APA President Captain Jorge Viso

engages in some Q&A on

Technology, Autonomous Ships and Safety.

Q: Technology and “Autonomous Ships” are hot topics now. How are you and the APA approaching these subjects?

A: One of the objectives of the APA is to gather and distribute information that may be of interest to our pilots and their organizations.  To this end, I think we are taking a hard look at the challenges ahead, in particular, the technology front.

Everyday we see a steady stream of news reports discussing the advent of autonomous ships and remotely controlled vessels.  The Yara Birkeland project in Norway gets constant press, but it’s already a year behind schedule.  While a lot of this is hype, the underlying relevant thread is that technology will continue to advance, most times linearly, and sometimes disruptively. There are currently several projects underway, especially in the Baltic.

To be responsible stewards of our profession, we must consider the future of piloting and how to keep it at the leading edge; engaged and integrated as ships and the technology evolve.

Q: I’ve heard you mention automation vs. Autonomy

A: Autonomous ships and remotely controlled shipping tend to be overstated, and they’re lost in the ambiguity of the terminology. (If you read any articles in this field, you will note that there is a debate about whether “autonomous” is even the right word).  In reality, automation is what we are dealing with.  Automation arrives in chunks; nibbling at rote processes, not sweeping upheavals of top down control.  Think of some of the things that have gone automated in the last thirty years: ARPA, unmanned engine rooms, GMDSS.

Our profession will likely be affected by this kind of automation, a refinement of a repetitive action.  An “extension” of a service performed currently, but through a different platform or device in the wheelhouse.  I believe that a key point, which is critical to the continued vitality of our profession, is that informed, independent judgment, free of commercial pressure, will be the piece we offer. It cannot be automated, but it can be supported by technology.

Q: Pilot ladder safety continues to be a challenge.  Any suggestions for Pilots?

A: The regulatory scheme that relates to pilot boarding arrangements is a bit convoluted.  The SOLAS convention is the main framework in which the regulation lives, specifically, SOLAS Chapter V/ Regulation 23. This is the regulation that is universal to all maritime nations.  IMO Resolution A.1045 fleshes out the SOLAS reg with more detail, and  ISO 799 deals with the specifications for the ladder construction materials.

You really have to be familiar with all three to have a handle on international pilot ladder regulation.

The IMPA poster you are familiar with does a very good job of covering the most important points.  It’s a nice document to refer to on a regular basis.

When we encounter a deficiency, what do we do about it?  Many times a discussion with the Master will resolve the issue.  But what about a deficiency that demands further action.

Pilots are urged to do a few things:

  • Be conversant with the rules
  • Make reports to the USCG and Pilot Commission or Board effective
  • Be specific; generalities don’t help the inspector
  • “The ladder is terrible” isn’t an effective description.
  • Have the rapport with your Captain Of The Port to make the information transfer work.

If we do these things, I think we can have an impact of pilot ladder safety.  Nobody is going to do it for us.