"Maritime Pilots are modern traditionalists..."

Capt. Cahit Istikbal has been IMPA Vice President for 3 terms , 12 years in total. Captain Istikbal was nominated for IMPA President for elections at General Assembly which will be held in Panama early this April. We interviewed with Capt. İstikbal on almost everything..

"Maritime Pilots are modern traditionalists..."
25 August 2014 - 21:31

SeaNews: Mr. Cahit Istikbal, can you tell us what a ‘Pilot’ does?

Cahit Istikbal:  A Pilot today is a maritime professional who possesses expertise in ship navigation and maneuvering in a certain sea area, strait or port.

 WHO IS Capt. Cahit İstikbal?
 Cahit Istikbal was born in Rize,  and graduated from the Turkish Merchant Marine Academy.   After 13 years of working at sea on merchant ships of almost all types; tankers,  ro-ro vessels, general cargo vessels and mostly on passenger vessels, he became a pilot for the Turkish Straits in 1996.  Currently he is Chief Pilot in the Istanbul Port and Harbour, under Turkish Coastal Safety Administration. Capt Istikbal has participated in all major IMO meeting since 1998.  He has spoken on behalf of the Turkish Delegation on many occasions including the pilotage resolution A485(12) and he took part in the drafting groups that were set to finalise the resolution. Capt Istikbal was also chief of the organisation committee for the 2004 IMPA Congress which took place in Istanbul, Turkey. Capt. Istikbal was president of Turkish Maritime Pilots’ Association between 2006-2008. He worked actively to extinguish the competition fire in Turkey; which took place in the Gulf of Izmit between 2004-2006. He dedicated this experience to the work of IMPA; which is against competition in pilotage. To contribute to the world of pilotage, Capt Istikbal was a leader in setting up one of the first pilotage and maritime websites in 1996, serving the maritime world with maritime news, pilotage news, maritime software etc.  Through this site Capt Istikbal has organised solidarity campaigns to assist colleagues around the world. Capt Istikbal became a member of the IMPA International Technical Committee in 1999 and a member of the Executive Committee in 2002. Capt. Istikbal was re-elected to Impa Executive in apt. Istikbal’s third term as IMPA Vice-President; and during these periods, he chaired working groups such as Pilot Ladder WG; Competition WG; and Criminalisation WG. Captain Istikbal is married with Fulya with two daughters; Defne and Deniz.

SeaNews: You said ‘today’, can we assume that a pilot’s job was different before?

Cahit Istikbal: Certainly yes. Because it was different in medieval times or the middle ages. First of all, pilotage is one of the oldest professions in the world. As old as maritime history. As soon as mankind started to use the sea for transportation, perils of the sea have been a major concern. 

A mariner’s boat sank, ran aground, hit invisible rocks or went adrift in unfamiliar waters. In the history of mankind, every profession has emerged because of a need. It was the same in the case of Pilots. Over time sailors navigating in unfamiliar waters used the guidance of local fishermen, local sailors or the natives of the region. 

Pilots in ancient times, just as they are today, were classified under two main groups - “deep sea pilots” and “coastal pilots”. 

Deep sea pilots used to pilot the boats from the start of the voyage until the end. They were responsible for navigation. 

We learn from ancient literature that pilots during those times were very good sailors and remained onboard for long periods. This further demonstrates that pilots, even in those ancient times, were expert navigators who piloted boats for the whole duration of a voyage most of the time. 

The other form of pilotage was the “Coastal” or “Harbour” pilotage in which, pilots used to give their service at a certain sea area, strait, fjord or port. Today, this general classification has not changed. 

International Maritime Organization begins the Resolution A.960 with the words “Other than deep sea pilots…” Of course, a more general classification is done here.

Pilots, as we have mentioned above, have not been confined to just piloting ships. They were the maritime professionals who found solutions for direction finding and used tools developed for that purpose. Direction was a major concern in those times. Another tool which pilots used expertly was plumb sounding.

SeaNews: I thought that the Captain was in charge of navigating the ship in open seas. Was it different in ancient times?

Cahit Istikbal: Yes, in ancient times it was a little different. In medieval Europe, being a pilot meant a person’s head was at stake. 

This was because the law in that era was to behead the pilot who failed in safely navigating the ship and her cargo, unless he could compensate the loss for either. 

Nevertheless, historically there are no cases showing that a pilot was beheaded due to errant navigation,damage or loss due to an accident. It demonstrates pilots were good professionals even in those times.

The medieval maritime law described pilots under two categories: the first category of Pilots serviced ships at high seas at any distance or for long routes; while pilots under the other category rendered services for shorter distances, close to shore and in and out of ports. As I mentioned earlier, the professionals in the first category were called as deep sea pilots, and the second were called as the coastal or harbor pilots.

