Who's navigating? The right place at the right time

28 Sep 2023 The Navigator

Marine Pilot Jason Rebello AFNI talks about his life as a pilot in Western Australia and how AIS forms an integral part of his role, from both a pilotage and VTS perspective

Name: Jason Rebello AFNI
Current position: Marine Pilot, Port Hedland, Western Australia

What career path led you to your current role?

I migrated to Australia immediately after marriage with hopes of starting our new life together in a whole new a whole new country. Before then, I was a content sailor at sea, having spent over two decades sailing on different types of ships, and in various ascending roles until I became a ship’s Master. I then spent a few years as a VTS operator at Reef VTS (in Townsville) followed by a stint in Brisbane that gave me some exposure to port operations. I then worked as a Deputy Harbour Master at the Port of Port Hedland, the largest bulk export port in the world. After a few years in this role, I found myself in the right place at the right time when an opportunity came about to become a marine pilot in the port.

What do you like best about working as a pilot?

I’ve always loved the dynamic nature of a navigator’s role, and the thrill and satisfaction that comes with ship handling; becoming a marine pilot gives me the opportunity to do this on a daily basis and allows me to interact with ship crew regularly. I am honoured to be a part of an ancient tradition that goes back to the ancient Graeco-Roman empire.

How does AIS help you do your job more effectively?

AIS forms an integral part of port operations, not just from a pilotage point of view but also from a Vessel Traffic Services perspective, in terms of traffic monitoring and vessel assistance. AIS data provides supplementary information to traditional radars and greatly enhances the decision-making capabilities, and in effect, port safety and efficiency.

What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of AIS?

Advantages include better decisions and better location tracking and information sharing, which means safer vessel movements and fewer collisions. The data is useful for vessel assistance and search and rescue scenarios, as well as for vessel tracking by port systems and maritime authorities.

As with all navigation equipment, users should remember that the system is not infallible and can give erroneous or spurious data at times. Mariners should be aware of the pitfalls of overreliance on external data and should always validate the information by cross-referencing from other sources and visual means. The loss of situational awareness during navigation, due to an overload of information and alarms, especially in dense traffic areas, is a matter of concern as well.