Maritime pilots’ safety at risk, poses threat to shipping industry

The rising number of incidents affecting the safety of maritime pilots has become alarming and poses a threat to shipping industry, said Maritime Pilots Malaysia (MPM).

MPM president and chairman Capt Martin Lim CM told The Malaysian Reserve that continuous engagement between relevant authorities — including Marine Department of Malaysia (Marine Dept), Port State Control Unit (PSCU), as well as shipping companies — is vital to minimise any untoward incidents.

“Recently, there was a case where pilots fell into the raging sea from a 10-m height due to equipment failure,” he said, adding that such accidents are avoidable if frequent inspection had been carried out by the responsible parties.

“It has been a routine task by the PSCU to conduct frequent inspections on ships that call on Malaysian ports. Ships that do not comply with all the international rules and safety requirements can be arrested or detained until all non-compliances are rectified,” he noted.

Lim pointed out that within a consecutive period of six months this year, three maritime pilots were affected in three separate incidents that occurred in the Penang, Port Klang and Bintulu harbours, respectively.

The unfortunate individuals had suffered injuries while boarding or disembarking from the ships which they piloted.

As a result, MPM called for the tightening of safety measures involving the personal safety of pilots in the course of their routine task, piloting ships in and out of Malaysian harbours.

“We are engaging with the Marine Dept, PSCU and (other) related authorities. The Marine Dept responded to the incident swiftly and agreed to conduct random safety inspections. They (Marine Dept) have also deployed the PSCU team onboard to apprehend the respective ships — and a full investigation was conducted.”

According to MPM, it is a requirement for all ships’ masters whose ships trade and ply into Malaysian waterways, to engage a pilot who would instruct on navigation and conduct the berthing and unberthing process in the harbour.

This was made compulsory to assure navigational safety of the subject ship along the waterways, as well as other ships and watercraft that may be transiting the harbours within Malaysia.

The safety of the harbour and environmental protection was another complementing reason for why the Malaysian government required all ships to engage a pilot.

“However, while the pilots were tasked to discharge their professional duty onboard ships for all the latter demanding reasons, sadly their own personal safety in the process of discharging pilotage task was seriously compromised.

“The negligence of the master and crew of the respective ships were a grave concern to the fraternity of maritime pilots as it seriously threatens the lives and safety of pilots, thus indirectly affecting the shipping industry as maritime pilotage is a crucial and essential maritime supporting service in the country,” Lim said in a statement issued earlier.

Lim reiterated that all ships’ master and crew — including the agent representing ships as well as ship owners, whose ships call on ports in Malaysia — must assert preventive measures immediately to avoid such incidents from repeating.

“All international and local governing rules must be observed at all times, to curb unsafe practices,” he stressed.