A detailed history of the maritime pilotage in Malta
by Dr George Said

The law regulates pilotage as a service. The earliest piece of legislation that gave recognition to harbour pilots as an official organisation appeared in 1856. In these regulations, there is a first reference to the licensing of pilots together with some procedural regulations of a technical nature regarding signals, navigation and uniform. More importantly, however, we have the first indication of pilot professionalism and responsibility. Section 19 of these Regulations states that of the four men comprising a Pilot Boat’s crew, two, at least, shall be licensed pilots whilst Section 22 states that when a pilot takes charge of a ship, he is to produce his licence for the inspection of the master a well as a copy of the above mentioned Regulations, if they are so required by the master.

The new regulations for port craft therefore attempted for the first time to regulate the harbour pilots who until then had a free hand in running their operations as they deemed fit. The introduction of a licence would now assign a certain amount of accountability and professionalism to the harbour pilots. The Superintendent of Ports was to award the licence and this is confirmed by Section 21 of the 1856 Regulations which states that “a pilot, when on duty, shall wear on his hat a ribbon with ‘Pilot’ on it, and shall carry on his right arm a badge (to be fixed by the Superintendent of the Ports) bearing the number of his licence”. Therefore, the pilots now had to conform to the orders and requirements of the contemporary equivalent to port authority. This is a situation that is still present in the present day laws on pilotage in Malta.

In October 1880, the pilots formed an organisation called the Malta Pilots Service. The concept was to gather all the different groups of harbour pilots under one umbrella and to minimise, if not eliminate, abuse. This brought about the co-operative system whereby earnings were pooled and distributed proportionately amongst the members of the Service. It also introduced a retirement plan as well as a benefit system for widows and orphans. The role of Chief Pilot, who was in actual fact the general manager of the pilotage service, was introduced. He was to administer the distribution of work, earnings and to manage the maintenance and cost funds.

In 1907 a commission appointed by the government with the specific purpose of investigating the organisation of the Pilotage Service in Malta published a report on “The System of Pilotage in Malta”. The report found that there was an excess of pilots operating in Grand Harbour. The administrative and auditing systems as well as the remuneration systems were highly confusing and extremely vague and there was urgent need for reform.

The Commission urged the Government to nationalise the Pilotage Service and to designate Grand Harbour as a compulsory pilotage area. This latter proposal was based on the complicated, high-level navigational skills which were required to negotiate the narrow waterway created by the construction of the new breakwater arms at the entrance to Grand Harbour. Two steam launches were to be acquired for use as the official pilot launches but the old boats which were used in the past were also to continue their service.

By 1938, it was felt that a separate set of laws had to be drafted in order to regulate properly the pilotage service in Malta. The traffic inside Grand Harbour had become much heavier and navigational systems were rapidly becoming more complicated. After extensive discussions between the harbour pilots, the port authority, the shipping agents and the cabinet, a set of draft regulations that was to be referred to as the Pilotage Ordinance were presented to His Majesty’s Government for implementation. A committee (consisting of the Senior Crown Council, the Captain of the Port, the King’s Assistant Harbour Master, the Chief Pilot and a representative of the Chamber of Commerce), which was eventually to constitute the Pilotage Board, was set up specifically to carry out the task of formulating this set of regulations. These regulations were drawn up according to guidelines given to the committee through the Attorney General by the Government. The committee, on drawing up the regulations, took exception to a number of points and requested their amendment. Most interestingly, the language question regarding the use of English, Italian and Maltese which had dominated both politics and the media towards the late 1930s arose too.

According to Regulation 4 (g), the Italian language was to be abolished from the requirements to obtain a pilot’s licence. The pilots, through Dr Eurico Mizzi who was then President of the Pilot’s Society, asked that Italian (Reading and Conversation) should be included amongst the subjects of examination for the granting of a pilot’s licence. The government turned down this request stating that the official languages were to be English and Maltese, and there was no reason whatsoever why special arrangements were to be made to benefit Italian ships, to the obvious discrimination of those vessels of other nationalities, for which no special arrangements were to be made.

The Regulations also called for the establishment of the Pilotage Board and for a system whereby the Government on advice of the other members of the Pilotage Board who, in turn would consult the Pilots themselves would elect the Chief Pilot. The Regulations laid down a list of requirements (academic and technical) for persons to be suitable candidates for obtaining a Pilots licence. The Regulations also put the pilots directly under the authority of the Superintendent of Ports as well as laying out the duties and responsibilities of the Chief Pilot and the Pilotage Board, many of which apply until this very day.

