Latest pilot death prompts urgent safety call

The sad news of yet another pilot death earlier this week has prompted calls again for all stakeholders to fully engage in trying to improve the standard of pilot transfer arrangements that are being used on a daily basis.

A ship pilot, Barra Miguel Conceição, at the Port of Lisbon in Portugal died after falling into the water while disembarking from a Hapag-Lloyd boxship on Wednesday morning during stormy weather. The incident is under investigation.

Captain Kevin Vallance, a master mariner and author of the Pilot Ladder Manual, told Splash that despite regulatory requirements laid down within SOLAS V regulation 23 there continue to be tragic and fatal accidents involving pilots. Pilot transfers were responsible for five fatalities during 2017.

“Industry studies consistently show that around 20% of pilot ladders offered are noncompliant in one way or another,” Vallance said. He pointed out that increasingly he was coming across counterfeit products such as pilot ladders purporting to comply with regulations when even a cursory visual inspection clearly confirms that they do not comply. Certificates are also routinely found to be copied.

Another issue that needs addressing, according to Vallance, is that vessels are still being delivered where due to lack of good design it is difficult if not impossible to rig a compliant ladder arrangement.

Vallance has been helping Fidra Films, a UK-based maritime production company, to develop a series of short films, due to air this May, aimed at improving the safety of pilot transfer arrangements.


Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Maybe the safest solution is to get rid of needless pilots in many jurisdictions. With modern navigation aids pilots are obsolete.

  2. I think best simple way to use the as the way this is used to climb telecom towers and the big window cleaners on skyscrappers as well mountain climbers. The cable is fixed between deck and boat meanwhile the pilot is climbing or downing. Pilot is linked to the cable and just in case he glide or falls will be always fixed to the cable It really save lives many times.

  3. Allen Stevens…. You post leaves a lot to be desired. The only absolute thing here is you and your post. Moron.

    1. @Finn: True words. Allen Stevens does not only not know what he is talking about – he has also no sense of respect and moral.
      A colleague of ours – even if geographically far away – has died and this “expert” uses that matter to present his low-life attitude

  4. The pilot ladder designed as per SOLAS specifications is absolutely not safe. lately Lloyd’s introduced a risk assessment software. If the risks involved whilst embarking or disembarking by a pilot ladder is assessed as per Lloyd’s software, you can see that the risk is at “very high” level. Yet there are no improvements made internationally
    for pilot’s safety. Self a ship master with years of experience and would like to contribute towards safer access.
    My e mail
    Mobile: +94773692622

  5. It is sad to read about another pilot death. All I read is about pilot transfer arrangements. My question is; did the pilot fall from the ladder due to this ladder? or was it the bad weather at the time, did he let go to soon, or to late (what was the cause of death). As a former pilot I want to know if the risk in disembarking was carefully taken in account. Was it safe to disembark in this bad weather? Were there limits set, in which the pilot service should have been suspended? Lots of questions unanswered.

  6. I think we should seriously consider not disemabarking the pilot in bad weather and wait for weather to improve. Port can also consider not letting the vessel sail if the weather is bad and pilot disemabarkation is risky.

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