AMICIE emphasises revisiting the roles and responsibilities of Pilots and Masters

                                                                                                                                                                                    - Sriti Devadiga

It is a given fact that invariably pilotage is compulsory and most accidents occurring during berthing occur with a pilot on the bridge. No berthing guide would be complete without reference to the master-pilot relationship. However, changing times demand a change in the roles of Master and Pilot. Discussing this topic was AMICIE’s webinar on 17th July.

The webinar was attended by over 100 people from across the globe.

The theme of the webinar was introduced by Capt S Pullat, Master Mariner, Founding Chairman, ICS Madras Branch and Founding President AMICIE. His detailed paper was made available to those participants who registered for the webinar.

“Ships have been paying for all the errors or mistakes made by the pilots. This forum aims to discuss how the world has changed and the need to change the systems to match it up. The age-old practice of pilots following master’s order does not hold good anymore. Change is the name of the game. Pilots need to be held responsible rather than holding master responsible for all incidents and accidents,” opined Capt Pullat.

Mr Subhash Kumar, Advisor JN Port Trust opined that the way of functioning today has changed drastically from what it was years ago, but the rules and regulations haven’t changed at all. There was a need to bring changes in rules and regulation to suit the changing time but that never happened.

The master and pilot complement each other’s work and no master can bring the ship on his own and thus pilots are compulsory at ports. A Pilot onboard improves both the safety and efficiency of operation.

A detailed panel discussion took place with Mr Jagmeet Makkar, Arbitrator, Chair - ICS HK, FICS, Director -SkillsPlus, Chair: Maritime & Logistics Arbitration , HKCICA as the moderator and the panellists included Capt Pankaj Kapoor, Maritime Lawyer and Sr. Partner with IndiaLaw Offices LLP; Mr Robert Spearing, Senior Manager Holman Fenwick Willan (HFW), Master Mariner; Capt Sandeep Mehta, President Adani Ports and SEZ; Capt Neel J Nair, Managing Director, Nautex Maritime Pvt Ltd; Capt Hari Subramaniam, Regional Head, - Business Relations - The Shipowners' P&I Club and Mr Vinod Kumar Gupta, Retired Pilot, Arbitrator.

Mr Spearing shared, “The relationship between master and a compulsory pilot is in many ways unique. It is usually defined by custom, practice, and statute rather than contract. While the pilot is generally neither an employee of the ship nor a member of her crew, he is ultimately subordinate to the member of her crew, he is ultimately subordinate to the master, although the degree of subordination is less than popularly perceived. The public and the industry benefit equally from this working arrangement and from the degree of overlapping responsibility that compels both pilot and master to be concerned about a vessel’s safety.”

“Perhaps attitudes must change. Things have come a long way in this industry, but cooperation is still lacking between bridge officers, masters and pilots,” said Capt Subramaniam.

The pilot is responsible to the master solely for the safe navigation of the vessel. The master retains overall responsibility for the safety of the vessel but relies on the pilot’s local knowledge and ability to handle the vessel in a safe and efficient manner. Cooperation between pilot and master is essential.

Capt. Neel Nair made some very good suggestions like it is time for an IMO led “International Code for Port Navigation” and a civil liability convention for port related liabilities and the ports compliance with the code shall be audited, just like the vessel and it’s owners are audited under the ISM code.

Capt. Pankaj Kapoor and Capt. Sandeep Mehta emphasised on training and shared liability. Capt. Kapoor said that the Master should not be held liable every time there is an incident and suggested to implement the recommendations of various International Maritime Bodies related to the Shared Responsibility. Capt. Mehta felt that the time has come for a change with the size of ships becoming bigger and the entire environment being so different as compared to past.

It should be noted that teamwork is as important as technical proficiency for safe navigation. Ineffective communications on the bridge, interrupted procedures, lack of situational awareness, lack of teamwork between pilot and ship officers, etc. have been contributory factors in several similar occurrences in recent years. Misunderstandings can build on each other, destroying mutual support or teamwork, and even leading to conflict. Prior discussion and agreement on the plan and mutual acceptance of duties and responsibilities, however, will usually foster teamwork, jointly opined the panel.

Capt. Rajiv Pradhan represented a group of 50 pilots in his organisation, Ocean Sparkle and touched upon the issues of communication, better team working and working towards the common goal, from the perspective of a practicing pilot and having had an alternating experience of Master – Pilot – Master – Pilot during his career.

Mr Vinod Kumar Gupta, a former pilot and harbour master and a practicing maritime arbitrator opined that as ships enter or leave ports, occasionally accidents will happen despite however much care is taken. In his opinion the allocation of resultant monetary loss is more of matter of public policy regarding allocation of risk rather than of fault finding. From the legal standpoint there are clear distinctions between professional responsibility or accountability, criminal liability on Master or Pilot or both, and civil liability – i.e. the monetary loss occasioned by a shipping casualty. The ship (in rem) and the ship-owner (in personem) is vicariously liable for the fault of the Master and crew as well as the pilot.

He stressed on the need to minimise casualties (and therefore losses) by improving competence in pilotage. He suggested that the “Guidelines” annexed to the IMO resolution on pilotage could be made mandatory by amending the STCW convention and ensuring that the amendments come into force through the tacit acceptance procedures adopted for earlier amendments. Only then the governments will be compelled to introduce legislative and administrative measures and ensure that they are complied with. He opined that licensing of pilots should be de-linked from the service providers and that pilot boarding and disembarking areas should be clearly delineated and complied with. He suggested that a limited liability or penalty maybe levied on the pilotage service provider for failure to ensure that the pilots are adequately trained and rested in accordance with prescribed procedures and on the pilots for negligence in the discharge of their duties.

Capt. Suresh Amirapu was requested by the moderator Mr. Jagmeet Makkar to share his views and give vote of thanks. All ports and canal authorities must have regular safety checks and there is no substitute to this very important aspect, averred he and in his vote of thanks, Capt. Amirapu was very appreciative of the views expressed by the panellists, Capt. Subhash Kumar and Capt. Vinod Gupta.

The webinar concluded with points to ponder on the needs and ways of revisiting roles and responsibilities of Pilots and Masters in today’s time.


(Courtesy: Marex Media)

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