Harbor pilot’s death prompts action

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As a resident of New York City and avid urban cyclist, I often zip past the mouth of New York Harbor, where commercial vessels stack up near the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, awaiting a harbor pilot to bring them into the city that never sleeps.

Late last year, Capt. Dennis Sherwood, a Sandy Hook pilot for more than 35 years, died when he fell as he transferred to a container ship.

Sherwood’s death prompted the American Pilots’ Association to send a letter to pilotage authorities last week, regarding the safety of the approximately 1,200 pilots in the United States.

The letter addressed the ladder arrangement that pilots use to board ships, with a “trap door” platform that requires the pilot to pull himself up and twist to get a foothold. Sherwood fell attempting to make that maneuver as he transferred from the pilot ladder to the accommodation ladder and platform.

“This trapdoor arrangement is currently found on a number of ships with accommodation ladder-pilot ladder combinations, despite the facts that it has long been considered by pilots to be unsafe and that the IMO has recognized that it is unsafe by taking steps to eliminate it,” the APA stated in the letter. Since at least 1979, IMO guidelines have recommended that pilot ladders used with a trapdoor extend to the height of the platform’s hand rail. The purpose of that recommended practice is to bring the ladder steps up to a level from which the pilot can step across to the platform, rather than pull himself or herself up to it.”

The letter further stated that complying with IMO guidelines is not costly, and that replacing or retrofitting to meet these standards would not be a massive undertaking.

“On behalf of the 1,200 pilots in the U.S. state pilotage system, we are asking for your help in bringing about a swift end to this dangerous situation by taking responsible measures … to protect the safety of the pilots under your jurisdiction.”


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