CT Pilot Pay Dispute Exposes Wider Flaws in Safety for Long Island Sound

Last week’s article entitled “CT State Pilots Backed into ‘No-Win’ Situation” (http://www.newsletterscience.com/MarEx/readmore.cgi?issue_id=228&article_id=2491&l=1&s=1929) garnered more than its share of reader interest. None of those who responded wanted their comments reported for attribution, but several additional points were brought to our attention in the course of this week. For example, it was pointed out by one reader that, “Connecticut pilots couldn’t exactly lose what they had never had in the first place.” Our reader was referring to the training and recruitment funds that I alluded to in our previous article. Fair enough. What has become increasingly apparent, however, is the growing gap between professional training and safety precautions available to pilots in adjacent states, and those which Connecticut pilots are forced to settle for.

It was also brought to our attention that New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and yes -- Connecticut -- all receive statutory fees for the purpose of administrating their respective state pilot systems. Except in Connecticut, some of these funds eventually come back to the waterfront in the form of training grants and stipends to fund the required equipment. The effort by Connecticut’s MOA (Memorandum of Understanding) pilots to channel the 6% of their revenues, which now go into the “General Fund” into an account which could fund training, was meant to end this disparity. But Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management has put an end to that possibility and the pilots have been advised that if their first pay raise in almost 25 years eventually does come, it will do so without the training funds.

The last 18 months in the United States have been dangerous ones for marine pilots. At least 5 marine pilots have died while providing service in places like Texas, the Delaware River, Boston, Hawaii and Portland, Oregon. Not everyone is sitting on their hands as these events unfold. New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island -- just to name a few -- all fund training through a variety of specific, advanced pilot training and safety grants. New York has been particularly generous in its contributions to the MOA system in this way.

Just two years ago, New York sponsored a joint Connecticut/New York MOA pilot training period, utilizing the pilot boat New York for several days in western Long Island Sound and at Bridgeport, Connecticut. And last year, New York again funded a “man overboard” location system which was installed on the pilot boats, with a transponder which the pilots carry. Now, any MOA pilot using the boat in eastern Long Island Sound who falls overboard can instantly have his bearing and range sent back to the boat. In both cases, New York funded the entire cost of this essential training for the benefit of all of the MOA licensed pilots. In Rhode Island, a safety and training fund exists, from which its pilots can obtain funding for training, laptop navigation systems and other equipment.

Regardless of where the pay scales end up in Long Island Sound -- and the raise agreed to by New York still has not yet been implemented in Connecticut -- it is clear that the MOA pilots will soon begin to form a less-than-desirable group of “have” and “have-not” professionals, especially when it comes to expensive training regimes and safety equipment. And it was not the intent of the MOA to provide for a system where some pilots have access and the means to afford training and safety and others do not.

Not every state specifically funds training for its pilots. In Massachusetts, for example, there are no funds set aside for this purpose, but the Pilot commissioners there mandate a minimum level of continuing education and training for the state pilots. Pilot rates in the Bay State, however, are arguably high enough to support an adequate training and safety regime. Beyond this, every vessel arriving in Boston Harbor pays a “pilot boat surcharge,” which helps to fund a modern boat and the maintenance and equipment needed to keep it safe.

It is clear that the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the Connecticut Pilot Commission and the Connecticut Maritime Commission have the best of intentions and motives when it comes to the pilots that they serve, and regulate. Unfortunately, their recommendations are just that -- recommendations. Meanwhile, Connecticut pilots continue to wait for their pay raise while the state government of Connecticut seems bent on ignoring what is left of the expertise that keeps its ocean commerce safely moving. While that is happening, Vin Cashin and his associates quietly pay for high-tech simulator training and go begging in the Ocean State for safety equipment. Eventually, and hopefully sooner rather than later, Connecticut will step up to the plate and deliver the small amount of funds needed to ensure that marine pilotage in Long Island Sound is safe. And if it is not going to do even that, then it ought to pass the pay raise now.

The matter of diverting (at least some of the) statutory funds paid by Connecticut pilots to a training account from the general funds is an important one. Regardless of where the 6% statutory fee winds up on the books of Connecticut, it might be prudent to send some of it back to where it can do the most good. This week, I’ve also been chastised for saying that Connecticut’s future ability to attract ocean traffic (and cruise traffic in particular) has everything to do with the pilot issues in Long Island Sound. I couldn’t disagree more with this reader’s input. From the outside looking in, it is hard to see where a professional mariner could even hope to break into this line of work in Long Island Sound. At this point, why he or she would want to, might be a better question to ask.

Contact Managing Editor Joseph Keefe at jkeefe@maritime-executive.com with comments or questions on this or any article in this e-newsletter.