Joe Keefe of the Maritime Executive Newsletter make a number of cogent points about marine pilots in the post-Cosco Busan world:
“At this early stage, just one thing is perfectly clear: the Cosco Busan allision will ultimately help to redefine the role of, and the liabilities facing marine pilots in the United States today. One of the most primary questions asked of any deck cadet at any maritime academy is: What is the role of the pilot? And, the answer, of course, is (c.), “the pilot provides guidance to, but is not in charge of the vessel.” That tenet has been upheld in many venues, for many, many years. In reality, however, the typical marine pilot who guides a vessel in from the sea buoy to the dock is in complete control of that vessel on the inbound leg. He or she better be, because often the captain of a particular vessel may have never transited that restricted waterway.
One of the key issues being brought to the forefront in the San Francisco case is whether the pilot should have taken the vessel in, given the conditions on board the vessel and the prevailing weather at the time. I did receive a note this week from one U.S.-based state pilot who told me in no uncertain terms, “If we waited for the fog to lift, we would never move and the shippers would be suing us for delaying their goods! The shippers want it both ways. When we take chances and keep moving their ships under less than ideal conditions, they don’t thank us. When we make an error or worse, something happens beyond our control, they are all over us. There is a fine line between safety and a risk.” ”
In particular he asks: “knee-jerk, band aid-type solutions such as the one proposed this week by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) aren’t going to solve anything. Her ridiculous bill — put forth without any idea of how the system actually works — would ensure that the Coast Guard has the authority to order ships to change speed or course in an emergency or during hazardous conditions. At this point — and despite this isolated situation in San Francisco Bay — I’ll put my faith in the pilot. And, I wonder who will be sitting behind the monitor of that RADAR screen at the VTS building. What qualifications will that individual bring to the risk equation and, perhaps more importantly, what will his or her liability be?”
What the Boxer-Pelosi doesn’t address, of course, are the training issues and the competence assurance of VTS operators and pilots.
Read Joe’s commentary here.