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MarEx Mailbag: Reader Response to Last Week's Editorial & More

MarEx readers weighed in on last week's editorial (Redefining Liability: Who's Really to Blame in the COSCO BUSAN Case?

In last week's edition of the MarEx e-newsletter, the lead editorial centered on the rapidly developing legal strategies of the different parties to the COSCO BUSAN allision. Without a doubt, pilots, regulatory personnel, federal and state governments everywhere are watching closely; and with good reason. We said that "There's only one thing that is very clear in all of this: there's plenty of blame to go around for everyone. And, when the fog finally lifts, I doubt there will be anyone – pilots, ship's operators or crew, regulators and governments alike, that will be happy with the final result. Somebody once told me that the mark of a good deal is one which leaves all parties somewhat unsatisfied." Read on to see what MarEx readers had to say on the matter. Read last week's editorial by clicking HERE. Or, read on to see what MarEx readers had to say on the subject:
 

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Dear Mr. Keefe,

Came across the subject article of yours on the liability of the Pilot in general and the Cosco Busan case in particular on the net and found the same very interesting.

Having been piloting ships for about 13 years now following a sea career of about 16 years I can well relate to both sides of the argument on Pilot's liability.

I read somewhere that about 70 percent of accidents take place in Pilotage waters, now most lay people would use that as a statistic for getting rid of pilotage altogether. 'No Pilots – accidents down by 70%' the headline of that article would read, it is only the people who understand the role of the Pilots, and alas they are but a very small minority, who would read through that one.

As rightly stated in your article, the Pilot's job is a stressful one and the responsibilities onerous, so the compensation should be appropriate. However using the same yardstick to hang a Pilot for any accident (and incidentally that literally was the practice in medieval Europe) then believe me, no matter how high the compensation, no one would want this job.

Pilotage by its very nature is undertaken in areas of high risk and an accident could happen anytime. If a Pilot due to his willful negligence or omission causes an accident then he would face action in any case. If the Pilot is going to be prosecuted then he is going to get himself professional insurance and the cost of this will also be passed on to the ship-owner by way of higher pilotage fees. With the ship-owner already covered for that risk through his P&I clubs it is unlikely that the ship-owner would like to pay twice over for the same risk. It's only because of the protection from prosecution that Pilots are able to carry out the work that they do.

An example to illustrate that would be that if we were to ask a Ship Master if he would be willing to come into the port without a Pilot most sensible Masters would refuse, if however we were to grant him immunity from any prosecution then I dare say some of the brave may consider the option.

As you may be aware in earlier days the law did make a distinction between compulsory and voluntary pilotage where the pilot was held responsible in the case of the former. That was the practice for almost a century until the coming into force of the Pilotage Act of 1913 and from 1st of January 1918 the Master and Ship-owner has been held responsible for all accidents with a Pilot on board. Now that we are nearing a century of that position, over zealous law makers, enforcers and interpreters fueled by a media largely ignorant of the whole issue may reverse that position, taking us back a hundred years!

And who knows by 2118 we may see a return to sanity.

Best regards,

Capt. Joseph J. Alapat,
Harbour Master,
Port of Cochin,
India.
 

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Mr. Keefe,

I believe that both the Pilot and the Capt of the ship should be held equally negligent. Both gentlemen are licensed, professional mariners who possess years of experience "managing" the navigation of ships. The tidal currents that run through SF Harbor coupled with dense fog suggest that both gentlemen need to be totally in synch with their outbound navigation plan or they shouldn't have turned loose the mooring lines.

Additionally, any doubt in their collective agreed to plan should have evolved into an alternative plan that involved lining-up a couple of escort tugs.

The result of their collective negligence was am ugly oil spill in one of the most magnificent harbors in the world. They are both at fault—they should both be held liable. Any decision that results in a finding short of that is as irresponsible as the incident itself.

And the finger-pointing after the fact deflection of blame is undignified which suggests that perhaps neither gentleman should stand another wheelhouse watch.

James F. Pritchard
 

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Joe:

I read your article with interest. The Sunshine Skyway bridge case in Tampa against the Summit Venture is right on point. It happened in the early 80s. Regards

HJ HALPIN
 

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Joe,

You said it succinctly. "There's only one thing that is very clear in all of this: there's plenty of blame to go around for everyone. And, when the fog finally lifts, I doubt there will be anyone – pilots, ship's operators or crew, regulators and governments alike, that will be happy with the final result."

Now watch lawsuits against state DMV licensing departments which continue to license people who have a history of drug and/or alcohol abuse who have killed or injured others! The ones who may be pleased with all this may be lawyers.

GHC
 

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Joe:

...an excellent analysis of the Cosco Busan allision! What can a ship owner do when the pilot says :"Lift anchor" and then heads out at full speed into a crowded bay in the fog with a radar apparently not in operating order and with the inability to communicate effectively with the ship's officers? If that isn't a recipe for a disaster, nothing is.

Wes Starratt, PE
 

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6/14/08

LINTHICUM, MD.

JOE:

YOUR OBSERVATIONS ON THE COSCO BUSAN TRAGEDY WERE RIGHT ON, PARTICULARLY THE FINAL PARAGRAPH. THE TEST OF A GOOD NEGOTIATION IS, UPON LEAVING THE TABLE WITH A SIGNED DEAL, BOTH SIDES ARE A LITTLE UNHAPPY.

I MIGHT SUGGEST THAT YOU MAY FIND OF INTEREST THREE BOOK BY CAPTAIN RICHARD CAHILL - COLLISIONS AND THEIR CAUSES. GROUNDING AND STRANDINGS AND THEIR CAUSES (I AM NOT SURE OF THE EXACT TITLE HERE) AND FROM THE TITANTIC TO THE EXXON VALDEZ (DISASTERS).

I KNEW THE AUTHOR, RICHARD A. CAHILL, QUITE WELL. HE CITES AN INCIDENT IN ONE OF THESE BOOKS ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE SHIP'S MASTER AND THE SHIP'S PILOT. IT HAS BEEN YEARS SINCE I PICKED UP A COPY OF THE BOOK BUT THE ADVICE THAT CAHILL GIVES IS THIS:

SINCE THE PILOT HAS THE EXPERTISE IN A GIVEN AREA, THE CAPTAIN NEEDS TO BE SURE THAT HIS VESSEL IS IN EXTREMIS (OR CLOSE TO IT) IF HE TAKES COMMAND FROM THE PILOT. IN SHORT, IT IS THE MASTER'S ASS IF HE DOES SO, AND THINGS GO VERY WRONG.

BEST REGARDS,

TIM BROWN, MMP
 

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Editor's Remarks: A variety of letters came in this week. Captain Brown's highlighting of three books to look into sounds like good advice for all of us.


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