The exception is the Panama Canal where the Canal Transit Authority accepts full responsibility and has complete control for a vessel's transit. It is all properly documented thus everybody involved knows and understands exactly where they stand. Mostly in other ports the Pilot boards and things go off well, particularly given the difficulties of communication on occasions. Port Pilots are remarkably adaptive cheerful people doing an excellent job in all sorts of conditions and weather. However on occasions things come apart at the seams.
On the morning of November 07, 2007 the MS "Cosco Busan" prepared to leave the Port of San Francisco. Her Port of San Francisco Pilot boarded and from that point things went steadily downhill. The resulting NTSB Report says it all, and it manages to excuse, blame and insult everybody involved.
The Report's section on 'Cultural Differences,' covering the interaction between the Master and Pilot, is particularly offensive. In the 'Conclusion' section item #11, "by cultural differences that made the Master reluctant to assert authority over the Pilot," is a deplorable, inaccurate, discourteous and racist sentence which has no place in a United States NTSB Report.
Every Master has a clear right to be supplied a Pilot in command of his faculties as well as his knowledge of the Port. Clearly this was not the case that morning. The Vessel Traffic System (VTS), manned by USCG, should have told the Pilot to delay sailing until there were more positive factors for handling this large vessel. The Master of MS "Cosco Busan" had a perfect right to assess that since no negative factors had been stated to him the Port passage was suitable for his vessel. Indeed that was why the Port of San Francisco Compulsory Pilot was on board in the first place, to conduct a safe departure passage. He would do so by having and giving expert Port of San Francisco navigational knowledge to the Master of MS "Cosco Busan". Unfortunately this navigational knowledge was impaired by the Pilot's personal health, something the Master of MS "Cosco Busan"could not possibly have known.
For NAUTICAL LOG the saving grace of the NTSB Report is the dissent by Member Deborah A. P. Hersman. This dissent shows a complete understanding of the role of the Master with a 'Compulsory Pilot' on board. Her comments were the most valuable and effective part of the entire investigation and we thank her for them, regretfully her term with NTSB is now completed.
So then what is a Master to do? Where does he get guidance to make an assessment? Let me say it is all rather tricky and full of legal pitfalls for the unwary. Fortunately in the United Kingdom 'Navigation under Pilotage' is covered under The Merchant Shipping Acts. Also Her Majesty's Government issue 'updates' in the form of a Statutory Instrument (S.I.) as may be required. British Masters and Masters of British ships, not necessarily the same thing these days, are expected to keep themselves up to date on SI's effecting British ships. So lets take a look at what The Merchant Shipping Act and S.I.'s cover in this regard.