Saving Lives of Maritime Pilots with a Simple Action

Routine maintenance of equipment can guarantee safety of pilots.

While maritime pilots play the crucial role of ensuring safety of ships, protection of port environment as well as public safety, their personal safety often takes a back seat.  However, the simple action of routine maintenance of equipment can save lives.  

An International Maritime Pilots’ Association (IMPA) report released early this year noted that in 2020, 12.1 percent of pilot transfer arrangements reported non-compliant, with combination ladders and pilot ladders having the most defects. This is in line with the previous years’ findings.

Incidents affecting the safety of pilots can be avoided through the routine maintenance of equipment. This can identify issues before they result in defects, Maritime Pilots Malaysia (MPM) President and Chairman Captain Martin Lim told Maritime Fairtrade in an interview.

Captain Martin (right) on pilotage duty with Master of Wan Hai Captain Cheng.

In 2017, Malaysia reported its worst accident when a pilot fell into the sea while disembarking a ship from the pilot’s ladder. He fell into the waters semi-unconscious after hitting his head on a bar on the pilot boat. He was quickly pulled up and brought to safety. However, his injuries were serious and even after recovering, the pilot is unable to continue working.  Investigations later revealed that the ship did not comply with international standards when rigging the pilot ladder. 

“In 2018 and 2019, there were a total of five cases reported where the pilot ladder rope parted. Last year, another five cases of defective pilot ladder ropes were raised for investigation. In these cases, the pilots requested for the ladder to be changed before boarding. In the first half of this year alone, we recorded two cases of defective ladders,” Captain Martin said.

Besides routine maintenance, continuous training is important

“Our pilots regularly undergo simulations, attend seminars and study sessions on incident-related topics. The more information and knowledge we have, the more confident we will be in handling all types of situations, and to put up a solid argument with the Master of the ship if there are contentions onboard.”

In Malaysia, the government through the Marine Department and the various port authorities has made it compulsory for sea captains to engage a licensed maritime pilot when a vessel transits within the port limits. With a strong familiarity of the surrounding waterways, tidal and weather conditions, the Malaysia-licenced pilot guides, docks and undocks vessels at port waterways. Besides the weather, the size of the ships can make the task of a pilot challenging. 

“Today, we have vessels that are 400 meters in length, 60 meters wide and with an 18-meter draft. These are very heavy vessels such as tankers with large windage area, and high momentum. If anything were to happen, the ship will not be able to stop on time. It will continue to move on. 

“For a successful docking and undocking, everyone on the navigation bridge must work as a cohesive team. The pilot helps to navigate the ship and does not hold on to the steering. They give instructions on the course to steer, engine control, general navigation and pilotage, ship handling and assists the tug boat to bring the ship alongside the terminal,” said Captain Martin.

Safety is a concern for all stakeholders

In a move to further promote the safety of its members, the MPM launched the Strategic Collaboration and Partnership (SCP). This initiative fosters working relationships with the Malaysian Ministry of Transport, the Marine Department, the various port authorities, as well as port and terminal operators. The organisation feels that together with the strict application of the guidelines set by the IMO SOLAS, discussions and partnerships between relevant stakeholders can further ensure the safety of maritime pilots.

Through the SCP, MPM can also contribute in discussions toward the development of ports and harbors in the country, thus improving the efficiency of ports.

Procedural issues affecting safety of pilots for year 2020

Defects in rigging and maintenance of ladders for year 2020


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