AURIGA is increasing its marine pilot operations, in addition to its helicopter and pilot cutter operations in far north Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria. 

The company said it is increasing its Mackay-based pilot and helicopter operations to support operations through Hydrographers Passage. This is the main channel through the Great Barrier Reef to access the coal terminals at Dalrymple Bay and Hay Point. 

This increased capability will include deployment of more licensed marine pilots and the introduction of a long-range, twin-engine Bell 429 helicopter. 

Auriga told DCN it engaged the services from multiple independent private companies for its expanded service offering in Hydrographers Passage. 

Auriga Group managing director Trent Londsdale said the company’s employment model has attracted skilled staff from elsewhere in the industry, “including many whose piece rate earnings have been significantly reduced during the pandemic”. 

“We also recognise the need to train the next generation of professional master mariners, to accommodate retirements of senior employees in coming years and to support continued growth in shipping operations, and in January this year we awarded two cadetships to internal staff to commence their long journeys to becoming master mariners. More will follow,” Mr Londsdale said. 

“The expansion we plan will enable us to reliably support increased shipping operations in Australia, while providing guaranteed employment conditions for highly skilled and trained marine pilots, who want to work within a supportive workplace with a collaborative culture built on mutual respect.” 

Auriga is also preparing to launch two new marine pilot vessels to help support its shipping activity, one for deployment in north-west Australia and the other in Melbourne. 

The first of the new vessels, the 17.3-metre PV Griffiths, was built by Hart Marine in Melbourne. It will be in service by the end of May to support the company’s Melbourne operations.  

And, the second, PV Wanbangu, is a 19-metre Australian-designed vessel that was built offshore. It is due into Australia in mid-May. 

In addition to upgrading pilot vessels and helicopters, Auriga is working on the continual improvement in operational safety by advancing safety systems and investing in continuous professional development for staff. 

The company’s port pilotage operations in Melbourne and Dampier have recently been accredited with the International Standard for Maritime Pilot Organisations (ISPO) accreditation. 

Auriga is also investing in new technology to improve its safe operating capabilities, and recently secured regulatory approval for its helicopter pilots in Western Australia to use night vision goggles while conducting marine pilot transfer flights in darkness. 

Additionally, in line with the growth of its national operations, Auriga is engaging with shipping clients to provide more cost-effective national arrangements for post-COVID pilotage services, particularly for those operators calling at multiple ports. 

Mr Lonsdale said it was vital for shipping lines, and for Australia’s import and export industries, that sufficient and high-quality marine pilotage capacity be available as global freight and bulk shipping markets emerge from the COVID recession. 

“As economic conditions improve and trade increases, shipping companies and traders need to know that there is sufficient marine pilot support for international trading ships operating to and from Australia’s ports. We are meeting that need nationally in all of our operating regions,” he said.

“In order to ensure continuity of service, and mission-critical support for Australia’s key shipping requirements, we have always recognised the need to maintain a stable and permanent workforce, which we have done by delivering sustainable employment conditions throughout the global pandemic.”