Associated British Ports Humber Pilot, Ben Jeffrey, highlights how the pilots have been adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic, whilst delivering the core business of moving ships through the Humber.

Former Submariner Ben Jeffrey left the Royal Navy in April 2019 where he was responsible for navigating one of the largest nuclear submarines in the UK’s fleet, the Vanguard class submarine. Following his 12 years’ service in the Navy Ben qualified as a Class Three Humber Pilot at the start of 2020, after completing ABP’s six month Humber Pilot Trainee programme.

Today Ben pilots ships within the Humber Pilotage Area that starts from the Spurn Light Float out at sea, and stretches all the way through the Humber Estuary, all the way up the River Ouse to Goole, and up the River Trent to Gainsborough. As the largest harbour district in the UK, the Humber Estuary is very dynamic and undergoes a great deal of transition when the weather changes meaning that no two days are ever the same for the pilots navigating vessels through the Estuary.

“The main changes in our work have included our interaction with others and the equipment we use, along with some of our procedures. Hygiene on a ship has always been of paramount importance – a healthy ship is a happy ship. Like the COVID-19 pandemic, illness can travel fast in the confined quarters of a ship, especially when people share facilities such as toilets, showers and recreation rooms. It would be valid to state that seafarers are well versed in the cleaning requirements to combat this pandemic – they have been keeping ships in shipshape and Bristol fashion for a long time. Naturally crews can be wary of ‘visitors’ boarding their ship and, clearly as a Pilot we are visitors and must respect their need to maintain strict hygiene and not pose a threat to the crew.

Considering our unique position, ABP have taken every precaution. It starts before the vessel enters the Humber. All vessels inbound to the district must declare a health certificate stating that they are disease free before the Pilot boards. The Pilot’s preparation for boarding starts hours before setting foot on the ship. At Hesselwood (the Pilots’ Muster Point) alcohol gel, cleaning wipes and PPE is available to ensure the Pilot is fully protected. The cars we use to travel around the district are cleaned on a regular basis; daily by a valet and cleaned before use by the Pilot.

The Pilot Launches, which are the boats used to embark Pilots to the ships, are also part of the cleaning routine and Pilot numbers in the launches have been limited to two Pilots per launch to reduce chance of infection. Previously the MPX (Master Pilot exchange) was signed by the two parties. Now it is signed by the Pilot and agreed orally by the Master; therefore, reducing the chance of transfer from the paper and pen. This implemented change along with social distancing, which still applies onboard ships, will all help to reduce the chances of transferring the virus. The sum of these precautions and the adherence of the crews to national guidelines will be undoubtedly limiting the spread of this pandemic.”

ABP Humber Director Simon Bird said: “It is truly remarkable what our teams across the Humber are doing in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Making sure our colleagues go home safely every day is our number one priority. My heartfelt thanks go to all at ABP Humber for the work they are undertaking daily to keep supplies coming into the country.”

www.abports.co.uk