Australian maritime watchdog urges pilot ladder safety

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is urging ship owners, operators, and crew to prioritize pilot ladder safety after recent incidents in Australian waters – including a prosecution which led to convictions for the master and company of MV AAL Dampier.

AMSA has reissued its marine notice on pilot transfer arrangements from 2022 with expanded guidance on rigging, maintaining, and stowing pilot ladders, as well as some industry best-and-worst-practices.

AMSA National Operations Manager Greg Witherall said unsafe pilot ladders posed an unacceptable safety risk not just to port and coastal pilots, but also to crew and cargo masters who routinely embark and disembark via this equipment.

“When you step foot on a pilot ladder, you should be confident that the crew and operator of that ship have taken care of that critical piece of shipboard equipment – after all, your safety is in their hands,” Witherall said.

“Providing safe transfer arrangements is a legal obligation under the Navigation Act.

“Failure to provide safe transfer arrangements, as happened with the master and company of AAL Dampier, can have grave consequences – serious injury or worse, fatality, ship detention and even in some cases, it can lead to prosecution.”

Witherall said common issues with pilot ladders included instances where they have fallen short of accommodation ladders when used in combination, unsafe use of shackles and failure to regularly inspect, maintain and store pilot ladders appropriately.

“There are international standards for rigging, maintaining and stowing pilot ladders – and with the updated guidance in our marine notice about pilot ladders, there is simply no excuse for incidents like what we saw on the AAL Dampier last year,” Witherall said.

“If you own, operate or crew a ship with a pilot ladder, the safety of everyone using that pilot ladder is in your hands. Protect your pilot ladder and if you want to learn more about pilot ladder safety, read our updated marine notice.”

Photo credit: iStock/ Phil1Newman

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