A Bridge Over Trouble Waters in Long Island Sound - Marine Pilots MOA

Today, in Long Island Sound, a total of three different pilot associations, along with several independent individuals, perform pilotage duties under a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed by the state commissioners in New York and Connecticut. Formalized and signed in 2000 and adopted by the Connecticut Legislature and DOT in 2003, the MOA was approved in answer to what has been characterized by industry observers as disorganization and cutthroat tactics prevalent in the sound. The MOA holds together a fragile peace between rival pilots and their professional associations. Although on the surface, things appear to be stable and calm, nothing could be further from the truth.

Vince Cashin is the President of the Connecticut State Marine Pilots Association (CSMPA), representing 5 of the 8 “Connecticut only” sound pilots. Licensed by the state of Connecticut to guide deep draft marine traffic in Long Island Sound, they perform these duties in rotation with the 16 other pilots of various affiliations under the auspices of the Block Island Pilots, which administers the rotation agreement stipulated in the MOA. Cashin also makes no bones about his desire to see wholesale changes in how Connecticut structures, licenses, and supervises marine pilots in Connecticut. According to Cashin, Connecticut - absent significant and far-reaching changes in how they operate - is poised to abdicate its ability to control waterborne commerce in its own waters to neighboring Rhode Island and New York.

The dynamics of the different players in the Long Island Sound drama are as varied as they are colorful. In the period immediately preceding the signing and implementation of the MOA, by all accounts, a “cowboy” atmosphere reigned in the Sound. Dubbed as the “Competition Days” by the pilots themselves, it was not uncommon to see rivals undercutting each other on prices for various marine services. During that time, and until a ship’s physical arrival at the sea buoy, the question of who would be nominated to guide the ship in might be a matter of negotiation or argument. Charles Beck, the Maritime Transportation Manager, Bureau of Aviation and Ports for the State of Connecticut says that the practice was good for keeping the rates low for shippers, but not necessarily conducive to marine safety.

Beck’s view of what needs to be done to improve the pilotage situation in Long Island Sound differs significantly with that of Vince Cashin. Predictably, Howard McVay of the Northeast Pilots (who also dispatch pilots under the terms of the MOA) has another slant on things. Still to come: the New York perspective. The area of responsibility charged to the Block Island Pilot Association stretches from destinations in New York to Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Not every Block Island pilot involved with the rotation system mandated by the MOA can perform work in every location. If it seems confusing, that’s because it is.

A bill designed to overhaul the system of pilot oversight in Connecticut was recently put forth by the CSMPA (Vince Cashin is a registered lobbyist in the state of Connecticut), but was withdrawn after legislative negotiations watered the bill down to the point where it was no longer palatable for its sponsors. For now, the MOA reigns as the law of the land (sea) in Long Island Sound.

Next Week: Meet the Players & Sort out the Agendas…

Contact Joseph Keefe, Managing Editor at: jkeefe@maritime-executive.com