Crushed Pilot Had Been Drinking
The U.K. Marine Accident Investigation Branch has released its report into the death of a London pilot, citing alcohol consumption by the pilot as a potential contributing factor.
At 1812 on October 5, 2016, a Port of London Authority sea pilot was in the process of boarding the Bahamas registered general cargo vessel Sunmi from the pilot launch Patrol when he fell and was crushed between the two vessels. He died at the scene despite prompt medical attention from Royal National Lifeboat Institution and local ambulance crew.
The pilot had ingested sufficient alcohol on the day of the accident for his blood to contain 122mg alcohol per 100ml of blood approximately two hours after reporting for duty.
The accident occurred during a routine changeover of pilots at Gravesend Reach pilot boarding station on the River Thames, which marked the boundary for two pilotage areas within the Port of London. Due to the choppy seas, the outbound general cargo vessel had created a lee for the pilot launch to facilitate the boarding process. The difference in freeboard between the two vessels was varying between about 30 centimeters (12 inches) and 130 centimeters (50 inches).
A pilot ladder had been rigged, but the sea pilot attempted to board by stepping up and through an open gate in the railings onto Sunmi’s main deck which, although adjacent to the ladder, did not form part of the vessel’s designated pilot boarding arrangements.
The investigation could not establish whether the fall was a result of the sea pilot’s use of Sunmi’s deck gate, a problem with his knee following recent surgery, loss of co-ordination due to his blood alcohol content being more than double the prescribed limit or a combination of all three. However, the investigation identified that low freeboard vessel transfers, though not unusual, had not been assessed by the Port of London Authority or international pilot authorities. Consequently, there were no procedures, guidance or regulation covering the transfer of pilots for low freeboard vessels. The investigation also found that the deck gate opening was unsuitable to be used as a means of pilot access.
Following its own investigation of the accident, the Port of London Authority has revised its:
• Drug and alcohol policy.
• Risk assessments covering pilot transfers.
• Fitness assessment procedures.
• Training and guidance for operational staff.
Recommendations have been made to: the International Maritime Pilots’ Association aimed at improving the awareness of the requirements for gateways in bulwarks and railings intended for pilot boarding operations; and Sunmi’s managers, aimed at ensuring that designated pilot boarding areas are marked and that pilot boarding operations are overseen by a responsible officer.
The report is available here.