Pilots with local knowledge have been employed on board ships for centuries to guide vessels into or out of port safely - or wherever navigation may be considered hazardous, particularly when a shipmaster is unfamiliar with the area.
In addition to local knowledge and expertise, pilots are able to provide effective communication with the shore and with tugs, often in the local language.
Qualified pilots are usually employed by the local port or maritime administration and provide their services to ships for a fee, calculated in relation to the ship's tonnage, draught or other criteria.
The importance of employing qualified pilots in approaches to ports and other areas where specialized local knowledge is required was formally recognized by IMO in 1968, when the Organization adopted Assembly resolution A.159(ES.IV) Recommendation on Pilotage. The resolution recommends Governments organize pilotage services where they would be likely to prove more effective than other measures and to define the ships and classes of ships for which employment of a pilot would be mandatory.
One of the problems encountered by pilots is that of getting on board the ship - particularly when the weather is bad or the ship is very large. Requirements to make this easier are contained in Chapter V of the SOLAS Convention, and have also formed the subject of IMO resolutions covering performance standards for mechanical pilot hoists (A.275(VIII); arrangements for embarking and disembarking pilots in very large ships (A.426(XI); and pilot transfer arrangements (A.667(16)). IMO has also adopted Recommendation on pilot transfer arrangements (resolution A.1045(27)) and approved Required Boarding Arrangement for Pilots (MSC.1/Circ.1428).
Pilot training and certification
The IMO Assembly in 2003 adopted resolution A.960(23) Recommendations on training and certification and operational procedures for maritime pilots other than deep-sea pilots, which includes Recommendation on Training and Certification of Maritime Pilots other than Deep sea Pilots and Recommendation on Operational Procedures for Maritime Pilots other than Deep sea Pilots.
IMO Resolutions encouraging the use of pilots on board ships in certain areas:
- Resolution A.480(IX) (adopted in 1975) recommends the use of qualified deep-sea pilots in the Baltic and Resolution A.620(15) (adopted 1987) recommends that ships with a draught of 13 metres or more should use the pilotage services established by Coastal States in the entrances to the Baltic Sea
- A.486(XII) (adopted 1981) recommends the use of deep-sea pilots in the North Sea, English Channel and Skagerrak
- A.579(14) (adopted 1985) recommends that certain oil tankers, all chemical carriers and gas carriers and ships carrying radioactive material using the Sound (which separates Sweden and Denmark) should use pilotage services
- A.668(16) (adopted 1989) recommends the use of pilotage services in the Euro-Channel and IJ-Channel (in the Netherlands)
- A.710(17) (adopted 1991) recommends ships of over 70 metres in length and all loaded oil tankers, chemical tankers or liquefied gas carriers, irrespective of size, in the area of the Torres Strait and Great North East Channel, off Australia, to use pilotage services
- A.827(19) (adopted 1995) on Ships' Routeing includes in Annex 2 Rules and Recommendations on Navigation through the Strait of Istanbul, the Strait of Canakkale and the Marmara Sea the recommendation that "Masters of vessels passing through the Straits are strongly recommended to avail themselves of the services of a qualified pilot in order to comply with the requirements of safe navigation."
Pilotage in Torres Strait
At its 79th session in December 2004, the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) agreed that Australia and Papua New Guinea's proposal to extend the associated protective measure of a system of pilotage within the Great Barrier Reef to the Torres Strait should be adopted. The associated protective measure linked to the designation of the Torres Strait as an extension to the Great Barrier Reef PSSA recommends that Governments inform ships flying their flag that they should act in accordance with Australia's system of pilotage for merchant ships 70 m in length and over or oil tankers, chemical tankers and gas carriers, irrespective of size, when navigating the inner route of the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait. Resolution MEPC.133(53) - Designation of the Torres Strait as an extension of the Great Great Barrier Reef Particularly Sensitive Sea Area was adopted in July 2005.
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International Maritime Pilots' Association (IMPA)
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