Pilot Body Criticised For Failures Post Cosco-Busan

 Accident, allision, competence, contact/allison, pilotage  Comments Off on Pilot Body Criticised For Failures Post Cosco-Busan
Dec 022009

imageCalifornia’s State Auditor has discovered that the Board of Pilot Commissioners for the Bays of San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun licensed a pilot 28 days before he received a required physical examination; he piloted vessels 18 times during this period. Currently, the pilot who conducted the containership Cosco Busan into the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge alleged under the influence of medication is serving a 10 month term in a prison.

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Pilots and the Loaded Gun

 pilot, pilotage  Comments Off on Pilots and the Loaded Gun
Aug 072009

Our friends over at Maritime Executive have a well-stuffed mailbag following a thoughtful article by Joe Keefe, “Game Changer: Reflecting Back on the COSCO BUSAN Debacle”, which had MAC mulling over Texas Chicken, Suez pilots and courtesans.

Says MarEx editor Joe Keefe: “ (The article) was, far and away, the most widely opened article in this e-newsletter in more than two years. Not surprisingly, the article also triggered a flood of mail in similar volumes.”

MAC was reminded of a complaint by a pilot about the IDESSIT/American Club produced series of pilotage videos Stranger on the Bridge which strongly recommends that a master monitor the pilot. The complainant said, dismissively “What? is the master supposed to jump on the pilot when he makes a mistake?”

The answer is “Yes, absolutely”. One MarEx correspondent quotes a New Zealand Pilot Card: “‘I am just the pilot & am here in an advisory capacity. Please feel free to bring any error of judgment, helm or engine order, to my notice’”, so MAC, and the great majority of masters he’s spoken with aren’t alone.

In fact, if being conducted by a Pascagoula pilot it is vital to monitor because, under the term of the Pascoula Bar Pilot’s contract with vessels the master and shipowner accept full liability for any damage caused by a pilot’s error, the pilot bears no liability, which of course means he, or she, bears no responsibility.

The essence of responsibility is liability, hence MAC’s reminder of the courtesan’s privilege – influence without responsibility.

Pilot and master do not, therefore share responsibility because they do not share liability.

A letter from another good friend of MAC’s, Pilot Mag editor John Clandillon-Baker says: “In the Zim Mexico III case in 2006, Captain Schroeder was found guilty because ‘the judge also instructed the jury, in essence, that the captain of a vessel, under the applicable Code of Federal Regulations provisions, is responsible for the negligence of all his subordinates on the vessel, including the pilot’. The Cosco Busan case has overturned that and confirmed a growing opinion that a pilot cannot walk away from an incident with immunity if his actions are deemed to have contributed to the incident.”

Newspaper editors and ships’ masters share a common legal oddity. In most jurisdictions a company employee is not personally liable and cannot be sued for the outcome of their decisions. Masters and editors are personally liable for the outcome of their decisions and the decisions made by their subordinates. The essence of the Pascagoula Bar Pilots is that the pilot is not an independent professional but a servant of the company which contracts him for his professional services. As such, he is subservient to the master of the vessel and the master much accept responsibility for the expertise of a pilot whom he may not know in waters he doesn’t know and if anything goes wrong the master pays.

This would appear to conflict with the best practices advice of the American Pilots Association, APA, which states that a pilot is not part of the bridge team because: “State-licensed pilots are expected to act in the public interest and to maintain a
professional judgment that is independent of any desires that do not comport with the needs of maritime safety. In addition, licensing and regulatory authorities, state and federal, require compulsory pilots to take all reasonable actions to prevent ships under their navigational direction from engaging in unsafe operations.”

Therefore, in the APA’s view, a bridge team’s duties conflict with maritime safety. It is also implicit in that statement that the pilot is not a subordinate of the master.

Although the APA states “If the role of the pilot is an unclear issue, it is only because some people want it to be unclear or confused” it does nothing to clarify the issue in its best practices.

APA seems not to understand the concept of a bridge team. Anyone on the bridge participating in, and with the objective of, safe navigation of the vessel is a de facto member of the bridge team because safe navigation is the objective of the bridge team.

Also implicitit the APA best practices is that the pilot only need tell the master what he thinks the master should know, not what the master wants to know. The pilot is not required to tell the master his intentions until and unless he choses to do so.

Repeatedly pilots’ organisation state that a master may dismiss a pilot and ask for another one if a pilot is deemed to be incompetent or incapable of carrying out his duties. In the case of Cosco Busan, and several others, a pilot’s fatigue or the influence of medication, has not been readily apparent. A master also has the right to dismiss a pilot if the vessel is put into a situation of extreme danger. This latter point might have been workable in the age of sail when 5 knots was good speed but given modern speeds by the time a vessel is in danger it’s too late to fire the pilot and, indeed, may make matters worse.