The importance of deep sea pilots increased in the age of great discoveries. This was because during this period, the need for experienced navigational experts was greater than ever. 

Shipbuilding techniques were advanced enough to build ocean going boats, what was needed were expert sailors to navigate these boats in uncharted waters. Christopher Columbus, the great Spanish explorer was one navigator who benefited from the services of pilots for his voyages. However, all deep sea pilots were not successful. Both Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci complained about the lack of knowledge and errors of some deep-sea pilots. 

According to the rules of that time, a deep sea pilot could immediately be beheaded if he failed to demonstrate his good service or expertise or fulfill his professional responsibilities. The exception to this could be a vote against the helmsman of the ship, crew, or the majority of traders. An event that took place in Hawaii, in which a boat went aground due to the error of a pilot who would survive afterwards, is an example of that.

A native Hawaiian called Koa’a, who piloted the boat of Captain James Cook, grounded a boat. After the incident, Koa’a managed to save himself but quit being a pilot and was never seen again.

To answer your question, the period of great discoveries, was a period in which the captains were the ship owners as well. 

The responsibilities of the captain were not limited to the navigation of the ship or manning of the crew. He also used to be the representative of the cargo owners. Ship navigation was a duty mostly carried out by the helmsman or the pilot. 

The Quartermaster was responsible for setting or lowering the sails, changing the route, handling of cargo and all other related work. 

The Pilot’s responsibility was to safely navigate the ship until the destination port and avoid any hazards on the route.  

SeaNews: So what was the situation in Turkey, during the old times?

Cahit Istikbal: If we leave aside the hypothesis which proposes that the ancient Anatolian nations such as the Hittites and Trojans were of Turkish origin; the first Turkish settlement in Anatolia dates back to 1071 Malazgirt Victory. But of course, the maritime history of this land is much older. So much so that the first pilotage service of ancient times was rendered in the Bosphorus, which is called as the Strait of Istanbul today. According to legend, before the Trojan Wars, passing through the Bosporus with his boat ‘Argo’, Jason, benefited from a local pilot. And we know that pilots of the ancient port city of Troy in the Dardanelles used to render pilotage services for the Strait and ships used to wait for months in the anchorage of Troy, for fair winds and currents.

More recently, during the rise of the Ottoman Empire, mariners such as the great Turkish admiral Piri Reis were the maritime pilots of that era. Just as it was in Europe, deep sea pilotage also existed in the Ottoman Empire, in which pilots were responsible for the navigation of ships in open seas. Towards the ends of the 18th Century, from the report of a French bureaucrat who was deployed in Istanbul, we learn that the pilots of that period were of Greek origin and did not know how to use navigation tools such as the sextant and compass and were only familiar with visual navigation. 

In the same report it was mentioned that due to the lack of knowledge of open sea navigation of Ottoman pilots, navy ships bound for Egypt would reach Rhodes with visual navigation and afterwards, looked for a foreign ship to lead them to Egypt.  

SeaNews: What is the present situation?

Cahit Istikbal: The establishment of modern pilotage services was first done after founding the Turkish Republic.  Until the 1990s, pilotage services were under the control of government and state-owned companies. In the second half of the 1990s, the ongoing trend of privatization found its way into the pilotage services as well. Some of the privatized ports that opened included pilotage services. In some pilotage districts, such as the Izmit Gulf and the Gulf of Nemrut, Government authorized private companies to render pilotage services. At present, there is a hybrid pilotage system in Turkey. In this system, there are both public and private pilot companies that are in service but in different districts. 

The Government company renders pilotage services in the Turkish Straits and at Izmir and Istanbul ports. In all other regions, these services are provided by private pilotage companies.

SeaNews: What is the structure of private pilot organizations in Turkey?

Cahit Istikbal: There are rules for such companies but no qualification standards for them at the moment. Should there be? I think there should. I say this by observing modern developed countries. Pilotage is a service in which public interests have got a major part. The primary customer of the pilot’s service is not the ship, but the public. 

Who places a pilot onboard a ship? It is either the Coastal state or the port state. For what reason? To protect her own sea area, port or strait against the risks of accidents. Therefore, either the pilot has to fulfill this duty or the organization the pilot serves needs to be pre-qualified and inspected. From this perspective, we recommend an organizational structure in which pilots are at the forefront. In Germany, the Netherlands, and in the United States such organizations render the service. Turning to us, as I said, at present there is a mixed structure. Both the state and the private sectors are rendering this service. Within the private sector, there is only one example in which pilots own the pilotage company. This company serves in the Gulf of Izmit and is a member of IMPA on behalf of Turkey.

SeaNews: What are the disadvantages of ports that render pilotage services?

