Eliminating pilotage risk through considered design
Naval Architect: October 2019
At a glance, pilot transfer arrangements appear to be a relatively simple aspect of ship design. Employing a pilot ladder and integrating any necessary transfer equipment won’t affect a ship’s stability, structural strength or mechanical performance. Proper planning and construction can, however, drastically impact the safety of marine pilots.
Yet, according to the International Maritime Pilots’ Association (IMPA) 2018 safety survey “at least one in eight pilot transfer arrangements fail to comply” with SOLAS regulations. Some of these cases of non-compliance make pilot boarding unnecessarily dangerous, while others have resulted in fatal accidents.
SOLAS Chapter V Regulation 23, which came into force in 2012, outlines the requirements surrounding pilot boarding arrangements. Its starting sentence reads: “Ships engaged on voyages in the course of which pilots may be employed shall be provided with pilot transfer arrangements.”
“To the piloting community that [sentence] means if we ever have to go onto a ship, they should be able to provide us with an adequate and safe pilot transfer arrangement,” explains Kevin Vallance, a deep-sea pilot and author of The Pilot Ladder Manual, published by the Witherby Publishing Group. But this seemingly straightforward provision, he says, is too often forgotten about during the ship design phase.
Safe access designs
Pilots can board a vessel either via a pilot ladder, a combination arrangement, embarkation platform or side door. Pilot ladders are continuously regarded by IMPA as the safest method for a pilot to embark or disembark a ship. However, nearly half of all non-compliant defects reported to IMPA are related to pilot ladders. Issues with bulwark or deck make up around 20%, combination arrangements 12.12% and safety equipment 18%.
For a ladder to be safely employed, 6m of horizontal unobstructed access is required within the mid-ship half section to allow the pilot launch to lie safely alongside. Anything positioned too far aft possess a risk to the pilot boat being drawn under the counter. Ladders must also rest firmly against the side of the ship without the interference of any constructional features, such as rubbing bands or belts, which could make the ladder difficult to climb.
IMO Resolution A. 1045(27) – Recommendation on Piot Transfer Arrangements – states that a pilot ladder attached to a winch reel should be secured through pad eyes located at least 915mm from the ship’s side. It does not outline though where or how far the pad eyes should be from the ship’s side when the ladder is not stowed and attached to a winch reel.
“If I was talking to a group of ship designers who asked: ‘What’s the single biggest thing we can do to make things safer?’ I would say put all the pad eyes for securing a pilot ladder 915mm from the ship’s side,” says Vallance. Securing the ladder at least an arm’s length away would ensure that pilots are not vulnerable to grabbing a hold of a section of unsecured rope once they reach the top of the ladder.
Although Vallance makes it clear that there is no overall answer or one transfer arrangement to fit every situation, he does suggest that for safety standards to evolve, ship designers need to consider pilot boarding from the start. And the IMO agrees.
"Ship designers are encouraged to consider all aspects of pilot transfer arrangements at an early stage in design”, reads the first line of IMO Resolution A. 1045(27). Why then does it consistently appear to be ignored? A key part of the issue, Vallance says, is that the rules on pilot transfer arrangements are spread between different sources – some of which are perceived simply as a recommendation rather than legal regulation.
The pilot community is working to change this misconception and raise awareness through its #dangerousladders campaign on social media, which has sparked some necessary conversations within the maritime industry. But naval architects and ship designers haven’t yet caught on to this cry for transformation. “The one group of people who are not communicating or interacting with us is the ship building community,” says Vallance.
“All too often the ship’s crew use the IMPA required boarding arrangements bridge poster as their only point of reference. This poster was intended to be used as a simple guide for the crew, but if the naval architects haven’t complied with the requirements of SOLAS then the crew are placed at a great disadvantage.
“From our point of view, it’s not asking too much to comply with the regulation.”