The readers’ forum

Askew upgraded port harbor-pilot system

 

The March 14 editorial, Florida’s champion, commended the record of late Gov. Reubin Askew. One item that was not mentioned, however, was Askew’s overhaul of the system of state harbor pilotage, which he signed into law in 1974.

Harbor pilots in Florida used to be selected and licensed by local pilot boards. Each port had its own rules, and pilots were often appointed because they had personal connections to other pilots in the port.

This is still the case in most of the United States. Thanks to Askew, however, Florida has a statewide Board of Pilot Commissioners that recruits the most highly qualified candidates in the country for harbor-pilot positions, regardless of personal connections.

Before a candidate can even begin training to become a harbor pilot in one of Florida’s ports, he or she must:

• Have extensive sea-going experience as a ship’s officer, in most cases a decade or more.

• Obtain the highest score among a field of dozens of qualified applicants on a rigorous written piloting examination administered by Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

The result is that most harbor pilots appointed to begin training in Florida have already graduated from a four-year maritime college and gone on to obtain an unlimited master’s license, the highest license in the U.S. Merchant Marine. In many cases, Florida harbor pilots have also sailed as shipmasters.

The pilot training program in each port lasts a minimum of two years, during which the training pilot handles thousands of ships under supervision, exclusively in the harbor in which he or she is licensed. This system guarantees the safest possible navigation of the giant cargo and cruise ships that transit Florida’s deepwater ports. These ports, including Miami’s, are some of the most environmentally sensitive and economically important in the world. Askew ensured that safeguarding our ports’ integrity and expediting the flow of ship traffic would be entrusted to only the best of the best.

To his credit, Gov. Rick Scott has recognized the value of Florida’s ports by investing state dollars in port infrastructure. It remains to be seen if he also recognizes, as Askew did, the value of the shiphandling experience and independent judgment exercised by harbor pilots in protecting Florida’s ports.

Andrew Melick, chairman,

Biscayne Bay Pilots,

Miami

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