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'Perception of pilotage' leads to a collision. Who's to blame?

There are a few ports around the world where both pilot cutters (serving as watch accommodation for pilots) and pilot boats (for transferring pilots to/from merchant vessels) are used. This can sometimes cause confusion between the merchant vessel and pilot cutter when it comes to who among them has to stay clear to avoid a collision, especially when the latter is not directly engaged in transfer of pilots. The question came up for a court in Netherlands in The Pollux [2020] where Pollux (the pilot cutter) collided with a bulk carrier near the Schouwenbank pilot station.

The collision happened in under a minute after the pilot had disembarked from the bulk carrier onto the pilot boat. The bulk carrier was still altering to a course as instructed by the pilot. Its bridge crew were under the impression that the pilot cutter will keep clear, since the bulker was engaged in transfer of the pilot at that moment. Moreover, they had been informed by the pilot that there was no traffic which in a way affirmed that that Pollux, which also had its pilot lights on, was not part of the shipping traffic and will keep clear. The owners of the bulk carrier were arguing that their vessel was ‘restricted in ability to manoeuvre’ (RAM), and hence could not avoid a collision. The pilot cutter’s operators said that the bulk carrier was the give-way vessel under the crossing rules.


The Court was of the view that since the bulk carrier was engaged in transferring of a person, she had limited manoeuvrability. Even if it was technically possible for her to alter course, the COLREGS do not allow for such to be considered. Under Rule 18, the pilot cutter had the duty to keep clear of the bulk carrier and was found 100% to blame for this incident.


The court also clarified that a vessel will be restricted in her ability to manoeuvre not only during the time the pilot is being transferred from the ladder to the boat, but it starts before that (in this case it started 6 mins before pilot transfer) and ends when the boat has moved away sufficiently such that the vessel is able to determine her own speed and course again.

Link to judgement: https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/#!/details?id=ECLI:NL:RBROT:2020:3391&showbutton=true&keyword=Schelde,pilot&idx=2


LinkedIn post: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/siddharthmahajan18_maritimelaw-activity-7080866556011843584-7K1E?utm_source=share&utm_medium=member_desktop


Investigation report: https://www.onderzoeksraad.nl/en/page/18178/perception-of-pilotage---collision-between-pilot-vessel-and-bulk

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