Pilot problems

WELL may the Queensland government allocate $A80 million to protecting the Great Barrier Reef and waterways, for there is a skills shortage problem looming there. Supply Side by Noel Dyson
Pilot problems Pilot problems Pilot problems Pilot problems Pilot problems

The Great Barrier Reef.

Noel Dyson

The natural wonder of the world is going to come under increasing pressure as a number of coal and LNG operations start to crank up.

One of the big problems facing the industry is a potential lack of marine pilots to guide ships on their way.

Pilots are required at most ports around Australia for all but a few ships – mainly Australian Navy vessels are granted exemptions.

The Great Barrier Reef, though, is a particularly fraught waterway.

Forget about its iconic status. It is also a particularly tricky piece of water to navigate through. Reef pilots are particularly highly skilled as a result.

Herein lies the rub. There is a shortage of marine pilots in Australia anyway. Pressure is being brought to bear on a group that it is not easy to add to.

To highlight the situation facing marine pilots, Supply Side knows of an instance, not too long ago, when a 79-year-old was still climbing pilot ladders.

This individual was more than capable of handling the rigours of the job – indeed he was in better condition than some pilots 30 years his junior.

However, the fact there was still work for him at that age speaks volumes of the skills crisis facing the sector.

A recent Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s review found that under the coastal pilotage regulations, no organisation, including the pilotage provider companies, had clear responsibility for managing safety risks associated with operations.

It also identified systemic safety issues surrounding pilot training, fatigue management, incident reporting, competency assessment and use of coastal vessel traffic services.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the coastal pilotage safety regulator, has already taken and proposed action to address the issues raised by the ATSB review.

It is working with pilots, pilotage providers and the industry to make further improvements to shipping safety in the region.

The AMSA has published standard passage plans for pilotage and required pilotage providers to develop standard operating procedures for tasks undertaken by their contractor pilots.

AMSA began a review of its coastal pilotage regulations on July 1.

While the ATSB has welcomed the AMSA regulation review, it argues that further action is necessary to address the issues.

In particular, it wants AMSA to ensure coastal pilotage regulations specifically assign responsibility for the safe management of pilotage operations to somebody. That could be the pilotage provider, or some other body.

The ATSB has also issued recommendations to the three coastal pilotage providers to take safety action in relation to fatigue management and incident reporting to facilitate AMSA action.

The sad thing is there appears to be no immediate solution to this problem.

Marine pilots are master mariners from the merchant navy.

There is no Australian flag carrier of the old Australian National Line to draw these master mariner candidates from.

The Australian Navy is no real solution either because while the commanders of Australia’s warships usually have the ship handling skills, they often lack the training in shiploading techniques.

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