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Government wants tougher pilot rules

PLANNING and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan has hit back at claims that the Government will not tighten regulations surrounding pilotage in WA ports.

At the same time she has exposed a rift between herself and the part of the Department of Planning and Infrastructure responsible for marine safety.

Tougher regulations are likely to mean higher training standards, which will increase the cost of pilotage to ports – a cost ultimately paid by shipowners.

There are also fears of a shortage of pilots within the next five years.

Last week, Department of Planning and Infrastructure sources told WA Business News there were no plans to tighten up the regulations for marine pilots.

However, Ms MacTiernan later told WA Business News that, while she did not believe there was a major safety issue pending with pilotage, she had made it clear to the department that she wanted tougher regulations for marine pilots.

“We’ve been clear that that is an issue that needs to be addressed. We quite clearly can’t have a situation in the regulations where we have no formal requirements governing the competency of pilots,” she said.

“I don’t think the current situation is acceptable. We need to repeal the current act governing pilotage and replace it with a new one that makes the National Marine Safety Committee guide-lines a minimum.”

Ms MacTiernan said she had asked the department to address the issue in October and was still awaiting its report.

“The department has its own agenda and it is different to the Government’s,” she said.

“We’re restructuring the department and it is quite clearly needed to get some responsive-ness.”

Under WA’s Marine Pilots Act 1967, the Governor appoints marine pilots.

The DPI is supposed to ensure pilots operating in WA ports meet NMSC guidelines, which include ensuring a pilot has a minimum of a Master Class One certificate.

However, there is a pilot operating at Cuvier who only holds a Master Class Three certificate.

Ms MacTiernan said she did not believe the department was vetting pilots carefully enough.

McArthur Shipping & Agency Co’s Graham Wilson said Shippers Australia – the peak body for shipping agents and ship owners – had concerns over how pilots were certified in WA.

“For the past 12 months we’ve been trying to get the Government to specify what regulations govern pilots,” he said.

“It appears the Government has less control over pilotage in some of the smaller private ports.”

Fremantle Pilots director Bob Hall said tougher pilotage regulations would mean increased pilotage fees.

“If the Government starts putting tougher training requirements in then the ports are going to have to pay for it,” he said.

Captain Hall said he had also identified several problems with the latest draft of the NMSC pilotage guidelines.

Dampier Port Authority chief executive Greg Trenberth said he would have no problems with the Government instituting the NMSC guidelines as a minimum for pilots.

“All of our pilots are already meeting those guidelines. It would not add much to our costs,” he said.

Australian Marine Pilots Association president Alex Amos said there was a real risk of a pilot shortage, particularly if the guidelines for pilotage operations be-came tougher.

He said Australia’s stocks of suitably qualified shipping officers had been reduced due to the de-mise of Australian flag shipping lines.

“We either have to go back to another training system or Australia needs to get some ships,” Captain Amos said.

“There is no question that in five years’ time we’ll have a lot of problems.”

Turning to the Australian Navy for pilots is not an option because most of its officers do not have suitable qualifications.

However, Captain Hall said there were around 400 Australian merchant navy officers serving on foreign-flagged ships.

Fledgling maritime services company Mermaid Marine has flagged the possibility of making a tilt on WA’s marine pilotage market.

The company expects a deal for the Port of Singapore’s marine division to take a more than 20 per cent stake in Mermaid to be finalised by November. The deal is awaiting Foreign Investment Re-view Board and Mermaid share-holder approval.

Port of Singapore’s marine division is responsible for providing pilots, tugs and salvage services to the Singapore port.

Mermaid chairman Alan Birch-more said pilotage was not something the company was immediately considering but was a possibility further down the track.

“I have no doubt that after we meet the necessary technical criteria we’ll be able to enter any pilotage market in WA,” Mr Birchmore said.

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