In this interview, the President of the African Maritime Pilots Association (AMPA), Captain Mohamed Rafouk who is based in Morocco speaks on how maritime pilots in Africa have coped since the outbreak. He also talks of their interactions with Port Authorities and what their expectations are.
Maritime Pilots are often the first to board vessels calling at the seaports. They assist Captains of various international vessels with safely navigating through the port channel into the berth or out of the port.
Given their responsibilities, the arrival of COVID-19 presented greater risk for maritime pilots in Africa who also remained at work at the peak of the Pandemic when world was on lockdown… Enjoy reading!
How have African Maritime Pilots fared since the Corona Virus Pandemic began and what has been the general disposition to their jobs since the outbreak?
RAFOUK: Thank you for your question. Indeed, African Pilots faced a new risk in this Pandemic. Nevertheless, as professionals committed to the high interests of their respective countries, pilots all around the continent have adopted the best safety practices in the highly changing context to mitigate the new risk and safely secure continual flows of medicines, foods and goods. Their situational awareness and skills allow them to cope with such risky situations. African Pilots have followed safety instructions from their respective countries and best world practices even ashore and on-board ships to be well and far from being contamination vectors at their ports or the ships they manoeuvred safely inbound and outbound their ports. Physical distancing, facemasks, gloves, hydro-alcoholic solutions, and some other specific over-wears were commonly respected measures.
What challenges have COVID-19 posed to Maritime Pilots in Africa?
RAFOUK: The invisible COVID-19 spectre threatens pilots when performing their duties on-board ships coming from highly contaminated areas. I think specially for our pilots who have to board vessels only hours after departure from those areas before every one, and well before any visible symptoms could be detected on crews or passengers who continued to travel. Among safety measures, facemask reduces significantly the breath of the pilot when climbing high pilot ladders and ship stairs to reach bridge for conducting ships manoeuvrings. The daily physical impact on our job has increased.
Have you had reports of Pilots getting infected by contacts on vessels?
RAFOUK: AMPA has not had any reported case of infection of pilots. We are glad about that and we encourage pilots to keep high-level commitment to COVID-19 safety measures, avoiding the Pandemic spread ashore and on-board ship, the risk is still important.
How responsive have Port Authorities in Africa been to dialogues about protecting pilots from COVID-19?
RAFOUK: Governments in Africa issued policies on how to tackle the Pandemic. The most important measures are the lockdown and homeworking (working from one’s house). Ports Authorities have to follow the relevant instructions. For pilots, some of these measures are not applicable. Pilots have to come on-board all international flagged vessels intending to enter or leave the port. Generally, Port Authorities have been receptive and have responded in reasonable time to pilots’ requests of deploying specific PPEs (personal Protective Equipment).
To cushion the effect of the Pandemic, what recommendations have your Association made to Ports Authorities of Member States and what is the level of compliance to the advisory?
RAFOUK: AMPA’s high focus is on reports of how pilots are safely equipped and how they are satisfactory protected whilst boarding ships, and how they are confident when using provided PPEs.
In situations where Pilots are not provided with Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), what does the Association expect of them?
RAFOUK: AMPA cannot support such situations; taking in mind that only little number of pilots are available per port to handle all the ships’ traffic. Every pilot’s loss or contamination could cause disturbance to the balance of the ports’ services and consequently have an impact on ports’ stakeholders, shipping and land-based industries.
Pilots regularly go on courses, which are often times simulated trainings to keep abreast with best practices. How has the lockdown affected the training of maritime pilots in Africa and what do you see as a way forward?
RAFOUK: The COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented situation. One of the aspects is the postponement of trainings at simulation centres specifically for young cadets pilots. Nevertheless, experienced pilots at each port do their best to keep the skills development of the next generations coming up. It is a continuous tradition in pilotage. AMPA can however confirm that some training centres will soon be opened with new specific safety measures in place.
Post COVID-19, what changes would Pilots and Ports Authorities be battling with? What should be urgently be put in place by Ports Authorities to tackle the challenges you have spotted?
RAFOUK: Pilots are committed to protection of the environment, ports infrastructure and ships, and to the improvement of the safe flow of the chain of ships’ traffic inbound and outbound their ports. They are facing many personal risks as they perform their duties, such as the exposure to epidemic diseases, or fatal injuries. Pilotage should not be a weak shackle in this highly capitalistic chain. To reach the ultimate goal of African ports’ development, Authorities focus should be a continuous support to the Safety, Personal Development and Empowerment of maritime pilots in Africa.