Not a single American pilot organisation has suggested at which point the master of the Cosco Busan should have dismissed John Cota as pilot. When they identify that moment is when they should stick their heads above the parapet, yet they place the blame on the master for the contact, allision, with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

A stroke of common sense comes from a legal analysis forwarded by the chairman of the UK Pilots Association, John Wilson.

To cut to the chase, a pilot is given a special privilege and licence to conduct his profession. With that privilege comes a duty and responsibility to the client and to society as a whole. As a professional, a pilot is liable for the errors he makes.

A pilot is, therefore,in the same position as a doctor. A doctor is only an advisor, the patient can chose to accept or dismiss the doctor’s advice, but if the patient chooses to accept it then the doctor is liable for any negative outcome.

Pilots are given special and exclusive privileges and are well paid for their services, in return they should be held liable for their professional advice in pursuit of those privileges. You expect the same of your dentist and optician.

Then there is the issue of intimidation. What counts as intimidation depends upon culture. One of MAC’s British clients tell the story of a Suez Canal pilot who spent the entire passage telling him that he, the pilot, could cause as much damage as he liked to the vessel or the canal infrastructure, and get away with it – the master and the shipping company would be held to blame in much the same way as in same in Pascagoula.

A MarEx correspondent tells this story: : “I have personally observed an Asian Master, who wouldn’t leave anything to chance with Asian Pilots when in Asian / Middle Eastern Ports, however was reluctant in pointing out the pilot’s minor errors during a river passage in the United States, where two pilots on the wheelhouse were going on chatting endlessly, discussing personal & social issues with an immensely complacent attitude towards the job they actually came for. In fact, most of their helm orders sounded so seamless with their personal conversation, that it was extremely difficult for the helmsman to figure out where the ‘PORT TWENTY’ was concealed between his wife’s shopping & his son’s new boat with the Yamaha outboard! It was indeed surprising to see a Ship’s Master with over 2 decades of command experience under his belt, act in that intimidating manner, putting the safety of his vessel & crew at risk. When asked for a clarification by me after berthing, his explanation was equally shocking! “We must be courteous & extend hospitality

to all Port Officials” was his answer.

The Chinese master of the Cosco Busan behaved in exactly the same way. The pilot,the American professional, gave his professional advice that it was safe to depart the berth at Oakland. The master accepted that advice in the same way a patient would accept the advice “take two asprin and call me in the morning”.

Which gets me to Texas Chicken, sometime called the Texas Two-step on the Houston ship canal. It is a scary procedure for a master and quite fun for the pilot. When two ships are to pass the pilots on each ship aim at each other’s bow and, at apparently the last moment give a starboard 20 order. Pressure from the bows keep the vessels apart but, as the pass go on, another order is given to avoid suction from the stern of the vessels. It’s an impressive manoeuvre. But…

But, as can be found on the internet, pilots tell of occasions when the master has asked ‘did you see that ship?’ and the pilot has mischievously said ‘what ship?’. Should the master now relieve the pilot? And at which point in that manoeuvre, since the pilot did not brief the master adequately, should the master have relieved the pilot?

Pilots need to be taught how to deal with other cultures in a non-intimidating way. If American pilots are going avoid responsibility for their actions then “I am just the pilot & am here in an advisory capacity. Please feel free to bring any error of judgment, helm or engine order, to my notice” should be given verbally and on every pilot’s card. None do so, and, indeed, the San Francisco Bar Pilots card makes it clear that the pilot is in charge.

American pilots should also learn to accept responsibility for their own actions. Until they are liable for those actions, and while they continue to make the master liable for the pilot’s incompetence or inability then no master should trust them.

Jul 242009

John Clandillon-Baker, who edits the UK Pilots Magazine sent us this:

Ref your “Foggy Pilot” article your readers  may be interested in the editorial ( which deals with some of the issue raised) and the feature on piloting in fog that I did for the April issue of the Pilot which can be read at the following links:


The unprecedented jail sentence of John Cota has set an alarming precedent of criminalising a pilot and this is the topic of my editorial and feature for the July issue which I have just finalised. I usually upload content onto the website a few weeks after the print edition has been received by members so will advise you when I post it.

Why Cosco Busan Pilot Got A Stretch

 Accident, contact/allison, oil pollution  Comments Off on Why Cosco Busan Pilot Got A Stretch
Jul 212009

image By now you know that Captain John Cota, who was piloting the Cosco Busan when it hit the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, has been given a ten-month prison stretch. It might be churlish to note that the sentence is somewhat less than the detention in the US of the vessel’s crew members as ‘material witnesses’, none of whom were charged with any wrong doing, so let’s look at the lessons that might be dragged kicking and screaming out of this unfortunate incident.

