Pilot over Master: TO BERTH OR UNBERTH

Capt. Edwin Itable batted for mandatory courses on Berthing and Unberthing, Practical Training and Assessment for Management Level Deck Officers during the maritime roundtable discussions (RTD) at the Lower House, July 12th.

The RTD was sponsored by Cong. Aniceto Bertiz III (ACTS OFW Partylist) to elicit viewpoints of shareholders in the maritime industry. Itable is the current president of the Masters and Mates Association (MMAP).

Itable recalled this was proposed in 2015 to then MARINA Administrator Max Mejia, hoping to be part of the High-level Action Plan (HLAP), with copies to CHEd, DOTr and DoLE. All these agencies are sitting on the proposal to date.

As an e entry point, MMAP’s eyes Intl Maritime Organization (IMO) Resolution A.1110 (30) of 16 December 2017 (Agenda Item 7) which revisits Resolution A-1047 (29) of the Strategic Plan to develop a new framework for the 2018-2019 biennium.

A resurgence is hoped on MMAP’s March 12, 2018 rejoinder to DOTr Usec Felipe Judan (and Atty. Vera Joy Ban-eg, MARINA STCW Office OIC Executive Director) to a 26 February 2018 letter of the agency.


Perhaps to link-in on plans  for the biennium, MMAP tapped  Milhar Fuazudeen,  IMO Secretary of the Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping (HTW) Sub-Committee for the implementation of STCW Convention, STCW-F and ISM Code- related seminars, workshops and training courses for trainers, examiners and assessors.

Fuazudeen is involved on human-element related issues; needs assessments and advisory missions to IMO Member States related to the implementation of the STCW and STCW-F Conventions; and training courses for auditors under the Intl Safety Management Code (ISM).

But Fuazudeen practically deadpans MMAP with, “… (M)ay I suggest that you initially conduct MARINA to ascertain if your proposal merits consideration by the Philippines for the submission of the maritime safety committee. After which the entity and the Philippines responsible for implementation of the STCW Convention could decide or not to make a relevant submission.”

It now depends on MARINA Administrator Guerrero to evaluate, act or sit on Itable’s proposal given the multifarious targets of Guerrero’s official 14-Point Agenda he publicly promised to accomplish all by 31 December 2018.


As part of preparations for the IMO Member State Audit Scheme (IMSAS), the MARINA also conducted a mock audit of the country’s compliance with IMO agreements in the second quarter of 2018. Corrective action plans for the local maritime industry were developed based on the results of the mock audit.

IMSAS is the mandatory audit of all Member States which begun 1 January 2016, to determine “the extent to which they give full and complete effect to their obligations and responsibilities contained in a number of IMO treaty instruments.”

Mandatory on IMSAS are safety of life at sea (SOLAS 1974 and its 1988 Protocol); prevention of pollution from ships (MARPOL); standards of training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers (STCW 1978); load lines (LL 66 and its 1988 Protocol); tonnage measurement of ships (Tonnage 1969); and regulations for preventing collisions at sea (COLREG 1972).


It is of utmost importance to ensure, at all times and under any condition, the safety of passengers, crew and cargoes. However, this will not be possible without Masters, including all deck officers, who are highly competent in ship handling and maneuvering — as in berthing and unberthing — Itable’s points.

A harbor pilot is in sole command of the ship, supersedes the master prohac vice (for the time being) under (6.1). But in Chapter IX of SOLAS-74 Convention, the Master has the overriding authority to make decisions, like on docking/undocking with or without a Pilot on board.

Authority is not the issue; it is how to take over the pilot should the master so chooses. The issue against Itable’s proposal is why weigh-in more costs and requirements on seafarers with courses not required by neither Convention or Administrations.

Also, it is not customary that shipowners will sponsor deck officers training in berthing and unberthing a ship (approved in-service experience), a major non compliance under STCW78 as amended, Regulation l/14 – Companies Responsibilities and International Safety Management Code, Paragraphs 6.1 and 6.2

Field realities.

In practice, the “Master’s overriding authority” is a hollow term selectively used under ISM Code. The overwhelming practice of the Administration (IMO member states) and the ship owners is to compel Masters into continuing with business as usual, if possible, or to hide pertinent facts from other parties.

It is undisputed that berthing and unberthing are performed solely dependent on “prudence” that Masters do not “interfere,” or “overrule” pilots simply because Masters are ill-prepared in this particular task of ship handling.

This should not be the case.


MMAP VP Jaime Quinones reminds these must be resolved since the ISM Code says there should be challenge and response between the pilot and the master. But without the proper training, education and experience of a master how can he challenge a pilot?

Capt. Quinones has the moral ascendancy having been trained in Netherlands and France before taking command on VLCCs. But he doubts whether Filipinos were given the same training which may ensure ship safety at any given condition.

To drive a point, he claims only two ports in the world where pilots assume full responsibility of the vessel: Panama Canal and Keb Canal. One cannot challenge pilots on those ports. Elsewhere, Masters may “overrule” — but should not if not properly trained.

Capt. Quinones believes the MMAP proposal is well-considered and should be endorsed.

But how to.

