Pilots Corner – Non-compliant trap door pilot boarding arrangements


Non-compliant by design, known about by port state authorities, owners, and flag state administrations – yet still these vessels are allowed to sail the world endangering pilots.

What the reporter told us (1):

A vessel was identified by the port authority as having a non-compliant pilot ladder arrangement on 17.03.2020. The vessel has a trap-door platform, but the pilot ladder does not extend 1.5 m above the platform. A report was submitted to the national regulator who visited the vessel and confirmed that the arrangement is non-compliant. Pilots are told not to use non-compliant arrangements and can be penalised should they do so or report such ladders and then use them despite the known defects. However, this ship, and others are still making calls to the port. If inspected, non-compliant ships are simply issued with a letter from the regulator, but this does not stop them sailing and pilots are put in an impossible position because management and port authorities tacitly condone these arrangements and simply tell pilots not to board if it is unsafe.

Further dialogue:

There was a lot of dialogue arising from this report and the salient details are as follows.

CHIRP contacted the DPA of the company in question, the harbour master of the port, and the port authority.

The DPA confirmed that the issue was known to them and that the vessel’s flag state, and classification society had already been contacted.

The view of the harbour master was that the issue was a Port State Control issue whilst adding that liaison with the port authority on all marine safety issues would continue and is paramount.

The port authority was very helpful and highlighted their support for pilots who refused to board vessels which they believed to be dangerous. They requested that pilots inform them of any deficiencies in order to enable effective follow-up. A comprehensive system for investigating incidents and reports is maintained, including dynamic risk assessment. It was also highlighted that there is close liaison with the national regulator.

There was a lot more correspondence about procedural issues in order to overcome the problems raised, but in summary there is no easy solution for a problem that has been 20 years in the making! CHIRP can however proactively engage with all parties and apply appropriate pressure to highlight any potential issues and the need for resolution.


2 examples of non-compliant ‘trapdoor’ pilot boarding arrangements

CHIRP comment:

The second report included in this “pilots’ corner” is about the same issue at the same port, only the name of the ship was different. This brings the total of named vessels mentioned in reports to CHIRP with this defect, to four.

The response from all parties was refreshing, nevertheless the vessel remains non-compliant. Potentially the letter from the regulator did its job, since the company, flag, and class are all aware of the issue. However, since the vessel was built to pre-2012 regulations, there is “wriggle room” in the wording of the regulations and the argument of must and should comes into play. So, the vessel continues trading and remains non-compliant. The port authority knows of other vessels on a fairly regular trade which also fall into this category. All are well run and have reputable managers – they were just built with non-compliant pilot boarding arrangements.

Members of the Maritime Advisory Board noted that quite a lot of improvement on trap door pilot boarding arrangements has been seen in Europe. Some companies have carried out modifications with class approval. CHIRP is also aware of at least one flag state administration that is in consultation with class to resolve the issue. This is encouraging, although more needs to be done.

Tragically it was one of these non-compliant trap door pilot boarding arrangements that resulted in the death of a pilot in New York earlier this year. This has led to a renewed focus on the safety of these trap door arrangements and pilot boarding arrangements in general. Tragically just prior to publishing this edition of FEEDBACK we learned of a second fatal accident involving a pilot boarding arrangement at the New York, Sandy Hook boarding ground on 5th August.

The whole point of compliance is that it makes the equipment safe to use. Non-compliance means that it is not safe to use. While a port state regulator does not have the power to tell the ship what to do, the pilot does have the power not to move the ship.

A pilot about to sail a ship can insist on sighting a compliant pilot boarding arrangement before letting go any lines. Upon arrival at a pilot boarding station, if a non-compliant arrangement is presented the pilot should refuse to board the ship.

It is time to say Enough is Enough.



Report Ends…………………….