Captain Sean Bolt, Harbour Master for Albany Port Authority in Western Australia, has written to us in response the Terminal Conditions article “Pilots: A closed shop that helps only pilots” (published online on February 1).
Captain Bolt writes:
It was disappointing to read David Wignall’s article in the January 2012 edition.
What was disappointing was the obvious lack of knowledge shown by the writer about the act of pilotage and marine piloting, despite his 25 years in the port industry. I am not sure why the article started with a discussion on airline pilots-the skill sets required are completely different.
It is not a question of his offending anyone with his comments; it is a question of his competence to provide comment on a specialised discipline within our industry. Has he ever piloted a ship? Does he hold a maritime certificate of competency? Has he ever been in command of a ship?
The central thrust of Mr Wignall’s claims seem to be that modern ship masters are highly trained and know their ship and with the range of modern equipment now found on a ship there is not really a requirement for the services of a pilot.
You can put all of the equipment in the world on a ship but ultimately it comes down to how quickly a pertinent decision can be made based on the interpretation of the information displayed by that equipment plus the spatial awareness of the port and the traffic movement within it. It is a matter of fact, not opinion, that that spatial awareness comes from experience and training for that particular port.
Piloting is not just about interpreting what is happening with the equipment on the bridge. It includes a complex assessment of the visual clues, wind, tide, swell, other vessel movements, particular ship handling characteristics as well as available water, and how to communicate with, and efficiently use the ports tugs.
Whilst some ship masters may have this capability (and those that do and regularly call at some ports will be granted pilotage exemptions) I think I can safely say that the majority of visiting shipmasters do not have the skills to safely pilot their ships in and out of a port. Skilled and competent masters will invariably recognise the advice pilots can provide and how they can contribute to the safety and efficiency of the ship handling operation as a member of the bridge team.
A master may well attend a simulator and learn the dimensions of a port. It is also true that all ships can be berthed without a pilot if the master is sufficiently skilled and experienced. Likewise, ships can be berthed with or without tugs, given the appropriate conditions. The fact that we don’t normally do this is an indication that there is, from experience, a benefit of not doing so.
Finally, I see little relevance between what pilots may or may not get paid and the argument that pilots are unnecessary. The market will determine what value is placed on the services of a pilot-hence the large differentials between pilot salaries both within Australia and compared to overseas.
Ports have a lot of expensive infrastructure that needs to be safeguarded and used as efficiently as possible. Having well trained and competent pilots assists in achieving this goal.
Mr Wignall claims things do not change in the piloting world due to vested interests amongst pilots. I would argue another reason-pilots are risk averse by nature. They have to be as they know they will be forever judged by the one job they get wrong and will receive little accolade for the hundreds-if not thousands of jobs they have done well.
Oh, and in case Mr Wignall thinks I am just another self-serving pilot; over a 36-year-long maritime career I do have the advantage of having been the CEO of a Port company, the CEO a shipping company and the CEO of a stevedoring company as well as having been the manager of a container terminal.
I have also been a Harbour Master at two different ports and a licensed pilot at two ports in New Zealand and one in Australia.
Therefore, I feel infinitely more qualified to comment on the subject than Mr Wignall.
If there is to be a debate, at least debate facts rather than proffer opinion passed off as facts.
Captain Sean Bolt, BA, M.Prof Stud, FCILT
Albany Port Authority