A hard-hitting research paper points to multiple failures “in regulation, regulatory enforcement, training and vessel design” that have lead to fatalities during pilot transfers.

Aberdeen pilot Ewan Rattray uncompromisingly stated that the industry does “not promote, encourage or learn from accidents and incidents” resulting in leaving pilots “to become the last line of defence in a system which [does] not work”.

Rattray’s research covers his own survey and a broad range of other sources including a recent International Maritime Pilots Association survey which noted, “non-compliant transfer arrangements ranged from 6.77% to 58.06%”. It might be tempting to assume that European numbers would fare better, but shockingly, 20.49% of vessels trading in Europe had non-compliant transfer arrangements. Further, discounting those who didn’t have access to the statistics, 65 to 85% of the respondents encountered either up to or over 50% non-compliant pilot transfer arrangements (PTA).

The failings include ambiguity in the rules, lack of training and difficulty in interpreting and incorporating recommendations into vessel designs: the majority of respondents “do not think vessels are designed which enable them to comply with the regulations”.

Further, “although the tools are there, the culture is failing” as 77%-97% of respondents did not agree that non-compliant transfer arrangements are reported – feeling that this “did not achieve anything as they were not followed up, and nothing was done to correct them”.

As disturbing is the ongoing misuse of a grandfather clause in SOLAS Regulation 23 which states vessels built prior to 2012 need not comply with the regulation. And, he underlined that despite pilot deaths, “countless” vessels, including one directly involved in a pilot fatality, are still operating with unsafe transfer arrangements.

He also pointed out that even given fatalities, accident and investigation reports are not always publicly available – starkly contradictory to maritime’s apparent safety culture. Further, while the ISM Code is indeed making a difference, “there is complacency”.

He concluded in the paper that increased enforcement and clear, unambiguous regulation is necessary, built on a “unified and international code or best practice” with statistical analysis, studies and testing as used by other industries. Importantly, he underlined ship owners must not be allowed to use a “get-out-clause” with future safety-critical changes being time-bound for all vessels to stop further misuse of the rules.

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