Tuesday 20th Nov, 2018

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Competition brings pilotage benefits

Photo: Ports of Auckland
Photo: Ports of Auckland


I refer to the opinion piece, “Competition can’t come at the cost of standards”.

No-one disputes that Port Phillip Sea Pilots has provided “a world class pilot service” for many years but this should not preclude other service providers from entering the market.

Torres Pilots (TP) has for many years provided marine pilots within the Great Barrier Reef in a competitive environment. We would challenge any port pilot service to match our pilots’ safety record, safety management systems and infrastructure in some of the most remote and hostile (tropical / cyclone zone) conditions encountered in Australia.

TP pilots are justifiably proud of their safety record and would welcome comparison of our service safety record basis ship or miles piloted without incident. Unfortunately a lack of transparency and accountability pervades most Australian port pilotage monopolies at many levels.

Mention is made of the nine-year-old Atlantic Blue incident but it is impossible to compare this incident with many similar incidents occurring in ports with licenced port pilots on board.

Investigative reports into port pilot incident are frequently swept under the carpet without being publicly released. This is due to a conflict of interest inherent in most state government-administered and regulated pilotage regimes. The investigative body is the same state government body as that responsible for setting pilot safety standards and issuing pilot licences.

If the investigative body were to make adverse findings and publish a report indicating systemic issues with the pilotage regime, training or other safety issues, it would be condemning its own safety administration. Consequently the reports are infrequently released for public examination.

There are conflicts of interest between commercial and safety issues in Queensland where the responsible State regulatory body, MSQ

  • determines pilot safety standards;
  • determines pilotage fees;
  • sets pilot training and PDC requirements;
  • issues pilot and pilotage provider licences; and
  • investigates incidents.

Clearly there is a conflict between the government’s administration of safety and commercial interests in fee setting, the ability to tax ship operators with excessive port pilotage fees or use revenues to cross-subsidise lower volume high cost ports as occurs here in Queensland.

Understandably ship operators with vessels loading coal or LNG at Gladstone object most strongly to contributing vast (unquantified) amounts to state coffers and subsidising vessels loading cattle at a remote port such as Karumba; again lack of transparency is an issue.


In the Port of the Brisbane the Queensland government negotiates with the incumbent pilot-owned monopoly service provider for the terms of contract renewals. The contract is incontestable by other service providers and there is no transparency of commercial terms for the users, the ship operators.

These conflicts of interest do not exist in the GBR. Fees are set by the market. All serious incidents involving vessels in the GBR are investigated by the independent investigative body, the ATSB.

Pilotage is commercial role which is best served by privately owned service providers, and where volumes allow, in a competitive environment. These services should comply with independently set and monitored safety standards.

In the GBR, this role is well performed by AMSA for issuing pilotage provider and pilot licences, for monitoring and auditing compliance with safety standards (Marine Order 54) of both pilotage services providers and pilots.

Airlines and aviation operators have long been able to provide reliable services in a highly competitive market while at the same time maintaining the highest safety standards.

IMPA, AMPI and the other proponents of pilot monopolies have never explained how brain surgeons and other highly trained professionals handling life and death issues on a daily basis can responsibly operate to the highest standards in a competitive environment whereas marine pilots cannot.

My congratulations go to Mr Rabie who has managed to establish the green shoots of a service offering a best practice pilot solutions for Melbourne. I am convinced after having visited his organisation and spoken to his people that his success is assured. Well done Steve, a remarkable achievement!

Perry Sutton
Torres Pilots


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