Pilots warn of growing threat to safety

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 1 March 2000



Stares, J. (2000), "Pilots warn of growing threat to safety", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 9 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/dpm.2000.07309aab.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Pilots warn of growing threat to safety

Pilots warn of growing threat to safety

Panama pilots last week warned of a significant increase in serious incidents within the canal if the Panama Canal Commission goes through with plans to rewrite working conditions for the post-1999 period.

A combination of measures, including an increase in working hours and a decrease in the workforce, will make the pilot's job considerably more difficult to perform, it was claimed. An unspecified number of pilots, both Panamanian and non-Panamanian, will resign rather than continue to work under the new conditions, the pilots' association told an industry gathering in London.

The Panama Canal Commission, due to become the Panamanian-controlled Canal Authority on 31 December this year, is in arbitration with the pilots' union over pay and working conditions.

The commission, which yesterday declined to discuss details of the proposed changes or the reasoning behind them while arbitration continued, does not recognise the association. It only deals with the Panama branch of the pilots' union, maritime operations director Rene van Hoorde pointed out.

According to the pilots' association, which claims to represent the vast majority of union members in Panama, the commission has offered a new wage structure superior to the current one. However, pilots are "very concerned" about the environment in which they will have to work. Pilots will have to perform 165 transits a year instead of 135, it was claimed, while the number of conning hours per pilot will be increased from the current level of 810 a year to 1,350.

In addition to the increased job stress, the pilots' association stated that plans to reduce the required number of pilots on large beam vessels from two to one were particularly dangerous. On the larger passenger ships, a single pilot cannot see the side of the vessel from the bridge, Captain Juan Feliu pointed out.

According to the association's predictions, only 5 per cent of all vessels transiting will require two pilots under the new scheme, as opposed to 56 per cent today.


The association also warned against the imminent reduction in the collective experience of the pilot force, which will be reduced by 44 per cent under current proposals, it is alleged. Around 55 pilots of the 280-strong force are expected to leave.

Savings from the planned changes amounted to around $10 million a year and did not justify the safety risks, said Captain Feliu.

Mr van Hoorde said: "We think that it is not proper for either party involved to publicly discuss these issues. But our first and foremost concern is to keep our safety record or improve on it. We would not do anything that would jeopardise safety".

Arbitration, the results of which are binding, is due to be completed by March. Further commission plans to lay off liability for canal accidents are likely to put master-pilot relationships under stress, the association claimed.

A board meeting at the end of this month will decide whether and when the new liability regime will come into force, said Mr van Hoorde.

Justin Stares(Lloyd's Casualty Week, Vol. 315 No. 4, 22 January, 1999)

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