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Jul 172009

Ship helmsman sentenced to 10 months for oil spill
San Jose Mercury News – San Jose,CA,USA
Cota was the pilot of the 901-foot Cosco Busan when it slammed into the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on the foggy morning of Nov. 7, 2007.

Lifeboat to the aid of nuclear vessel
Campbeltown Courier – Campbeltown,Scotland,UK
CAMPBELTOWN Lifeboat went to the aid of a crewmember on board a nuclear fuel transporter on Saturday morning. The man had been taken ill on board the vessel

Crewman severs fingers in fishing accident
SouthCoastToday.com – New Bedford,MA,USA
The 88-foot fishing vessel Eileen Marie reported the injury to the Coast Guard at 10:46 pm Wednesday, according to a Coast Guard press release.

Fishermen survivors return home to Quang Ngai
Thanh Nien Daily – Ho Chi Minh City,Vietnam
Nine fishermen who survived a collision with an unidentified foreign ship in the central province of Quang Ngai on Wednesday returned onshore Thursday

Fear of oil spill
Times of India – India
KARWAR: The accident of MV Shahin on Friday is similar to the accident of ship — Ocean Seria — that took place three years ago, in the same place. .

Coast Guard: Alcohol not a factor in scalloper grounding
SouthCoastToday.com – New Bedford,MA,USA
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard reported that the vessel’s four crewmen, who were rescued without injury, tested negative for alcohol.

Philippines – MFA – Filipino Seafarer Afflicted with CA-MRSA and A
ISRIA – France
The Consulate General of the Philippines in Hong Kong sadly reports the demise of a 42-year-old Filipino male seafarer from La Union province found to be

Coast Guard warns: Beacon ID mix-up led to wreck of Lady Mary
Press of Atlantic City – Atlantic City,NJ,USA
partly to determine if another vessel collided with the ill-fated scalloper. The cause of the sinking remains unknown. AP contributed to this story.

Korean Anti-Heeling System
TankTech, a marine equipment maker located in Noksan Industrial Complex in Busan, South Korea, announced that it has succeeded in developing ‘Anti-Heeling System’ using two-way propeller pump, after two-year long R&D.

JSMEA discloses more fake cases
The Japanese Marine Equipment Association (JSMEA) has revealed further incidents of counterfeit marine products.

The JSMEA said two members of the association, Yanmar and Daihatsu Diesel, had reached out-of-court settlements after filing civil law suits against compatriot marine equipment manufacturers Marinco and Nikki World Trading.

Both companies are alleged to have counterfeited engine parts and marketed them as the products of Yanmar and Daihatsu.


Modern piracy in consulates
la estrella – Panama
Varela said that they are too many irregularities in the consulates and currently he is assembling together with the Panama Maritime Authority a team that

Under The Radar

Swarm of bees force yacht crew overboard

When insects attack at sea – scary…

Practical Boat Owner, 17 July 2009

Communication, Cosco Busan And Sex With A Duck

 allision, containership, maritime accidents, NTSB, Oakland, oil spill, pilotage  Comments Off on Communication, Cosco Busan And Sex With A Duck
May 092009

What, you might wonder, would bring together the NTSB, the IMO, the contact of  the Cosco Busan with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and a senior loan officer at a bank in Spokane, Washington, having sexual relations with a Mallard duck?

The NTSB has just released the full report of the Cosco Busan incident and among the issues is that of communications, problems of which are involved in about one in five maritime incidents.

That’s why it is good practice to confirm that information has been understood and that its importance is appreciated.

On the Cosco Busan the voyage data recorder recorded the following conversation between the Pilot and the Master:

Pilot:  “What are these… ah… red [unintelligible]?”
The master responded, “This is on bridge.”

The pilot then said to the master, “I couldn’t figure out what the red light… red… red triangle was.”

The Pilot took this to mean that the red triangles marked the centre of the span when, in fact they indicated the buoys marking the bridge support which the ship later hit. The Master did not realise the importance of the question.

Later, as things unravelled:

Pilot: [unintelligible] you said this was the center of the bridge.
Master: Yes.
Pilot: No, this is the center. That’s the tower. This is the tower. That’s why we hit it. I thought that was the center.
Master: It’s a buoy. [unintelligible] the chart.
Pilot: Yeah, see. No, this is the tower. I asked you if that was [unintelligible]. . . .
Captain, you said it was the center.
Master: Cen… cen… cen… center.
Pilot: Yeah, that’s the bridge pier [expletive]. I thought it was the center.

Says the NTSB report “Shortly after this conversation, the master can be heard saying, in Mandarin, “He should have known—this is the center of the bridge, not the center of the channel.”

