Pilot killed in River Humber

Ship’s pilot who died after Humber accident named as details emerge - Hull Live (hulldailymail.co.uk)

When a pilot is climbing up a long pilot ladder it creates an unnecessary danger when the pilot boat remains alongside thrusting against the ladder.

It would be safer if the pilot boat moved away when the pilot starts climbing the ladder, so if the pilot falls off the ladder they land straight in the water and there is no risk of them hitting the boat.

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Not only an unnecessary danger but a flawed practice. It should be written into the SOP’s. There should be a deckhand accompanying the Pilot on the foredeck watching his every move be it ascending or descending. Nor should individuals be on the ladder with a backpack.
This is how not to do it…….

Every time one of these pilot transfer accidents happens and a pilot loses his life, I’m reminded of how easily it could be avoided. Lowering a harness to the pilot at the end of a line secured to the ships’ deck and having him strap it on prior to stepping off the pilot boat would only add a minute or two to the maneuver and save his life if he slips off the ladder. It seems like a no-brainer, as basic as the wearing of a PFD to prevent drowning. Why is this not standard practice?

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A lot of lessons could be learned from the offshore wind industry and their practices of climbing ladders.

For long ladders the pilots could use a body harness and an inertia reel.

The pilots could provide their own body harness but they would have to pull down the inertia reel from the vessel and clip it onto their harness.

But to do that would require new legislation requiring vessels to have a suitable padeye and inertia reel at their pilot ladder location.

Given that many vessel operators struggle to rig a pilot ladder properly I think they would struggle to rig an inertia reel properly.

Practices could be improved from pilots too, they cut corners to save time such as wearing backpacks climbing the ladder.

Leaving their pilot boat thrusting alongside below the ladder when multiple pilots are taking turns climbing the ladder. As soon as the pilot is 1-2m up the ladder the boat should pull away so that they hit the water and not the boat if they pull off.

Pilots should also wear proper waterproof boat suits when there is cold water. Often they just have an inflatable lifejacket on.

If an older pilot with weaker heart hits cold water and they’re not wearing a boat suit there is a high chance they will have a heart attack.

Quite often a combined cutter/ PFD jacket will not support the fitting of an approved harness as it would compromise the PFD auto inflation. Pneumatic Pilot hoists we’re trialled on some ships although we’re banned in 2012 by SOLAS following some serious incidents. Occasionally, it will be difficult to set up a good lee which limits your exposure time on the foredeck of the cutter.

It gets down to sound operating procedures and appropriate equipment. It is an inherently dangerous and difficult task compounded by open road stead swell affected Pilot Boarding Grounds. To minimise the risk you adopt safe procedures…….if the ladder rigging is not to regulation, you turn the ship around and send it back to sea.

Medical testing of Pilots include upper body strength, grip strength and BMI. Many organisations will have a practice ladder set up ashore for new trainees and individuals returning from injury.

The answer to your queries………land on helicopters.

And what about ships without landing pads?

We land on hatches with a minimum rotor clearance of 20m between cranes or clear hatches as presented on Panamax and cape size vessels. Vessels without hatches or insufficient clearance are serviced by cutter. The service split is about 75/25. Therefore, you have automatically reduced your ladder exposure by 75%. We did it for 15 years……safely.

The only landing pads that we landed on was passenger vessels.

Helicopters are not a good answer in many places due to the weather. . .they’d be out of service more then in. As far as a harness/securing system. it sounds good on paper but many pilots do not want to be dragging along the ship on the end of a line. After all, the harness system is rigged by the same guy(s) who rigged that ladder that failed.

Better attention and communication from the bridge would go a long way.

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This topic merges into other recent discussion on this forum about how the maritime industry is nearly always lagging other industries in safety, procedures, and efficiency.

Other industries have found solutions for men to safety climb ladders and not die in case of a fall. As mentioned, a simple inertial real and harness likely would prevent 75% or more of pilot fatalities. The average handrail is strong enough to use as an anchor point–of course it isn’t ideal, but it’s better than the current alternative (which is nothing).

Of course, if an organization can’t see the benefit moving the pilot boat away from the ship during the climbing evolution, I doubt they will be open to any other new ideas to improve safety. People resist change due to mental laziness and/or just pure stubbornness.

