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A glimpse at pilot error from a different perspective.

When a vessel with a pilot on board is involved in an accident, the usual practice is that the pilot leaves the vessel as soon as possible, often being replaced by a new pilot. Hence, examination or questioning is avoided. The pilot is “the shipowner’s servant”, and faults or errors made by the pilot are generally covered by the shipowner’s insurance policies. Only in major casualties can one expect that the pilot will be forced to give evidence and to be cross-examined. In these cases, the normal procedure is for the pilot to demand a written letter of indemnity from the shipowner prior to any hearing.

One should therefore believe that pilots involved in casualties do not get any reproach as a consequence of their faults. However, some (or perhaps most) pilots’ associations have their own internal investigations following a casualty, although very seldom is one made aware of sanctions imposed. In a particular recent collision case, Gard received a copy of the relevant pilots’ association’s investigation, which proved that some pilots in fact are properly sanctioned. In the case in question, the pilots’ association’s investigation concluded that the pilot was responsible for:
– wrong understanding of the distance between his vessel and the moored vessel with which it eventually collided;
– his approach was too fast;
– the timing of turning was wrong;
– other waiting vessels made him over-hasty in his operations.

Due to the above, the pilot was suspended from business for 21 days. He was degraded to a lower rank for three months, including a salary cut of USD 1,000 per month for the same period. In addition, he was forced to take navigational simulator training at his own expense.

Notwithstanding, the damage to the vessels had to be covered by the shipowner’s insurers.

Gard News 186, May/July 2007

Any comments to this article can be e-mailed to the Gard News Editor.

Gard News is published quarterly by Gard AS, Arendal, Norway.