Cahit Istikbal: Pilots protect public interest. A pilot should always be in favor of maritime safety.  A port’s commercial objectives can cause a conflict of interest as ports operate in competition with other ports. In this complex issue, pilots should remain partial to maritime safety and be independent of this port structure. For example, in the UK, the Sea Empress accident occurred at Milford Haven, due to the commercial pressure exerted on the pilot by the refinery to bring the tanker into port in low tide. A major environmental disaster occurred when the tanker went aground on the rocks at low tide in the evening. 

SeaNews: Well, let’s talk about the practice of pilotage. What does a pilot do onboard the ship? What are the pilot transferring arrangements? 

Cahit Istikbal: It is not an easy job to go onboard a ship and navigate. It is a risky job. In Turkey, we lost two of our fellow pilots in pilot ladder accidents. This is because in pilotage; there are three main elements for rendering the service: pilot station, pilot boat and the pilot ladder. A pilot station is the home base for the service. Ships ask for a pilot from here. Upon this request, the pilot gets onboard the small transfer boat which we call the pilot boat and proceeds to the ship. Ships reduce speed to allow the boat to come alongside. The ships rig a rope ladder with wooden steps which we call as a pilot ladder down the shipside.

The standards for this ladder, the steps, distance between the steps and maximum allowable freeboard height to rig the ladder are determined by the International Maritime Organization. It cannot be higher than 9 meters. Pilots have to climb up the ladder to go onboard the ship. Vessels with freeboards higher than 9 meters can use the ladder in combination with the accommodation gangway. Many accidents occur due to the non-conformity of pilot ladders. Sometimes the ladder rope breaks while the pilot climbs up the ladder. Sometimes due to non-compliance of handrails pilots can fall. Unfortunately, these fatal accidents happen once or twice every year. 

After having climbed up the ladder, pilots walk along the deck and climb up the accommodation area to reach the bridge. If he is unlucky and there are no elevators onboard, it can be a long climb up. At the bridge, the pilot meets with the captain. There should be a short exchange of information between them. The format and content of this exchange of information is again determined by the IMO.

SeaNews: How is the relationship between pilots and masters?

Cahit Istikbal: Except for special cases, the relationship between pilots and masters is based on sympathy and mutual respect. After shaking hands with the master, the pilot usually takes the con. 

Pilots usually perform their duties in problematic high-risk sea areas and therefore we feel that the master is relieved when the pilot arrives on the bridge. This is a nice moment shared between both parties. The pilot should be able to manage this psychological situation when he arrives on the bridge.

SeaNews: We know that you have been the vice president of the International Maritime Pilots’ Association or IMPA for a long time. Could you please give us some information about IMPA?

Cahit Istikbal: IMPA was founded in 1970 in Hamburg. It represents some 8000 pilots from 54 countries around the world and has the status of an International Association. The Organization conducts vocational and technical studies related to the profession of pilotage. IMPA has a consultant member status at the International Maritime Organization and contributes in the work there with her maritime expertise. 

Thanks to the positive contribution provided in matters related with maritime safety, IMPA is a well-respected member of IMO. IMPA also organizes meetings in different member countries biannually. These are meetings which are in the format of a forum. Pilots from around the world gather in these congresses and share their knowledge and experience. General Assemblies might produce resolutions aimed for bettering of pilotage services and improving maritime safety.

SeaNews: Has the Assembly ever been held in Turkey?

Cahit Istikbal: Yes it has been held in Turkey. In 2004, the General Assembly of IMPA was held in Istanbul. It is still remembered amongst the members as one of the most successful general meetings in the history of IMPA, if not the most successful one. The Turkish Maritime Pilots’ Association hosted this meeting.

SeaNews: At this point, let’s talk about the activities of Turkey within IMPA. How has your voyage up to Vice-President been?

Cahit Istikbal: Turkey became a member of IMPA in 1997. The first General Assembly Turkey had participated was in Shanghai, China. We participated together with Captain Aykut Erol. Aykut Erol was then the President of the Association. I was a young pilot who had just started. When we went to Shanghai to attend the General Assembly nobody knew us in IMPA. Pilots around the world at that time, as they do now, had problems. We prepared a paper which touched the problems of pilots and offered solutions. During that time, the President of IMPA was Mr. Michel Pouliot from Canada. We went over and told him that we have written a paper and that we would like to distribute it to pilots. Mr. Pouliot took a brief look at the paper and was probably happy with the content.  Mr. Pouliot then asked us to submit the paper to the floor. We were very happy. I submitted the paper to the pilots that day and it was received with great appreciation. Of course, it was a source of pride for us as well; being professionals from Turkey who had a chance to offer solutions to pilots at an international event! Capt. Geoffrey Taylor from the UK, who had been elected as Vice President of IMPA in Shanghai; suggested my name for the International Technical Committee of IMPA. I helped this committee with their work on various issues, including the prevention of ladder accidents. After serving in the Committee for 3 years, in 2002, at the 13th General meeting in Hamburg, I was nominated by the Turkish Maritime Pilots’ Association and elected as the Vice President of IMPA. There were eight candidates for this post in Hamburg. I was the second amongst the eight candidates after voting.

