On the morning of February 3rd 2017 the passenger vessel ‘Pacific Eden’ was due to arrive at 0700 into the Port of Eden anchorage. It was a typical summer’s morning with light Northerly winds below 5knots, calm seas and no swell. Pilot was booked to board at 0700 and as per usual pilot boarded the Pilot Vessel around 0630 and proceeded to the pilot boarding ground in readiness to board the Pacific Eden. The normal protocol was followed with regards to contacting the vessel and course and speed of 8kts were agreed upon for the pilot transfer.
The pilot vessel approached the vessel and after several attempts to come alongside the pilot vessel came alongside the port side and the pilot attempted to board the vessel. On boarding the pilot ladder it was noticed that the safety lanyard attaching the pilot to the pilot vessel was still attached!
At this point the pilot stepped back onto the pilot vessel. The pilot was now holding the ships ladder with both hands and feet on the deck of the pilot vessel, the weather was calm and the deck hand quickly unhooked the safety lanyard.
Unfortunately, as this was happening a small gap opened between the pilot vessel and the ship and once the wedge between the two vessels appeared it caused the pilot vessel to be pushed away from the ship too rapidly for the pilot to react to go one way or the other.
Unable to get back onto the pilot vessel and unable to climb onto the ships pilot ladder (not sure the lanyard had been disconnected) consequently the pilot overbalanced and fell forward into the water.
The Pilot vessel continued to move away from the ship thus keeping clear of the man in the water, the ship commenced a man over board maneuverer immediately. The pilot’s life vest inflated once immersed in the water and operated correctly. The pilot floated down the ships port side until clear of the stern by which time the pilot vessel had circled around and was preparing the retrieval system, pilot vessel approached the pilot in the water and retrieved him via a slide system over the stern. From radio recordings it was determined the pilot was in the water for less than 3 minutes (2.26min).
Harbour Master/Pilotage services in the Port of Eden is supplied by Port Authority of NSW (PANSW) and the pilot/harbour master resides full time in Eden. PANSW does not own and operate their own pilot vessel. The service provider for many years has been by the towage company ‘Svitzer’ using one of their modified lines boats.
In the months prior to this event happening another Towage provider (Wide Bay Shipping Services WBSS) had commenced working in the Port of Eden in direct competition to Svitzer and also provided a pilot vessel service utilising a dedicated pilot vessel.
In the three months prior to this incident there had only been seven (7) completed pilotage movements involving this new pilot vessel as such the Pilot vessel crew were relatively inexperienced, although well trained. Potentially, this lack of experience may have contributed to the pilot vessel being pushed away from the hull of the ship at the critical time.
The safety lanyard system used on the new pilot vessel was new to the pilot and was not in use on the alternative pilot vessel. The lanyard was purchased new on the vessels arrival and was the minimum length that can be readily purchased off the shelf at 1m length. Human error of managing two different systems may also have contributed to the circumstances where the pilot was able to board the ship’s ladder on the day with the lanyard still attached.
Additionally, the benign weather conditions created some complacency in the pilots thought process at the time. Once the pilot became aware of the issue with the lanyard still being attached he should have moved back onto the pilot vessel to a safe location and reassessed the situation. Instead he felt that he was safe to remain in position whilst the deck hand removed the lanyard so as he could continue to ascend the pilot ladder.