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Don’t block the port!

A major international waterway blocked to trade, pollution to a major waterway, serious injury or loss of life, and significant disruption to supply chains, were all averted thanks to swift action by UK Maritime Pilots.

The MV MOL Treasure, one of the world’s largest Ultra Large Container Ships, departed the Port of Southampton at around 1100 on 26 January, bound for Le Havre. For pilots Capt Christopher Hoyle and Capt Neil Dunn this should have been a routine act of pilotage; albeit one which only very experienced pilots are authorised to carry out given a 400m long vessel with the capacity to carry 20,000 twenty foot containers. The weather conditions were good although gusty, with clear visibility and a calm sea state.

An hour later, the MOL Treasure developed a significant reduction in engine power, and therefore manoeuvrability. Thankfully an escort tug was already in attendance, so with a further three tugs swiftly deployed by Southampton Vessel Traffic Services (VTS), the Pilots were able to keep the vessel safely under control within the navigation channel.

For 10 hours, whilst the Chief Engineer set about trying to identify the issue with the engines, Pilots Hoyle and Dunn used their unique understanding of the waters in this very tricky tidal area of the Solent to work with the tugs to keep the ship from drifting and grounding. 

To ensure all personnel involved were fresh enough to carry out their tasks, the Tug crews were exchanged and a third pilot, Captain Richard Harding, boarded the vessel so that the pilots could “tag team”; regulations demand that two pilots are always needed to pilot a ship of this size. Finally, shortly before midnight, after more than 10 hours with only significantly reduced power available, the MOL Treasure was safely manoeuvred back to port. 

Without the skills of the Pilots working together with the Port’s maritime management team involving Harbour Masters, Tug crews, Southampton VTS, and the respective port management staff, the outcome could have been vastly different.

The United Kingdom Maritime Pilots Association (UKMPA), is the representative professional body for Maritime Pilots in the United Kingdom. Almost every ship entering or leaving a port, is required under UK law to engage a duly Authorised Maritime Pilot, who boards the vessel either in port or at sea and takes conduct of the safe navigation
of that vessel. This undertaking is critical to protecting the country’s national infrastructure and environment from damage or pollution, supporting the UK’s economy, and ensuringthe safe, timely and efficient movement of all trade.

Seawork supporter; UKMPA United Kingdom Maritime Pilots Association
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