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GB Marine Pilots Call Emergency Conclave

The Bahamas Maritime Pilots Association (BMPA) has upped the ante in their row with the Freeport Harbour Company (FHC) and will tonight host an emergency conclave with a number of international and regional pilot associations.

Under the theme “The State of Pilotage and Safety in Freeport,” the BMPA has invited some of its partners from pilot associations worldwide to join them in discussions about best practices, International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Standards, insurance requirements, and safety and training guidelines.

Last week a number of marine pilots submitted their resignation letters to the FHC amid claims that conditions at the harbour violate international standards and pose significant danger to their health are renewing those claims and said they should be addressed immediately.

BMPA Managing Director Erin Ferguson said the pilots have repeatedly asked FHC to address their concerns. However, he said, nothing has been done.

The emergency conclave will be held tonight at the Pelican Bay Hotel Convention Centre in Grand Bahama at 7:00 p.m.

Special guests will include Secretary General of the International Maritime
Pilots Association (IMPA) Nick Cutmore and President of the Trinidad and Tobago Pilots Association Captain Kurt Duncan.

In a press statement issued by the group late Friday, Mr. Ferguson said that 18 pilots were servicing the needs of both FHC and Buckeye Partners LP/BORCO (Bahamas Oil Refinery Company) as of December 2013.

“Once the resignation notice period expires on March 28, 2014 and all of the member pilots of the BMPA are officially out of the companies, there will only be four qualified pilots, one of which is a trainee available to do the job that was already a strain for 18 pilots to do,” he said.

“Our claims of Freeport being an “unsafe harbour” are quite sound. Any maritime professional examining the complete neglect of the anchorage area where in one week of October 2013 a ship’s anchor was dropped on BTC cable, resulting in a stop of all communications in Grand Bahama, including emergency services, and the same week the Formosa Falcon Tanker was beached off Eight Mile Rock filled with two million gallons of fuel oil, would see. Just last week two ships on anchorage drifted into each other and collided because of a change in currents.”

Mr. Ferguson said there should be pilots on the anchorage and that FHC and Buckeye partners LP/BORCO have taken no action.
The pilots have since given their 30-day notices to the company.

Eleven pilots – five from FHC and six from BORCO have resigned.

“Freeport is organised very poorly in terms of pilotage at the ports,” Mr. Ferguson recently said.

“The pilots don’t receive the adequate training that is necessary. The pilots are on ineffective shift systems with only two pilots, and in some cases at the Harbour Company, one pilot to a shift where there could be nine sometimes 10 ships coming in at one time and honestly, that is dangerous.”

Mr. Ferguson said there are even ships being anchored with no pilots on board.

He said in the last six months, there have been three incidents at the anchorage.

“That is a level of incidents that would have caused intervention in most ports,” he added. “But in Freeport the Harbour Company and the port director [has] refused to respond. We’re just moving towards a standard that is clear, concise and following international standards. Freeport is one of the only ports not following these standards and that is dangerous – it is not safe.”

Mr. Ferguson said that the issue could be resolved if the harbour company would simply allow the pilots to be independent.

FHC has confirmed that it had received and accepted formal resignations of five marine pilots and it assured stakeholders that it had a team of pilots in place to service harbour requirements.

“The Harbour Company has for some time been aware of the intention of some of our pilots and appropriate contingency measures are in place,” the company said in a statement. “This action of our pilots to force the Harbour Company to hand over its investments, legal and rightful business to them will not succeed.”

FHC is privately owned joint venture between the Hutchinson Port Holding and the Grand Bahama Port Authority.

BORCO is a private company owned by Buckeye Partners.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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