responsible for the safety of the ship and its personnel, the safety of navigation was my primary concern – especially due to the high concentration of fishing gear with marker buoys.  I did eventually manage to placate the pilots who then departed by pilot boat.  We altered course back to starboard and continued passage without incident.  After the pilots departed the vessel both the 1st Officer and the 3rd Officer remarked that they were stunned and appalled by the behaviour of both lead and trainee pilot.

I believe this serves as a reminder that at all times the Master remains in full control and with full responsibility for the vessel.  Yes –  we need the pilot; we need him to help us, not to take over and especially not to hinder the bridge team.

CHIRP Comment:

There are a number of positive aspects to this report:

1) The Master assessed the risk of trying to leave at the scheduled time and prudently decided against it.  He thereby gave the engineers additional time to rectify the technical problem.

2) The vessel’s bridge team had been carefully monitoring the vessel’s passage.

3) The 1st Officer and the Master had the professionalism and confidence to voice their concerns immediately regarding the course being taken approaching the entrance.

Whilst the responsibility of the Master is clear, the potential liability of a pilot differs between the various national legal regimes.  Whatever legal responsibility a pilot may have, it is important that there is good communication between the pilot and the bridge team.

One of the attributes of a good team is that individuals (including senior members) are receptive to questioning and challenges from other team members.  However, in the case reported, the pilot appears to have taken such questioning as an insult to his professionalism.  The opportunity for establishing a more positive relationship is when the pilot first boards and the passage plan is discussed.  The test of the effectiveness of the dialogue is that would be no surprise during the pilotage passage.  This may sound obvious, but does it always happen?  We welcome your comments.