By Alex Binkley

Marc Grégoire has spent his first weeks as Chairman of the Review of the Pilotage Act commissioning studies, gathering the views of shipowners and others in the industry, and reading as much as he can on the issues.

It’s not that pilotage is new to Grégoire, a former Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard and former Assistant Deputy Minister of Safety and Security at Transport Canada. He notes in an interview that, except for some minor amendments in 1998, the Pilotage Act hasn’t been touched since it was passed in 1972. The maritime sector, like other transportation modes, has undergone a technological revolution since then. Grégoire says he wants to ensure all possible topics are fully covered by the review.

To assist his understanding of the issues, he has commissioned 13 studies related to pilotage that are expected to be submitted in November and December. This month he will hold round-table discussions with key stakeholders on pilotage issues in St. John’s, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa. Submissions to the Review Secretariat from industry are due by the end of October, he said. The public will be able to express its views through information sessions that Transport Canada is organizing on its Ocean Protection Plan.

Grégoire is looking for ways to ensure safe, efficient and environmentally responsible marine pilotage services. His mandate is to consider tariffs, service delivery, governance and dispute resolution issues.

Later in the fall he intends to publish a report outlining what he has heard from the industry and set out the issues to be discussed in the New Year “during a series of solution-focused consultations with stakeholders to consider options.” Many expect a blunt assessment from him.

He hopes to present a final report containing recommendations to modernize the Pilotage Act to Transport Minister Marc Garneau later in April. The minister will decide on the timing of the report’s release.

While the pilotage system has helped ensure a 99 per cent plus safety record, “it’s difficult to isolate how much of that is due to pilots and how much is due to better navigation equipment and ships,” he said. “There are many different pilotage possibilities.” He does not expect that pilotage services will end because the technology isn’t that reliable. However the advent of autonomous ships will likely bring that debate to the forefront.

Bruce Burrows, President of the Chamber of Maritime Commerce, said the review “is a long overdue initiative. The need to complete it quickly is especially important given that we expect the main focus will be on reviewing pilotage operations and evaluating measures to increase efficiency and optimize service delivery, while maintaining the high level of safety for which the system is known. We strongly believe that the legislated monopoly under which pilotage services are provided has contributed to the system’s inability to rein in costs, or ensure adequate service levels in all areas. We also believe that the time is ripe to modernize pilotage in this country by addressing governance issues, while also introducing new technologies and innovation throughout the system.”

Many in the industry want the Review to consider how much pilotage is really required when ships are equipped with the latest electronic navigation gear. Like Burrows, Mike Broad, President of the Shipping Federation of Canada, thinks the four pilotage Authorities across the country are the reason for a staggering increase in tariffs in recent years ranging from 23 to 75 per cent. “Costs are out of control because of the monopoly structure,” he said. Other problems include a requirement for double pilotage and the impact of pilotage costs on the industry’s competitiveness.

The Canada Transportation Act Review by a task force headed by David Emerson has created plenty of ideas for Grégoire. It said the Pilotage Act “should be modernized to take into account new vessel and navigational capabilities to reflect circumstances where risk is reduced, as well as technological advances.” The report said that “It is an opportune time to modernize pilotage requirements and their accompanying regulations to reflect these innovations, so that pilotage enhances rather restricts competition and provides valued services to mariners.” For starters, the four regional pilotage Authorities should be combined into one national pilotage Board with local operation of day-to-day pilotage, it said. The national body “will harmonize the way regions contract for and provide services and will ensure greater efficiency in service delivery. One single Authority that can manage the convergence of technologies and streamline processes and procedures will produce the best selection of user-supported services at the right cost.”

In addition, it was recommended that the government “complete a full assessment of the governance framework for marine navigation services within three years and formally review compulsory pilotage areas, circumstances, and processes every three to five years minimum.”