Fatigue has been a top issue for the past few months as more and more accident investigations on the shipping industry inextricably link this problem to the ever present human error cause.
Reports of collisions and vessels going aground because the officer of the watch was sleeping are becoming, unfortunately, quite common.
There are several causes that contribute to fatigue at sea such as poor sleep quality, environmental factors, high stress situations and also the inadequate manning levels on some type of ships.
IMO is aware of this problem and is about to discuss a proposal by a group of European countries aiming for the review of the principles for establishing the safe manning of vessels.
As far as pilotage service is concerned the problems faced are similar although with obvious nuances. The responsibility of the pilot while maneuvering the vessels, the irregular pattern of work, the increased strain during night work, etc., all gathers to the build up of fatigue which can lead to dangerous occurrences.
Taking a proactive approach on this subject, Viana Pilots established a fatigue prevention/management plan which has been in effect for the last couple of years. Apart of the inevitable records of rest/work periods, it consists of very simple rules that were introduced in the Pilotage Internal Regulations for Viana do Castelo port.
The purpose of these rules is to ensure the safety of the pilotage service, allowing that all pilots will be in control of their physical and mental capabilities at the beginning, and during the pilotage act.
First thing we did was defining two basic definitions for this fatigue prevention rules:
a) Night-time period – between 2300 and 0630.
b) Critical period of circadian rhythm – between 0200 and 0600.
After this, the following rules were established:
1. A pilot will not perform a pilotage act on more than two night-time periods on consecutive days.
2. In the case of performing pilotage act on two periods of night-time pilotage on consecutive days, only one may include (totally or partially) the critical period of circadian rhythm.
3. In the event of an unforeseen operational alteration or emergency, the pilot may complete the second period of night-time pilotage on consecutive days without being subject to the previous rule.
4. A pilot will not undergo more than three days with night-time period pilotage in a week (two may be consecutive if preceded or followed by a day off).
Obviously these rules will not fit to every port, and are also a reflection of the fact that pilots at Viana also have to ensure the traffic management and administrative tasks the following day.
Having said this, I must draw your attention to the fact that these rules were actually “stolen” and adapted from our civil aviation pilot colleagues - Organization of Working Time of Mobile Workers in Civil Aviation (Directive 2000/79/CE of 27 November 2000).
Unfortunately for us, seamen, the maritime regulators take a reactive approach to these subjects, while on the airline industry, these issues are taken much more serious (I wonder if it is because they are traveling by plane…)