Maritime pilotage is the core profession within UK ports and coastal waters ensuring the 24/7/365 safety and efficiency of shipping movements. 95% of UK trade is done by sea transport through UK ports, with UK Maritime Pilots responsible for the conduct of navigation of the majority of vessels within local port areas as per the port’s regulations.

The quick thinking, decisions and actions of the Southampton port pilot on board HOEGH OSAKA with the ship’s Captain and his bridge team resulted not only in the prevention of a major catastrophic event for the ship but most importantly, saving the lives of the 25 crew members. The decision also ensured the continuing unimpeded operation of one of the UK’s major ports and protected the local marine environment from potential significant pollution had the fuel tanks been inundated.

The pilot having grounded the ship intentionally on the Bramble Bank to prevent further deterioration of the ship’s life threatening list, maintained his role of having conduct of the ship and then played a major part in the coordination of the crew’s rescue by the emergency services. Having stayed on board accompanying the master and a senior ship’s officer after all others had been evacuated, further movement of the ship was detected and the pilot subsequently instructed the remaining three to be evacuated by helicopter.

All this was possible as a result of the extensive high quality training that UK maritime pilots are required to undertake coupled with significant local knowledge and experience gained through years of professional practice. Not only in ship handling but in all the other complex aspects of ship operations directly and indirectly related to manoeuvring, navigation and cargo transport.

“The sound of safety is silence” yet in some quarters of the UK ports industry there is a misconception that because everything is going right then there must be no need to operate pilotage services at such high levels of expertise and training. This conveniently overlooks that it is exactly because of the significant investment in pilotage operations that on a day to day basis UK pilots safely conduct thousands of ship movements without high profile incident, dealing with the complexities as they arrive.

The manner in which the Hoegh Osaka situation as it evolved was handled by her pilot is testament to the rewards that are inevitably reaped from proper investment in the training and operation of port pilotage services and the professionalism and dedication of UK pilots.