Kiel Pilots Operating on Emergency Basis

published on 3 June 2024 956 -

Pilot transfer station near Kiel

Pictures by NOK II / Julian Jager

Since October, pilots from Kiel have been unable to use their offshore transfer station. Long detours and limited rest periods have complicated their workdays, with no end in sight.

"When I see the lighthouse now, there's always a bit of sadness. It was my home here at sea for 23 years," says Daniel Wagner as he passes the Kiel lighthouse in his orange pilot boat. Wagner has just transferred a pilot to a cargo ship heading for the Kiel Canal. A few months ago, he would have taken a break at the pilot station in the Kiel lighthouse until the next pilot transfer. But since October 20, 2023, that’s no longer possible. The century storm surge severely damaged the lighthouse, leading the Baltic Sea Waterways and Shipping Office to close it. The closure remains in effect to this day.

Holiday Apartments as an Emergency Solution
Instead of heading to the lighthouse, Daniel Wagner could drive to Laboe, where two small holiday apartments have been rented as a temporary solution for pilots and pilot boat operators to rest. However, time often does not permit this. The trip to Laboe takes about 25 minutes, compared to five minutes to the lighthouse. "It's rarely worth it because I often have to pick up the next pilot right away," explains Wagner. So instead of resting, he has to continue rocking on the high seas.

Pilots Without Essential Technology
In Laboe, Christian Schie and Matthias Krügel are waiting for their next assignment. They also find little benefit in the holiday apartments due to the shortened rest periods and the lack of essential technology needed to prepare for their jobs. "Here we are far from the action and have to use the simplest means to get an overview of the maritime situation," explains Christian Schie. Instead of radar support and VHF equipment, the apartment only has a makeshift LTE router.

After half an hour, a call suddenly comes in. The assignment location has changed. The two must travel nearly an hour by taxi back to Holtenau to join at the lock there. Such journeys have become more frequent since the lighthouse closure, as the pilot boats can no longer transport all pilots with the extended travel times.
Pilot Boat
Pilot Boat "Laboe"
Pilot Boat
Pilot Boat "Laboe"
Rocked on the High Seas
Daniel Wagner now has two new pilots on board, picked up in the Kiel Fjord. