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David Appleton: welcome progress on pilot ladder safety

8 July 2024

Like enclosed spaces, the rigging of pilot ladders seems to be one of those issues where lives continue to be put at risk by unsafe practices – despite numerous awareness campaigns.

The results of the International Maritime Pilots' Association's (IMPA) 2023 safety campaign showed that non-compliance with existing requirements is widespread, with 16% of pilot transfer arrangements found to be defective. Of these, 50% of reported defects were related to the rigging of pilot ladders.

Research carried out by the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found that, of the 96,000 pilot transfers reported by the UK's Competent Harbour Authorities in 2022, there were over 400 incidents or accidents.

No deaths were reported amongst these incidents; however, in January the following year, Francesco Galia, a pilot with more than 20 years' experience, was killed while transferring from a pilot boat to the Finnlines vessel Finnhawk in the Humber Estuary. The case is still under investigation by the MAIB, with the pilot ladder arrangements being one of the aspects under consideration.

Against this background, Nautilus has welcomed progress made at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) towards improving the safety of pilot transfer arrangements. In June, the IMO Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue completed a comprehensive review of the requirements related to pilot ladders which has resulted in amendments to the international Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

The amendments to SOLAS aim to improve compliance and address inconsistencies and ambiguities in existing regulations. The Sub-Committee also finalised a draft MSC resolution on performance standards for pilot transfer arrangements, including detailed requirements for design, manufacture, construction, rigging, installation of pilot ladder winch reels, operational readiness, onboard inspection and maintenance, familiarisation and approval, in relation to pilot transfer arrangements required under SOLAS regulation V/23.

These amendments were hailed by IMPA as a 'significant step forward for the safety of pilots and other personnel using pilot transfer arrangements' – a sentiment which is shared by Nautilus. However, it should be noted that these new requirements do not enter into force until 2028. Until such time, if unnecessary accidents are to be avoided, it is vital that there continues to be proper compliance with and enforcement of the existing requirements.


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