LARGE vessels entering and leaving Pacific ports depend on the seafaring experience, navigational skills and local knowledge of harbour pilots in order to berth and un-berth without damaging either the port infrastructure or the ship.
After boarding the vessel, either at the wharf or the pilot station, the pilot is in charge of its safe navigation, instructing the crew and the engine room in the manoeuvres necessary to steer the ship in or out of the harbour without harm.
To formalise the qualifications held by Pacific pilots, members of the Pacific Maritime Transport Alliance (PMTA) have requested the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's (SPC) assistance in training pilots to an internationally-recognised professional level.
Captain Hakaumotu Fakapelea, Regional Maritime Ports Security adviser with the SPC Transport Programme, said as well as providing pilots with theoretical training from the international pilot syllabus, SPC would also provide a practical-based approach with the use of simulators.
"These computerised programs can replicate harbour and port conditions, with instructors able to alter variables, such as currents or winds, to test the abilities of the pilots," said Captain Fakapelea.
"Many pilots have returned to their home ports throughout the Pacific Islands after years of experience plying international waters, and have already attained their Master's Class One qualification.
"Often, they don't have resources like tug boats to assist them in guiding vessels safely to the wharf side. But they know if charts on incoming vessels are out-of-date, if currents have changed, a wharf has been extended, or if an impending cyclone should be weathered away from the wharf."
PMTA member ports include Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Cook Islands, Niue, Nauru, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, American Samoa, New Caledonia and Tahiti. SPC has provided secretariat services to the Alliance since 2006.