Chamber of Marine Commerce applauds promise in federal budget to modernize costly Canadian marine pilotage system
The Chamber of Marine Commerce (CMC) is pleased with the Federal Budget promise to introduce legislation to modernize Canada’s pilotage service for commercial ships—a system that has not been overhauled in 45 years.
“This is an historic step forward to make the significant changes needed to the Pilotage Act and its regulatory framework that will create a pilotage system that not only ensures safe navigation but improves the efficiency and competitiveness of Canada’s transportation system for years to come,” said Bruce Burrows, President of the Chamber of Marine Commerce.
“Pilotage costs in Canada are out of control and have a long history of increasing at rates that far exceed inflation. This government-mandated service has for decades been provided by monopolistic entities with little accountability or input from shipoperators and their customers—despite the fact that it is paid for by industry fees—costs passed ultimately to consumers. We look forward to delving into the details of these regulatory changes and working with government and the pilotage authorities in the months to come to improve this valuable service.”
CMC is particularly pleased to see the pledge to increase transparency in Canada’s pilotage system included as part of this reform and will continue to work for a comprehensive legislative and regulatory overhaul of the pilotage regime.
Background on pilotage
In ports and other specific channels, ships are mandated by law to have a pilot come on board to help with navigation. Most of the 3700-kilometer Great Lakes/St. Lawrence waterway is within a mandatory pilotage zone as are other areas along the east and west coasts of Canada.
The rationale is that a Canadian-licensed pilot will navigate the challenging areas where the ships’ crew may not have traveled often and know the potential hazards. This is an important safety measure, however, problems exist on how the service works.
With just over 400 pilots in Canada, pilotage is managed by four federal crown corporations, each with their own set of regulations, operational procedures and management practices. In some areas, these pilotage authorities must contract pilots from monopoly, for-profit pilot corporations, which are not obligated to provide any financial transparency.
And in many of the pilotage zones, archaic and cumbersome rules make it almost impossible for domestic ship masters and mates to be certified to pilot their own vessels—despite having similar local knowledge and expertise and having access to state-of-the-art navigation and traffic control management systems.
Ship operators, ports and customers alike are pushing for a host of reforms, including having the government create a standardized and improved certification program for domestic crews across Canada.
On the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, domestic ship masters and mates have been certified to pilot their own vessels, and they have a safety record that is better than that of their government-mandated counterparts.
Fees, salaries and benefits paid to licensed pilots averaged $376,500 per pilot in 2016—increasing 3.4 times more than CPI over the last five years. On the St. Lawrence River, for example, the hourly cost of pilotage exceeds the total cost of the entire crew of a vessel.
See our full recommendations for reform here.