THE AUSTRALIAN Transport Safety Bureau on Friday published an occurrence brief on a pilot ladder incident that happened on 24 May at Christmas Island.

According to the brief, a pilot ladder on a 117-metre general cargo vessel that arrived at Christmas Island from Indonesia broke while the mooring master was climbing aboard.

They were about halfway up the ladder, about four metres above the waterline, when both ropes of the ladder broke at the ship’s main deck level and the mooring master fell into the water.

The brief said the mooring master’s lifejacket inflated automatically and the pilot vessel recovered them, with minor injuries.

The pilot, who was already onboard, cancelled the ship’s berthing, disembarked and reported the incident to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which conducted a port-state control inspection. The authority then initiated regulatory action against the ship owner and master, according to the brief.

“The harbour pilot advised the ATSB that an internal investigation into the incident had been undertaken and, as an interim measure, all ships are required to declare the actual age of the pilot ladder (certificate date) instead of the previous practice of the master declaring the ladder was in ‘first class condition’,” the ATSB wrote in its brief.

“In addition, the Christmas Island Port Information Guide for Ship’s Masters has been amended to highlight the compliance requirements of Marine Orders and SOLAS. Further, local requirements added to the guide require, in part, that ships calling at the Port of Christmas Island must not use pilot ladders beyond 30 months from the date received on board unless they have been strength tested as per ISO 799-1.”

The ATSB said the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea sets out the minimum requirement for boarding arrangements and requires pilot ladders to be regularly inspected and be certified by the manufacturer as compliant with the SOLAS regulations. These were also cited in ISO standards about pilot transfer ladders.

Additionally, after this incident, AMSA issued Marine Notice 04/2023, which sets out detailed guidance on pilot-transfer arrangements.

The ATSB said incident briefs “provide an opportunity to share safety messages in the absence of an investigation”.