After fatal fall, pilots urge new scrutiny of ladder arrangements
Professional Mariner|May 2020
After fatal fall, pilots urge new scrutiny of ladder arrangements
A fatal accident in December in New York Harbor underscores the safety risks maritime pilots face when boarding vessels.
Sam Bojarski

The Dec. 30 accident that claimed the life of Sandy Hook pilot Capt. Dennis Sherwood prompted the International Maritime Pilots’ Association (IMPA) to address the International Maritime Organization (IMO), highlighting the dangers of a particular pilot ladder arrangement called the trapdoor. Pilots from other organizations also have called for enhanced pilot safety measures from the IMO and member states, particularly in regard to the trapdoor arrangement like the one on Maersk Kensington, the containership from which Sherwood fell.

Trapdoor arrangements require a pilot to ascend a ladder to a platform, then climb to the deck via a separate accommodation ladder. The pilot ladder arrangement used on Maersk Kensington “involved a trapdoor … with the pilot ladder hanging from a bar near the bottom of the platform, and the top step of the pilot ladder significantly below the level of the platform,” said IMPA President Capt. Simon Pelletier in an address to the IMO on Jan. 17.

“This controversial trapdoor arrangement has long been considered unsafe by pilots,” Pelletier also said in the statement.

An IMO media representative directed questions about proposed pilot safety regulations to the IMPA. Current safety guidance on pilot transfer arrangements, enforced by IMO member states and contained in SOLAS Chapter V, Regulation 23, entered into force in July 2012.

Since January 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard has investigated seven incidents involving pilot ladders. These incidents resulted in seven injuries and one fatality, according to Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Amy Midgett.

Midgett told Professional Mariner that the Coast Guard was still collecting evidence regarding the Maersk Kensington incident. A representative for Maersk North America did not return a message requesting comment.

Sean Kline, director of maritime affairs with the Chamber of Shipping of America, said his organization briefs members at policy meetings after incidents like the one in New York Harbor. Members are encouraged to inspect equipment and practice due diligence to prevent future accidents.

“These ladders take a beating from the elements and nature of their use, and ship’s crew should keep a close eye on their condition,” Kline said. “Embarking a pilot is an extremely dangerous evolution, though it may appear as routine, because ships and pilots must conduct this evolution on a consistent basis, sometimes in the dark, wind, rain, snow, etc., with few other options.”

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May 2020