THE Australian Maritime Officers Union has voiced concerns about the process that led to Maritime Safety Queensland awarding the 10-year contract for pilotage services in Brisbane from 2022 to Poseidon Sea Pilots. For the past 30 years pilotage has been provided by Brisbane Marine Pilots.

This week, PSP announced it would be ready to begin pilotage operations a month ahead of time, on 1 December.

A statement from the AMOU pointed out that BMP’s 38 pilots, none of whom have joined PSP, have a combined 500 years of pilotage experience in Brisbane and about 850 years of combined pilotage experience in total.

AMOU executive officer Mark Davis said, “In dumping BMP and deciding to install a new pilot provider, MSQ must think that this [experience] counts for little. None of the BMP pilots was prepared to work for the new company, which should have had currently licensed Brisbane Pilots to train them on the water and check them off as competent. MSQ therefore had to change the rules to get the new pilots licensed by replacing time training to pilot on the water with time in the simulator.”

The Smartship issue

The AMOU said another conflict of interest is that the QLD government’s Department of Transport and Main Roads owns and manages Smartship Australia, the simulator provider, that if the changed training environment provides for less water and more simulator time up and down the coast, stands to gain a lot of revenue from the MSQ decision to install a new Brisbane pilotage provider.

Mr Davis said MSQ has had its wings clipped as a regulator. He called into question MSQ’s ability to be an independent regulator of a pilotage provider it chose and then changed the rules so it could become operational.

“There is no separation of powers,” Mr Davis said.

“This conflict of interest for the pilotage service in the Port of Brisbane has wider ramifications as the diluted training and licensing regime to facilitate the new Brisbane provider sends the signal of what is now acceptable for other Queensland ports all the way up the coast.”

Consultation process

The AMOU said the weakening of training and licensing criteria is an obvious consequence of the appointment of a new Brisbane pilotage provider. The union has been writing to the QLD transport minister and MSQ expressing its concerns since February 2021 and wishing, unsuccessfully so far, to be involved in the consultation process.

MSQ came up with the idea of the Pilotage Regulatory Change Advisory Panel which allows MSQ to consult whoever it wants to consult and assess the validity of any proposed regulatory changes.

In the PRCAP Terms of Reference: “This assessment includes consideration of the use of subject matter experts to ensure safety rigour is maintained when MSQ is progressing new or changed processes that impact risk controls that is has in place. An example of this would be the introduction of the use of simulators as a replacement and enhancement for part of current on-water training requirements for pilots.”

The AMOU said this is exactly the kind of issue it would expect to be consulted upon.

These terms of reference further specify that: “Provision of advice should be clear and concise and frank and fearless. To facilitate this, advice is provided by panel members on a confidential basis.”

The AMOU response to this was to the effect that experts should not be protected by confidentiality and should not be afraid of scrutiny.

The union said this request to be consulted has “fallen on deaf ears”, even though the AMOU is the only union representing marine pilots in Australia.

Mr Davis said, “Apparently PRCAP has been shunted into 2022, after the new pilotage service has commenced operating. We were never consulted on any regulatory changes in any way, and I doubt we ever will be, as MSQ knows our interests are in maintaining the highest safety and regulatory standards.”