I continued to work in the IMPA team and chaired the Committees of the Human Element and Pilot Ladders. I am currently chairing the Competition Working Group within the organization. 

The President and Vice President are elected to serve for a term of 4 years. I was first elected in Hamburg in 2002 and then re-elected in 2006 at Havana. I was re-elected the third time in 2010 at Brisbane. Time goes by so fast! Now we are in the year 2014 and this time, the 19th General Assembly will be held in Panama in which I will compete with my fellow colleague, Capt. Simon Pelletier from Canada. 

Simon is a very distinguished pilot. Our competition is valid only until the elections. After that, no matter who is elected, we will continue to work together for IMPA.

SeaNews: What are the common problems faced by pilots around the world?

Cahit Istikbal: We can list the problems of world pilots under two main categories: Administrative and technical. Technically pilots have problems due to improper pilot transfer arrangements which endanger their lives. Therefore, improving these standards is vital as well as monitoring the compliance with the existing standards. For this purpose, we participate and support the studies within the IMO where these standards are determined and updated. The IMO Resolution on the Training, Certification and Operational Procedures of Pilots which was adopted at the 23rd Assembly with the important contributions from IMPA, includes a rule by which a pilot should have the right to refuse pilotage when the ship to be piloted poses a danger to the safety of navigation or to the environment. 

Of course, this rule is also important for the protection of pilots. As long they can see the non-conformity! It is not always possible to notice a rotten ladder rope or a broken step. 

When it comes to Administrative problems, the organizational structure, privatization and competition are the major challenges that pilots face.

There are different structures for maritime organizations in various countries of the world; therefore a common standard is out of question. Therefore, all professionals onboard ships are included in the STCW Convention of the IMO except for pilots. 

IMO leaves the determination on pilotage organization and professional standards of Pilots to the discretion of each administration. 

In competition issues and problems related to the organizational structure, IMPA has released a number of resolutions adopted at general assemblies which may provide guidance to national administrations. Our common goal is to ensure maritime safety, protect the marine environment and to prevent marine accidents that pose a great risk to human life. For this purpose, IMPA is at the forefront for the service of pilots, as well as all other organizations that aim to improve maritime safety.

SeaNews: If you are elected as IMPA President at Panama; what changes do you promise to implement?  

Cahit Istikbal: My main aim is to improve interaction and collaboration within IMPA members and thereby enable IMPA to become more productive. Like all organizations with big roots in history, IMPA also faces the challenge of being cumbersome. We’re all employed in a traditional profession, but we serve in a modern technological environment. The world is constantly evolving. We need to continue to merge our traditions with the modern world and keep pace with technological developments. To achieve a combination of all of this, more cooperation amongst the members is required and a common information pool should be created. This should be a pool which members can make use of when needed. My aim will be to modernize the Organization while maintaining our traditions. This may seem like a contrast but actually it is not. 

If I am elected, I will move in this direction by a reorganization of the structure of IMPA. Together with our members, my aim will be towards more cooperation and more contribution to the industry. This is what is expected from an international organization with a lot of potential in terms of maritime safety. We will create the infrastructure with which we will be able to provide support to our members for the challenges they face at home.

SeaNews: We wish you success in the general elections of IMPA. What kind of activities do you conduct outside of IMPA?

Cahit Istikbal: As you know I am working in the office of the Director General of Coastal Safety. I am the Chief Pilot of the Port and Harbors of the Istanbul area. Other than that, I carry out many studies regarding maritime activities and maritime safety. When the Turkish Straits issue was on the IMO’s agenda, I was part of the Turkish delegation at the IMO and contributed as an expert. I am a person who keeps himself busy by seeking solutions to maritime issues. By writing technical and professional articles, I am trying to contribute in the intellectual sense. Ship maneuvering is of personal interest as well. I give lectures at professional refreshment seminars of pilots. I’m trying to share with my colleagues what I learn in my profession. In this sense, I can say that every minute of my time is full. For this reason I had to postpone my book projects. My other area of interest is being a professional tourist guide. My wife is also a professional guide. I successfully passed the exams in 1997 and attended courses, training and qualified as a professional tour guide in the English language. I received my license and have updated it every year. From time to time, I support the Chamber of Tour Guides in their seminars and professional studies. I’ve had many memorable experiences and one of them was to be the Guide of Syrian President Bashar Assad when he was in Turkey for an official visit; this was when Turkey and Syria had good relations.

SeaNews: Thank you very much for your time. All the best for the elections. 

(This interview was published on the March 2014 issue of SeaNews Magazine) 

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