Throughout 2016, the International Maritime Pilots’ Association (IMPA) held a safety campaign focused upon the standard of pilot ladders and associated equipment. CHIRP supported this campaign and received many reports on the subject, several of which are highlighted below. This article should be read in conjunction with “The hazards of Pilot boarding (1)”, and “The hazards of Pilot boarding (3)”
Our second report highlights the difficult challenges facing the Master and the pilot boat skipper during a pilot boarding operation in adverse weather. A pilot should not feel pressured to board and should abort any boarding where conditions are considered to be too hazardous.
What the reporter told us
MV xxx arrived at the pilot station around midnight. Weather was improving after a day of strong northeast winds and a swell of up to 2.5 metres. By midnight the swell was still between 1.5 and 2 metres although the wind speed had decreased to 15 knots. The pilot ladder was ordered port side, 1 metre above the waterline. Vessel draft was more than 12 metres. The pilot was just finishing an outbound vessel prior to proceeding to MV xxx. Crossing with outbound traffic was arranged to be starboard to starboard. The pilot disembarked from the outbound vessel and requested MV xxx to proceed towards the entrance on course 300º, in order to create a good lee and arrange the desired crossing with an outbound vessel.
MV xxx kept a course of 320º which resulted in passing the outbound vessel port to port. The pilot boarding operation was attempted 2.5 miles from the port entrance, at 00:20 hours, at a boarding speed of 8 knots, with some swell because not enough lee was provided. Furthermore, the combination arrangement for boarding (not requested) was dangerous, with the vessel’s accommodation ladder less than 3 m above the surface of the water. With a 1.5 metre swell coming from aft and the pilot boat’s handrail 2.6 metres above the water, the boarding was done in very poor conditions and the pilot boat’s performance was restricted by the lower platform of the accommodation ladder. There was a moment when the pilot was on the ladder and the pilot boat deck was above him, forcing the coxswain to put the engine full astern to avoid a probable serious incident.
These vessels are well known for their non-compliant arrangements (see photographs), although there has been some improvement due to our continuous complaints. This near miss resulted from a combination of unsuitable equipment, a disregard of recent SOLAS regulations and an alarming lack of common sense.
Pilot boarding information is given to vessels over VHF prior to arrival and should be revised. It should include an instruction that SOLAS-compliant boarding arrangements are required.
What the Third Party told us
I think this case is not as straight forward as the informant would like to make it.
It is obvious that the required heading was not achieved by the vessel as requested by the pilot, yet the pilot still boarded the vessel in the prevailing sea/swell conditions thus jeopardizing the safety of both the pilot and pilot boat. It would have been prudent for the pilot boat to communicate with the vessel and achieve the desired heading to eliminate the risk caused by the reduced freeboard.
It is easy to ‘blame’ the technical installation, but in my view there was a serious lack of safety aptitude on the part of the pilot who, despite identifying the risk, proceeded with the boarding.
The pilot boat should have mutually agreed with the vessel that it would wait until the desired heading was achieved for safe boarding of the pilot.
I’m sure you are aware that the new SOLAS amendments for pilot transfer arrangements entered into force on 1 July 2012, and one of the items states that “The lower platform of the accommodation ladder should be in a horizontal position and secured to the ship’s side when in use. The lower platform should be a minimum of 5 metres above the sea level.” However, the above amendment does not apply to MV xxx as she was built in 2007.
As per the extract from SOLAS Ch-5, Regulation 23, 1.4 – “Equipment and arrangements installed on or after 1 July 2012, which are a replacement of equipment and arrangements provided on ships before 1 July 2012, shall, in so far as is reasonable and practicable, comply with the requirements of this regulation”.
MV xxx cannot meet the 5 metres height objective of the new SOLAS regulation between drafts of 11.35 metres and 12.45 metres (i.e. heavily loaded). Even if the vessel achieves a platform height of 5 metres, the hazardous condition will depend on the size of the pilot boat (which can range from a small launch to a very large harbor tug).
Our crews on this series of vessels are aware of the challenges at heavy load (deep draft) and are requested to work with the pilots to ensure safe boarding.
Hope the above satisfactorily addresses the raised concern.
The Maritime Advisory Board, whilst noting some of the similarities with the first report in terms of draft and access via accommodation ladder, focused their attention on the stated “poor conditions” for boarding. It was observed that the standard green to green passing was changed to red to red, although it was agreed that this could be perfectly acceptable depending upon the onward movements of the inbound and outbound vessels. The Board specifically commented that in any pilot boarding, notwithstanding any advice or request from the pilot, the pilot boat or the local Vessel Traffic Service, the Master of vessel holds the sole responsibility for the safe navigation of his/her vessel and this should include consideration of an abort, (which should form a part of the passage planning process). Similarly, a pilot should not feel pressured to board and should abort a boarding when conditions are considered too hazardous.