Pilot Ladder Safety - Stairway to safety

02 Feb 2022 The Navigator

Early in October, at the request of IMO, the International Maritime Pilots Association (IMPA) conducted a worldwide safety campaign. This was, essentially, a two-week online survey, carried out by Pilots, of the ladders they are using. It covered thousands of boardings or disembarkations. Nick Cutmore, IMPA’s Secretary General, examines the findings

The results of the 2021 survey were in line with previous results and disappointing as ever. Why? We found high levels of failure in ladder safety – deeply concerning if you are the person using that ladder to get on and off the ship. This safety is amongst the simplest things on a ship to get right and hardly involves new technology. What’s more, we found that the level of SOLAS compliance on Pilot ladders compared poorly with the maritime industry’s speedy and comprehensive adoption of new bio-security measures over the past two years.

When the 2021 statistics are broken down some stark numbers jump out. For instance, nearly 30% of defective ladders had poorly rigged retrieval lines and 14% had steps that were not horizontal. These are failures that should be clearly visible to those rigging the ladder, and indeed may have been actually created by poor deck work. Nobody wants to rig an unsafe ladder, so it raises the question whether the responsible officer understands what they are supervising.

In 27% of reported cases (Pilots are also encouraged to report compliant ladders!) there was no lifebuoy visible on deck.

What’s the cause?
IMPA’s perception is that there are two main issues that explain the lack of compliance:

  • Lack of training in basic seamanship skills
  • Poor outfitting of vessels and provision of non-compliant kit from the outset

All Pilots can give examples of finding that the ladder they have just climbed is secured by a scrappy piece of line with an unknown knot; or indeed by a crude bar jammed through the side ropes. The poor deck crew may not have ever learned decent rope work, or might think that a piece of steel plate welded to the deck at 90 degrees is the correct way to hang a Pilot ladder.

So, how will this situation end – will it ever be rectified? Although IMPA anticipates that SOLAS will soon be reopened for revision, this will doubtless be a long-term process. Frankly, if ships cannot offer a simple manila and wood ladder compliant with the requirements that are in place now, then what’s the point of bringing in new rules?
Pilots seeing their colleagues killed or maimed in ladder accidents are increasingly reluctant to climb ladders that appear to be non-compliant. This is counter-intuitive to Pilots with their ‘can-do’ attitude, but has yielded some interesting outcomes.

30 % of defective ladders had poorly rigged retrieval lines

14% had steps that were not horizontal

A very large box vessel was recently declined entry to a European port because of non-compliant arrangements. The cost of the idle time spent at the anchorage far exceeded the cost of installing the new accommodation ladder platform. This sort of behaviour ought not to be necessary, and is not the way Pilots want things to go. However, it did result in rapid activity from the company concerned, who ordered new accommodation ladder trapdoor platforms for a large section of its fleet. The company’s explanation was that “The rules are hard to understand.” Really?

Testing and tracing
Some Pilots Associations have their own ‘App’ for ladder information on ships due, and IMPA is currently working on a global reporting system. For ships, there are benefits to offering a good, safe ladder beyond the obvious ones of avoiding delay or interest from Port State Control (PSC). Pilots arrive on the bridge in a better frame of mind, having climbed a clean, well-secured ladder with properly rigged ancillaries.

IMPA is working with Southampton University on a project to test ladder securing arrangements when rigged at intermediate length. The results of tests using traditional knotwork against mechanical restraint systems will be shared via IMO. Work is also well advanced on a revision of the familiar IMO bridge poster showing the required arrangements.
However, for IMPA, we feel that only a worldwide concentrated inspection campaign will yield the kind of results to finally make a long-term, permanent change for the better.