The safety of pilot boarding and disembarkation is a major headache for the shipping industry. Every year, many pilots are injured or died due to old (worn-out) or improperly rigged pilot ladder facilities, and/or the process of placing the pilot ladder results in injuries to the crew, notes Capt.Zhao Qingwei, Marine Safety Manager at DASIN SHIPPING PTE LTD.
lthough the IMO provides relevant rules, and the Tokyo and Paris memorandum in 2016 also conducted a PSC CIC on the pilot transfer arrangements, the pilot ladder-related accidents still continue to occur.
The following are recent pilot ladder accidents:
- In August 2021, AMSA received notification of the death of a crewmember who fell into the water while climbing down the pilot ladder of a bulk carrier to board a crew transfer boat.
- In December 2021, a surveyor in port of Pyra, Bangladesh accidentally fell into the water courtesy of slippery steps whilst climbing down pilot ladder and later drowned.
Warning on pilot, personal injury claims
If pilot or others are injured or killed due to problems with pilot ladders, the claim amount will be high.
According to the International Bar Association, a South Korean district court recently issued a ruling on a bodily injury accident where a marine pilot fell from a pilot ladder, shortly after completing his pilotage service aboard the ship. The accident rendered him unfit for pilot services for several months. The pilot sued the ship owners, citing breach of safety measure requirements of the ship owners, the captain, and/or the crew. The claim sought amounted to approximately US$120,000 for his lost income and medical bills, and US$10,000 for emotional damages incurred by the accident.
Loss Prevention Advice: How to prevent fatal accidents from falling off ladders
Transfers using pilot ladder are considered as high risk activities. A risk assessment for safe transfer of people by pilot ladder, or other means, should be part of the vessel’s safety management system and must comply with international standards (SOLAS V/23), be certified, and properly maintained. When considering the risk of use of a pilot ladder for transfer, as a minimum, attention should be given to the following items:
- Pilot ladders are mentioned in the Cargo Ship Safety Equipment Certificate, and the company has also included the inspection and maintenance of these facilities into the PMS. According to the requirements of the Convention, ladders should be inspected before each use, the problems found should be corrected immediately and the use of worn-out ladders should be forbidden. In addition, if the ladder is too dirty after unloading, it should be cleaned to ensure that the ladder is clean and free from oil stains.
- Although ISO 799 requires that the service period of the pilot ladder should not exceed 30 months, some Australian ports have explicitly required that the pilot ladder must be replaced after 2 years , It is recommended stricter standards to be implemented on board.
- Each time after receiving a new pilot ladder, the chief officer must keep the product certificate (the relevant information should be consistent with the nameplate on the ladder) and record the date of supply.
- The duty officer should confirm that the crew is placing the pilot ladder in strict accordance with the requirements of IMO A.1045
- Combination ladders are rigged only when the freeboard is greater than 9 meters, the lower platform needs to be at least 5 meters above the sea, and the pilot ladder should extend at least 2 meters above the lower platform. Three magnets must be placed, and the two magnets securing the side rope are 1.5 meters above the lower platform. The handrail of the combination ladder should have a pin and the man rope should be in good condition.
- If the pilot station has a request that does not comply with the rules, the captain must first refuse, and can under protest to implement the mandatory orders of the pilot station, and make a record in LOGBOOK.
- The retrieval line, when used, should be above the lowest spreader, leading forward.
- It is also not recommended to secure the pilot ladder on deck with steel bar/spreader/D-shackle. It is better to secure the ladder is the use of two strong manila ropes directly attached to each side rope of the pilot ladder via a rolling hitch knot. The handrails on the deck must be secured with safety pins.
The responsible officer wearing lifejacket must bring vhf to welcome pilot. The heaving line and lifebuoy with self-igniting light is mandatory at the location of the pilot embarkation point. Two man-ropes should be properly secured to the ship if required by the pilot;
- The placing of the pilot ladder involves work at height and outboard operations and is subject to the appropriate work permit system.
- The process of piloting on and off the ship is also very dangerous. The duty officer should bring vhf and keep close communication with the bridge, and the captain should try to maneuver the ship according to the pilot requirements to make a lee.
- If the pilot falls overboard and dies during the ladder climbing process, the ship will be investigated by all parties and may end up with P&I Club bearing the related losses; however, the loss of human life brings damage to the family that no amount of money can make up for.
These days, every shipmaster has into consideration a plethora of Acts, Statutory Instruments, Rules, Orders, Regulations and Codes of Practice. Even the best-informed master will find it difficult to keep pace with the sheer volume of major and subordinate legislation. Henceforth, Capt.Zhaoqingwei recommends stricter standards to be implemented on board ensuring the safety of the pilot boarding, compiled for shipowners, operators, masters, and crew members.
The views presented are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.