Marine Pilotage, Statutory Protection and Strict interpretation

It is refreshing to hear very recently from Canada of the case of the Cape Apricot, ( Federal Court, T-2259-12 – unreported) where in February 2014 the decision of the Court turned upon compliance or otherwise with local marine pilotage regulations.

A ship under compulsory pilotage (the Cape Apricot) had incurred damage liability of 60 Million US Dollars. Here was a case in which the owners of the vessel, following faulty navigation, alleged that the pilot was not properly qualified in accordance with local regulations.

If it could be shown that the allegation of non-qualification as a pilot in accordance with local regulations was well founded, the pilot then would be at personal risk of liability to make good the damage at $60 million; as the statutory protection (equivalent of Section 22 of UK Pilotage Act 1987, which sets a limit of £1,000 on the civil liability of an authorised pilot) for properly qualified pilots would not then apply. This was no trifling matter.

The local requirement in the case was not merely that a licensed pilot should hold a Master Mariner’s Certificate but also that he was “able to meet” that requirement. At the time when the damage was caused, the pilot had allowed his Master’s Certificate to lapse; and there was therefore scope to challenge his entire qualification. He was, however, able to revalidate his Certificate without difficulty by showing that de facto he had complied with all of the requirements of the Certificate (CPD etc); and that the matter of re-validation was a mere clerical exercise.

On that basis, he was “able to meet” the requirement to hold a Master Mariner’s Certificate. His pilot’s licence was therefore valid. Fortunately for the pilot there was no breach of the local regulations and his statutory protection thus continued to apply.