The blind leading the blind…

Tacoma’s “” described a Help Wanted ad that had been published on the 16th, and here’s what was specified in the report:

The job: — Guiding ships through Puget Sound
Salary: — $ 215,000 a year
Current roster: — 51 pilots
Needed: — About five new pilots
Next test: — Nov.14
Signup: — By 5 p.m. Monday
Application info: — 206-515-3647 or e-mail
For more: —

That was the whole ad and it sounds like a terrific opportunity. But no, we don’t expect you to run right to your phone and apply for the job. We’re just pointing out another unforeseen situation brought about by the growing volumes of containers and the ever-increasing size of mega-ships. The report said that more than 20 people had applied to take the exam, which tests applicants on ship handling, rules, bridge team management and navigation skills for all parts of the Puget Sound. It includes one day of a written exam and a simulated ship-handling test that mimics potential scenarios pilots might encounter, from moving through traffic to handling in treacherous weather conditions. The report stated that the Puget Sound Pilots is one of two pilotage groups in the State of Washington and the only two serving the Sound. In August the state pilotage board, made up of representatives of the shipping industry, the public and the pilots group, declared an emergency shortage of pilots after finding the waiting list depleted and its roster of 51 pilots working frantically to keep up. The emergency led the board to schedule an exam to test for new pilots without the required four months of notice. This will be the first test given in nine years, due in no small part to the recent increase in the number of ships being diverted to Puget Sound from the ports in Southern California. Pilots guided 750 ships through the Sound in September, a 20 % increase from the month’s average of the three previous years, and according to Richard McCurdy, president of the Puget Sound Pilots Association, pilots have seen similar increases each month since April. The emergency is an issue of rest and safety, said Captain McCurdy. The pilots work 24 hours per day for 15 days, with a mandated six hours of rest between each job. They then have 13 days off before going back to work. “Safety is supposedly our middle name — that’s the whole reason our job exists, to have an independent safety person on board. But because of the shortage, we are having to call so many people (during their time off), the quality of the recovery becomes compromised,” Captain McCurdy said. Another unforeseen crisis and still another emergency band-aid treatment.
But what about the demands called for by volume increases next year? And each year after that? Will the quality of talent down the line also be compromised? And won’t this unforeseen need of additional pilots occur in other ports as well? What other surprises are in store for port authorities, do you suppose? Vision and accountability are in short supply, by the looks of things.