There are other very beneficial facets to land on helicopter transfer.

Thumping your way out in a five metre swell and high winds on an 18 metre cutter for 5nm can be extremely fatiguing and doing that three times in the middle of the night does not set you up well for ladder transfers. All this over a period of 30minutes per transfer.

Conversely, a smooth 10 minute ride in a helicopter where you are not required to set up a lee or deal with an unknown Pilot ladder is a far safer proposition.

We did it in 45 knots of wind and up to 6 metre swells so why is this not adopted in more ports? Simple really………cost.

You didn’t really answer my question. So if they don’t have a landing pad, take the boat. Right?

Most of my port traffic is tankers of varying kinds. Not a lot of landing pads. Some winch platforms but I’m not a huge fan of that idea. Guess I’ll have to stick with the boat.

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Actually, I did answer your question. Read my response again. We land on hatches with minimum clearance parameters and therefore do not service tankers by helicopter.

Right, so you land on ships. You don’t ride the wire down. Therefore tankers are super challenging, and helicopters are not a blanket solution.

Also helicopters crash a bunch. Not typically the pilot ones, but it’s probably bound to happen one day.

I believe my statement of a 75/25 split might indicate that it is not a blanket solution, yet it does remove 75% of ladder transfers so it would be agreeable to state that it is a safer outcome……….and we are all about safety.

In 45,000 helicopter transfers we have had one compressor stall which required the aircraft to auto rotate down to the harbour…….no damage to the aircraft and no injuries. A broken vane in the primary turbine.

As part of our SOP’s every Pilot is required to drill an actual auto rotation down to water level and landing on the water with fixed floats…….on an annual basis.

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I’m all about safety as well. But when 90% of your ship traffic doesn’t allow for a helicopter transfer, it doesn’t really help. Nobody is going to back the expense for a 75/25 split on 10% of the traffic.

I’m glad your chopper is well maintained and they made it down safely. It seems like in the Gulf they just crash.

Your point is valid and the application of helicopter transfers is totally dependant on visiting vessel type. Now in my port, 95% of vessels are bulk carriers with very few container vessels and tankers which affords us the ability to employ helicopters.

Having said that our cutter transfer SOP’s are very good and have been extensively developed over time. We are always clipped on when going on deck, we have excellent auto PFD’s, we send bags up by heaving line, we have an attending deckhand at all times, the boat moves away when the Pilot is on the ladder and more importantly, any concerns with rigging will see the vessel ordered back to sea. MOB drills are undertaken on a weekly basis.

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Is the chopper and the aircraft pilot part of the pilot, err, ship pilot organization? How do you distinguish between chopper pilot and ship pilot, lol?

We had a pilot depart, via ladder, a ship at anchor. A work scow came alongside right after the pilot launch departed for some hold cleaning. A worker from the scow hopped on the ladder and it broke as he was halfway up. He survived but is disabled.
Another instance: a pilot was boarding a ship at anchor on a two pilot job with the first pilot already on deck. As the second pilot was just to the top one side of the ladder lines parted (both lines) and the pilot was left hanging. The ships’s crew did nothing, the first pilot on deck used the heaving line and was able to lasso a spreader bar and heave up enough to allow the second pilot to get on deck.
Another instance: a pilot boarded a ship and the ladder looked so bad he told the captain the ship would not move again from the berth they were going to until the ladder was replaced. The captain said they had a brand new one onboard (yet they were still using the old rotten ladder)!
Pilots can make improvements in boarding procedures however I believe there needs to be action taken on usable life of pilot ladders. I have frequently seen these ladders hauled out of a damp gear locker where they have just sat in a pile, molding since last use. Once a ladder has been damaged or if it exceeds a certain age it should not be allowed in service. This is hard to enforce but, if caught, the penalty to the vessel should be severe. It would seem there would be some permanent way of marking ladders to coincide with age(more than a tiny manufacturer’s tag that may or may not be there)…perhaps requiring the spreader bars to be made of colored plastic with a required color change every few years. At least it would be easy to know the relative age of the ladder prior to boarding.