In many Asian cultures ‘yes’ does not necessarily mean an affirmative, oner can pick from a range of meanings that would not naturally occur to a Westerner.

(The curiosities and confusion of language are touched upon in Bob Couttie’s new, lighthearted book, Chew The Bones, which you can buy from Amazon and the proceed of which will help support MAC)

In a recommendation letter to US Coast Guard commander Thad Allen the NTSB wrote: “The Safety Board therefore recommends that the Coast Guard propose to the IMO that it include a segment on cultural and language differences and their possible influence on mariner performance in its bridge resource management curricula.”

It’s tempting to think that closely allied languages like English and American present less opportunity for confusion, but you would be wrong. Take this example from Snopes’ wonderful Urban Legend site:

“Armstrong proceeded to shag ducks…”

You can read the rest of the story here. While mallards are known to have a somewhat ‘out there’ sex life, sex acts between humans and 10 days old ducklings are further out than most would want to go.

Apparently ‘to shag’ in American means to catch baseballs, to us Brits it has a rather different connotation.

The lesson is clear: communication is transmitting information, receiving information and understanding information. It’s vital to double each each part of that process, that the communication is understood and verified.

Otherwise, you could end up being shagged by lawyers, and not like a duck.

Cosco Busan Update

 accident reporting, allision, bridge, containership  Comments Off on Cosco Busan Update
Sep 202008

Our good feiwend John Konrad of the great gCaptain site sent us the following email. It’s certainly worth clicking the clicks:

It’s been a few months since I sent those interested in the Cosco Busan an email. My apologies, the incident in New Orleans has been time consuming. As you might have seen on our blog, we recently had the privilege to reprint an article Paul Drouin wrote for Seaways magazine. (LINK: http://gcaptain.com/maritime/blog/pilotage-paradox/ )

Our friend Professor Kurt Schwehr helped us with some of the initial AIS analysis and has compiled the radar images of the incident on his blog. Take a look:  http://schwehr.org/blog/archives/2008-09.html#e2008-09-19T10_39_48.txt

Meanwhile, John Upton of the San Francisco Examiner give us an update on the Cosco Busan detainees here:


John is the only journalist - indeed the only person in 'liberal' San Francisco, taking an interest in the situation regarding the Cosco Busan detainees, who haven't been charged but are being held as 'material witnesses' contrary to the IMO's upcoming code of conduct and internationally recognised fair treatment of seafarers.

Maybe the detainees have reason to wonder why 'freedom fries' are so called.

Cosco Busan Trial, Testing The Waters?

 accident reporting, containership, oil spill, Pollution  Comments Off on Cosco Busan Trial, Testing The Waters?
Aug 042008

Hear the pitter-patter of running feet? Could be ship managers running to their lawyer’s office, or ambulance-chasing lawyers running after ship managers, following the indictment of Hong Kong-based Fleet Management by the US Department of Justice. It’s a case that could have far-reaching implications on the industry, as BIMCO’s Watchkeeper has observed.

At this moment, at least outside the more voracious media, Fleet Management, like Captain John Cota who conned the containership Cosco Busan when it made contact with the San Francisco-Oakland bridge, is innocent unless the trial, which starts on 17th November, decides otherwise.

Says the DOJ: “Fleet Management, the company responsible for operating the Cosco Busan, was charged today with six felony counts for making false statements and obstruction of justice. According to the indictment, Fleet Management, acting through senior ship officers and shore-based supervisory officials, concealed and covered-up documents with an intent to impede, obstruct and influence the investigation of the spill. The falsified documents include a fictitious passage plan for Nov. 7, 2007, the day of the crash, as well as two prior voyages made after Fleet assumed management of the vessel in October 2007. Fleet’s safety procedures, required by US law, mandated berth-to-berth passage plans for each voyage. However, according to the indictment, Fleet created falsified plans after the crash and concealed and covered up the real ship records.”

At time of writing, the ship’s officers themselves have not be charged, although six of them remain in detention in Los Angeles, where they have been since the incident last November as ‘material witnesses’.

It would be improper to comment on this specific case until after the trial but the allegations seem to be a breach in the wall of that established legal principle by which the Master takes the fall, prehaps a recognition that, in the 21st century, the concept of the master being the sole authority holds less and less water.

In the days before radio, satellite communications and the internet there was no reasonable alternative to the principle of “Master only under God”. A master could not refer decisions upwards to management. Today, management is aboard ship electronically, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the master has about the same authority as a truck driver whilst holding far greater responsibility.

The trial of John Cota and Fleet Management will deserve close coverage. Under the microscope, it seems, will be the relationship between pilot and master and the relatiuonship between master and company management. Buy your tickets early.