Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Technical work in a marine Pilotage job

Continuation from the previous blog on the same subject

The one big-policy execution responsibility on a pilot is that of Under Keel Clearance. UKC, as it is called in the maritime world, is the avaible depth below the keel of a ship, upto the bottom of the sea. This is a tight choice because the lesser the depth the greater is the cargo carriage but also is the increased risk of damage to full ship, its crew and the cargo. In port areas where the water is already congested, it also means a loss in revenue if any accident or agrounding happens in the narrow channel where such an accident can block the passage of other ships. A pilot is charged with the compliance of the UKC which the port regulations stipulate for all the ships which come inside the port limits. This UKC clearance as a policy matter is generally kept as 10percent of the draft of the ship. But to work out this "10%" , pilot should have good knowledge of the depth of entire channel. Depth of waters made available through the navigational charts as a technical procedure is called Chart Datum, to which the tidal rise of water is yet to be added.
  The Chart Datum information is calculated through a complex mathematical and geo-physics theories and under the Office of the Real Admiral of Indian Navy, located in Dehradun. The office in general parlance is called the Hydrographic Office. This data is vital, and done in every country, for use by its merchant ships, navies, sub marines, and other water installations.
In all this mathematics, a pilot needs to work out with 'precise approximation', "the height of tide". In tide tables (also produced from the Hydrographic office for the full calender year) this information is provided only for the maximum levels, that is, high tide and low tide for every calendar day. The in-between hourly work is expected to be done by the pilot, which further is a matter of practise of some routine mathematics. This calculations can however be easily programmed on a computer. However the catch is that it all still remains approximate, giving room to pilots to choose to some degree his own 'safety margin'. Thus if he makes a personal choice to increase the safety margin, he can refuse the entry to a ship of deeper draft. However another pilot who is ready to take the 'risk' by decreasing the safety margin, may accept to bring that same ship inside the harbour. That is the degree of risk a pilot has choice to work. This gives a pilot a little control over the commercial aspects and a little discretion to happen.
It is possible to argue out through a mathematics logics the discretions exercised by a pilot, but that is not done as a traditional practise for letting the business happen. This, with the just observation of the fact that "in nature's work, man can only be 'approximate' and never 'accurate' ,"-- this fact comes to a Pilot's rescue on why some discretions should be allowed to rest with him. In court, it can always be argue about-- to whom to hold responsible if an agrounding still happens after due compliance with all the mathematical logic in the UKC policy. Contrary, freedom can be granted to a person to take slight risk should he take it that an accident is not likely to happen even if the calculated safety margin as per the organisation's policy is less. Business is sometimes about taking risk.

The other decision in the realm of pilotage work is about how many moorings ropes are required to tie a ship to her berth. There are guidelines, and also some internationally published book with good mathematical work on how to devise the arrangement. In practise, the pilots always go by the traditional practises learnt from the senior. They never take a chance on this issue. Should someone fail to confirm to the practises, the ship may be ordered to keep a tug support vessel to come to her rescue. And ofcourse, the cost of keeping the tug on duty is borne by the ship.
The number of tugs to be used is generally regulated through another of the port policies, but the pilots have liberty to use more than the stipulated number. Only that such decisions without sufficient reasoning may go against the competence and the skills of a pilot. Pilots keep a control on the operations of lock gates, tidal basin upkeep and water level maintenance, continuous surveying of the port waters and depths, maintenance and operational status of navigational marks.
The breadth clearances between the ships, shore mooring crew, tug boat manning crew , these all come within the work domain of a pilot. Tug boats, its strength, operational status, crew - these are important knowledge to be held by a pilot on day to-day basis.
Pilots also decide on the fore and aft clearance between the ships on their berths. This is another commercially significant control a pilot has. There is a policy matter on this aspect, obviously. But should he choose larger clearance due to natural reasons such as angular leads of the mooring ropes coming from the stem and the stern of the ship, a pilot can affect the business of the port.
In older times , even the allocation of the berth to ships was regulated by pilots directly. However, with monotony coming in this job, now the simple civilians have been trained to do this task. They are called the Traffic Managers. The kind of cargo gear facility avaible on the berth is the first criteria. The depth of berth becomes a traditionally accepted data figure for all berths inside the port. Hence , there is not much of thinking/Decision-making job in this. Pilots sometimes work in the VTMS stations. But as a matter routine principles of Decision-making, this job has now been passed to civilians only. The depths decide on which ship can go which anchorage berth. This becomes a traditional practise , along with the nature of cargo on ship. Hence non-seafaring civilian can be trained to decide on such matters while doing the VTMS task. The safe distance checks and vessel traffic monitoring can also trained to civilians when computer based systems are installed. However, a little knowledge on Colregs and ship's maneuvering work is required by the VTMS operators so as to broadcast a proper timely information to ships about activities of other ships which can be navigational threats.
Navigational Activities are routine works but depending on the kind of ships around and the cargo, the activity of one ship may be treated as a threat for another type of ship. However it may remain a normal activity for some other type of ship. This kind of knowledge on Decision-making can not be trained easily if the port handle large varieties of vessels. A sea-going person becomes essential for the job in this case.