This inaugural article in our new section has been written by a senior pilot
For pilots one of the hot problem topics is pilot ladders and access. How do we tackle this? Locally my own port authority has a robust system for reporting and investigating non-compliant arrangements and are very supportive of pilots who refuse to board when they observe a non-compliant arrangement that cannot be rectified in a timely manner.
Last year a pilot boarded an inbound vessel at night and, on climbing, felt that something appeared to be out of place with the step spacing of the pilot ladder. On inspection, the steps were too far apart at over 40cm. The port would not allow the vessel to sail until a new ladder was sourced, which involved a delay of over 24 hours.
Last year I initially refused to board an inbound cruise ship as there were no stanchions at the head of the pilot ladder. Returning 10 minutes later after dropping a colleague at another ship, the stanchions had magically appeared. On another vessel, I observed a dangerous practice – whilst rigging a combination ladder only one of the crew was wearing the correct PPE out of the three crew members involved in the task. When I pointed this out to the captain, he was reluctant to stop the task until I insisted.
Unfortunately, we are still seeing accidents and in 2019 a number of pilots were killed whilst boarding or disembarking from vessels. Clearly, we need to continue working harder in trying to eradicate non- compliant boarding arrangements. Internationally, IMPA is working hard at the IMO and each year report the findings of the annual global “Pilot Ladder Safety Survey”.
Going forward we need to continue educating masters, crews and ship owners on how the ladder should be rigged. I personally carry a supply of laminated cards that I can leave with the master illustrating how the ladder side ropes should be secured with rope using a rolling hitch which is then secured to an approved strong point with another hitch. No choke shackles over the side ropes, and no wedging a step behind a piece of angle iron. These practices have been outlawed by the MCA, AMSA and the New Zealand marine authorities. Surveyors, both port state and classification society, must also play a greater part in assisting with this ongoing problem. We are still frequently seeing new ships, built and certificated with non-compliant access areas and boarding arrangements.
Pilot ladder incorrectly secured to the deck using D-shackles to choke the side ropes.