These proposed Regulations met heavy opposition from the Pilots and the Pilotage Board alike, in particular the sections relating to the appointment of the Chief Pilot and the dispensation of the Italian Language from the requirements for new candidates. However, the Government turned down all requests and the Regulations, after negligible amendments, were passed as law and came into effect from the 1st February 1939.

In 1961 the Pilotage Corps was re-organised under the new Port Division. In 1962, under the Ports Ordinance, a Pilotage Board was set up in order to licence and appoint pilots and to create legislation which was to regulate the Pilot Service in a proper manner according to the law. This was done in the light of Malta’s forthcoming independence and the foreseeing of the closure of the naval base. In
1968, new regulations came into force but these were subsequently amended in 1975. This new law included provisions which were taken out of the old legislation as well as new additions such as those involving pilot training, practices and procedures as well as legislation referring to fund management and tariffs.

The most important piece of legislation to have emerged from the development of Pilotage in Malta was in the form of the Pilotage and Mooring Regulations Legal 1975. This law also provided for the licencing and examining of pilots, the specific role of the chief pilot, a limited amount of pilot procedure, and the administration and financial management of the Pilotage Corps. The pilots now became recognised as semi-autonomous employees under the name of the Malta Pilotage Corps. The major development was that the new law abolished once and for all the unhealthy father-to-son system.

The new regulations laid down certain criteria which applicants for the post of harbour pilot were to meet. They were to possess skills which included a good knowledge of the International Code of Signals, the International Convention on the Prevention of Collisions at Sea, proper use of navigation lights, manoeuvring, chart work, Maltese Territorial and Internal Waters Geography, helm orders, steaming, anchoring, clearing of foul anchors, hawser procedures, mooring and berthing procedures and dry-docking procedures. A good command of the Maltese and English Language was also essential.

Procedures for the election of the Chief Pilot were laid down as well as an outline of his duties. The Chief Pilot was to set the duty rosters and to make sure that the high standard of the pilot service was maintained.

The stabilisation fund was also set up under these regulations. This served to finance ancillary equipment and other requirements of the pilotage corps such as ropes, life and indemnity insurance of the pilots, uniforms, radio equipment and pilot station bills. The stabilisation fund is made up of a percentage (10%) which is charged over and above the fees for pilotage and is paid by the ship owner, charterer, agent, etc.

The regulations laid down, also, the procedures which should be followed in case of any disciplinary action which was taken against anyone of the pilots for any shortcoming on his part in the line of duty. This was also an innovation in the law.

These regulations, albeit their great improvement on past legislation, created a certain amount of legal and administrative difficulties that are having awkward repercussions up to this very day. By virtue of this legal notice, pilots were officially placed under the same umbrella and given the same terms of employment and working conditions as mooring men. The mooring men share the same quarters as the pilots. It is therefore not difficult to understand that, in comparison to the task of a pilot, the task of a mooring man presents virtually no academic or physical challenge or responsibility. This state of affairs has created an operational problem which is still very evident, more than ever before, in today’s Pilotage Corps. The mooring men have a totally different task from the pilots and therefore they must be catered for under a different section of the law. Pilotage is a very serious, delicate and perilous profession which may have consequences of a very grave nature with huge, possibly inconceivable, liabilities. Therefore it must be regulated very stringently and specifically and with much concentration. The pilots should be the most qualified persons in the port area who bear a large amount of responsibility for port safety. As a result of this they should be allowed to operate within an establishment which is correctly set up by the law and which allows them to work professionally and safely and with as few administrative difficulties as possible.

Part 7 of the Malta Maritime Authority Act 1981 dealt with pilotage under Maltese Law. This act virtually uplifted and incorporated the 1975 Pilotage and Mooring Regulations into itself with one difference. By doing so, this area of the law tried to observe matters from an objective point of view. That is to say, the law catered for the requirements and regulation of the pilots, as well as the roles of the Port. What must be noted is that the Malta Maritime Authority Act includes both the 1975 Pilotage and Mooring Regulations, since these were never repealed, as well as the new sections which are general in nature and which cover the general principles governing harbour pilotage in Malta. The more specific principles of the law were provided for under the Pilotage and Mooring Regulations 1975 incorporated into the Malta Maritime Authority Act in 1981.

These two areas of law together with a number of legal notices constituted the law of pilotage in Malta until 2003 when the Maritime Pilotage Regulations came into force.