Pilots ensure vessels arrive and anchor s safely
Maritime officials are considering introducing compulsory pilotage for cargo ships leaving Gibraltar following an investigation into a collision earlier this year.
At present ships are only required to use locally-based marine pilots when entering Gibraltar waters. The pilots have close knowledge of navigation conditions here and ensure vessels arrive and anchor safely.
But experts from the Gibraltar Maritime Administration said navigational safety could be further strengthened by making pilots compulsory for departing ships too.
The recommendation came in a report into the collision between the Chinese cargo ship Jinggangshan and the tanker Aeolos, one of several vessels used to store bunker fuel in the Bay of Gibraltar.
The Jinggangshan had taken on fuel and was sailing from Gibraltar waters without a pilot last May when it hit the tanker, which was anchored in the bay.
This was a minor collision by any measure. There were no injuries or pollution and the vessels sustained only slight damage.
But the incident nonetheless highlighted the potential risk and was viewed seriously by maritime officials.
The investigation by the GMS concluded that a navigational error by the captain of the Chinese ship was the most likely cause of the collision.
The report, which was made available on the GMA website earlier this year but never publicised, noted that "... an absence of local knowledge such as tidal flows, and possible swing of anchored vessels about their anchor positions, may have also contributed to the incident."
The GMA report acknowledged that the port's new vessel traffic monitoring system made it possible to monitor shipping closely and alert vessels to possible navigational hazards.
But it added that there was "undoubtedly" a reliance on the navigational skills of individual captains to ensure safe passage out of Gibraltar waters.
"The risk of collisions could be reduced considerably by compulsory pilotage for vessels departing from Gibraltar," the GMA report said.
This is not the first time that the GMA has made such a recommendation.
It gave similar advice, for example, following the investigation into the sinking of the New Flame off Europa Point.
"It's an issue that is still being looked at," said Tony Davis, the Gibraltar Government's Director of Maritime Affairs.
"We have to consider all the possible ramifications."
Many vessels that call at Gibraltar to take on fuel at anchorage already use pilots when they depart.
But any move to make pilotage compulsory could draw criticism.
Industry sources said that although initiatives that strengthen navigational safety were to be welcomed, care had to be taken to ensure that costs did not escalate to the point that Gibraltar became uncompetitive.
Ultimately, any decision on this will be a matter of government policy for Gibraltar's new port minister, Neil Costa, who has this week been briefed on a wide range of maritime matters.
Source: Gibraltar Chronicle