Tuesday 17th Jul, 2018

SPECIAL REPORT: Pilotage

Photo: Fremantle Pilots
Photo: Fremantle Pilots

DAILY Cargo News caught up with Fremantle Pilots managing director Stuart Proctor to find out what pilots out west do best

What is unique about pilotage at Fremantle?
Fremantle is a very short pilotage, and we get a large variety of ships. We’re not like a lot of ports like Newcastle where it’s predominantly bulk carriers. Here we get anything from car carriers, containerships, bulk carriers, we also do supply boats, we get offshore construction vessels; we get a huge variety of ship types, and we do a lot of shipping movements as well.

CY O’Connor would turn in his grave at the size of ships we’re bringing into the Inner Harbour now. We regularly bring in ships that are 310 metres long, and we’ve got the Ovation of the Seas, and she’s at 350 metres long.

And then there’s the push for bigger and bigger ships, and the containerships are not only getting bigger, but they’re getting wider. When I first started piloting a 250-metre long ship carrying 2500 containers was a big ship and you had to be a super-duper pilot to do them. Now, we do ships that carry 6500 containers and now they’re looking at going up to 8500 containers.

How does Fremantle Pilots work as a company?
Here in Fremantle, we’re independent and we contract to the Fremantle Port Authority as a subcontractor; the port has the licence to pilot and they subcontract the licence to our company. All the pilots here are shareholders in the company so all the pilots have a vested interest in the company.

We also have relief contracts for the ports of Albany and Bunbury – they choose to, rather than have too many pilots, sub-contract the relief piloting to us.

Are there any advantages to independently owned company compared with state-ownership?
The main advantage is that all the pilots have a vested interest in doing their best for the company. Also, pilots manage the pilots.

Pilots are independent people, so pilots are best managed by pilots. Pilots respond well to being managed by a fellow pilot.

Do you have any issues recruiting qualified pilots for vacancies?
At the minute there are enough master mariners around the coast to fill pilot positions. However, the challenge will come in about five or 10 years’ time. There’s nobody coming through the pipe because there aren’t many Australian ships in the merchant fleet now.

The challenge is that there’s not the throughput from the trainees and cadets at the bottom.

How do you think training can help mitigate this issue?
There is an idea to provide an alternative pathway for people with lower tickets to become pilots, and this is something AMPI and other bodies are working to promote.

There are quite a lot of people around the coast with lower tickets, like Master 3 and 4. There needs to be a pathway for these guys to work their way through to whatever the desired qualification is.

What are your thoughts on training pilots ab initio?
Being a pilot is not just about parking a boat.

Yes, you could probably train somebody from scratch to park a boat, but I’m of the opinion that there’s more to piloting than just the manoeuvre itself, it’s how you interact with the ship’s crew and the master to bring them into port.

You go on and the master hands over the keys to his ship and you’re there to reassure him. He’s got his own issues with crew and mechanical issues. If you’d not been in the senior ranks on a ship, you probably wouldn’t understand what he’s going through. Sometimes there’s issues on the ship, and you know that something’s not right, whereas if you’ve never been in that position, I don’t think you could do it.

Another problem with this is that there’s a high attrition rate for pilots. I’ve been a pilot in five ports, and I’ve seen upwards of 100 trainees in my piloting career. I’ve seen masters with lots of ferry handling experience and they couldn’t handle getting on a different ship every day; they were used to having their own ship.

We get on a different ship every day. It could be a 100,000-tonne bulk carrier, the next day it could be a small, 100m long little tanker. There are lots of variables, and it’s not suited to everybody. There are people who think they can become pilots, and they just can’t do it.

From the print edition November 30, 2017

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