Australian Pilotage Group's helicopter over ship in Port Phillip Bay.

The sky’s the limit for new Port Phillip sea pilot service

To ensure the safety of a ships passage within the port waters of Victoria, licensed pilots are employed by pilotage services providers to guide ships into and out of port waters.

The new kid on the block is the Australian Pilotage Group (APG) who recently guided its first ship into the Port of Melbourne. Marine pilots Captain Charles Griffiths and Captain David Ellis were flown to the ro-ro vessel Höegh Trapper by helicopter before being winched on board. Captain Griffiths guided the ship through Port Phillip Heads and into port with Captain Ellis observing.

APG managing director, Captain Stephen Rabie, said the marine pilots boarded the ship some 10 nautical miles off Port Phillip Heads. “We like to transfer the marine pilots on board early at 10 miles off. This gives them more time to do the master/pilot exchange in detail, and set the ship up for the entrance through the Heads.

The flight time from Avalon, winching two pilots onboard and return took 30 minutes. The ship didn’t have to slow down from its speed of 16.3 knots as the marine pilot was collected by helicopter. The winching went very smoothly which is testament to the thorough training undertaken. The whole thing was ‘uneventful’ in the words of our chief helicopter pilot Captain Stephan D’Hoedt upon returning to base.

We are absolutely certain that this method of marine pilot transfer is safer than using pilot ladders and, being a faster method of deploying pilots, reduces fatigue. During a helicopter transfer, the ship doesn’t have to slow down, and the marine pilots can board a couple of miles further off the heads, giving them more time to conduct their passage plans and BRM procedures.

APG is an Australian leader in Marine Pilot Transfer (MPT) being the first Australian MP service provider to adopt the innovative, world’s best practice, of winching the MP directly onto the bridge wing, thereby saving time and money for the ship owner. Multiple transfers can happen in minutes not hours. It is a ‘win-win’ for the marine pilots, harbour authorities and ship owners.

We own and operate two AS365N2 Dauphin helicopters, located at Avalon airport. This type of helicopter was used to transport personnel to and from ships at sea at other ports around the world and is the first choice of the pilots at Le Havre, having been in service since 1986.

We have some of the most highly trained helicopter pilots in Australia working for us, and a long-serving professional marine pilot in the management team. We have search and rescue capabilities, and are able to carry out personnel evacuation in the event of severe weather.

APGs Dauphins are some of the best aircraft type for marine pilot transfers in terms of safety, mission capability and versatility and offers a modern, safe, and efficient way to increase a port’s productivity while decreasing port congestion.”