Capt. Herbert Delos Santos was Master for 10 years, retired as pilot after 15 years. He confirms the dilemma on how will the Master override the Pilot when the Master is untrained on this aspect of maritime task. In 25 years at sea, he has not seen any Master wrestle the Pilot for the command of the ship, even for safety, because a Master is rarely as trained as a Pilot.


Sec-Gen Bienvenido Lorque of the Association of Marine Officers and Ratings (AMOR) is prone to support courses on berthing and unberthing, “100%” certain it is a good proposal.

Lorque shares the worry of his daughter, an auditor in a Norwegian firm, on what to do on the 220 tons fuel oil spill. The Odjell hit a jetty puncturing its hull while berthing in Rotterdam. The Master could have retained command over the Pilot. But things went wrong already.

And more.

On February 26, 2010, the Costa Europa, while berthing in bad weather, collided with the pier at Port Sharm al Sheikh, Egypt. This killed three crew, injured four, and severe hull damages.

On October 10, 2013, a bulk carrier, while berthing, hit a moored container vessel at Santa Maria, Columbia. The bulk carrier’s bow also hit a pilot boat which was tied up to the pier, which caused enough damage to sink it.

In April 2014, two dock workers in St. Kitts were killed during a berthing accident involving Royal Caribbean Intl’s Independence of the Seas cruise ship. The victims had been working on the mooring lines onboard a small boat when they were thrown overboard.

Quite recently on March 19th, the Karachi port was closed after two cargo ships collided at the harbour, spilling shipping containers into the sea. The collision was captured on film by showing a Hapag-Lloyd ship, the Tolten, clipping a stationary ship while pulling into port, one of the largest in Asia.


Arrows zipped against Itable’s proposal, prominently from Engr. Nelson Ramirez of the United Filipino Seafarers (UFS), also a maritime tv and print mediaman.

On July 10, 218, he wrote Pres. R.R. Duterte that:

  1. Itable’s proposal is clearly unaligned with the STCW Methods of Demonstrating Competence which are approved (a) In-service; (b) Training ship experience; (c) Simulator training and (d) Training program.
  2. The lack of the courses was not a non-compliance of the EMSA Assessment audits, neither the proposed courses adopted by any other maritime nation.
  3. Time and monetary costly; yet, uncertain on upgrading seafarer competency
  4. (Another example of the Philippine penchant for volunteering answers to things not asked, as observed by EMSA officials in our VCAP submitted)

Ramirez hopes MARINA will not endorse MMAP’s proposed courses to die a natural death.

More snickers.

Nestor Perrero believes the courses will not add skill values but more pesos to proponents. He finds Itable’s suggestion laughable that MARINA should conduct a coordinated Pilot and Field Testing on board M/V Queen of Joy, an allegedly rickety general cargo ship (199 Gross Tonnage) moored at the Cavite City terminal.

Caster David suspects Itable is just grandstanding to recover MMAP income from issuing the CoC and CoE to mariners who are required to be MMAP members after passing government examinations administered by the Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC).

Pitch in.

Atty. Rex Tupas, legal counsel of Archipelago Phil Ferries (AFCI-FastCat with PROA, association of Ro-Ro operators), says they offered one of their ships to MMAP for the project. Sadly, the ship remains unutilized to date.

AFCI and PROA continue to help as training ground for cadets, alternative to retired seafarers wanting to board again on domestic ships, for an overall upgrade of the maritime skills of our Filipino seafarers.

Capt. Itable wishes a manned scaled model, in tandem with simulators for ship handling to dispense with using old vessels.

Scaled models (usually 1:25) are used by research workers, hydraulics specialists and engineers, in particular in towing tanks. Manned models can be handled by one person in open water. They must behave just like real ships, giving the shiphandler the same sensations. Wind, currents, waves, water depths, channels and berths must be reproduced realistically to be effective in research (ship behaviour), engineering (port layout) and for training in shiphandling (maritime pilots, masters and officers).


Just as CoS Aguilar of Rep Bertiz is positive on the Itable proposal, Ms. Eleanor Fernandez, OPSD Chief, CHEd, confirms “…berthing and unberthing, we have initially discussed that …”

MARINA’s Samuel Batalla claims prior agreement on the project but “then continuously discuss” among their technical people. STCW OIC Executive Director Ban-eg has instructed them to come up with recommendations.

Indeed, some wave the flag: if the Itable proposal is adopted by IMO, the Philippines has something original contributed to global merchant marine protocol.

Technology rolls.

Mitsui E&S Shipbuilding, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, Akishima Laboratories (Mitsui Zosen) jointly announced July 25 a demonstration project on safety of vessels’ auto berthing and unberthing. The joint endeavor was selected for Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism (MLIT) autonomous vessel demonstration project for Year 2018.

Human errors account for 80% of marine accidents. Automated and autonomous operations of vessels can significantly reduce human errors and workload for mariners. These are basic changes in ocean transport where MLIT aims practical use of autonomous vessels by 2025.

Berthing and un-berthing are some of the most difficult phases of ship operation, in which autonomous operations would be of great benefit. The project will identify technical issues by demonstrating autonomous operation with a real vessel.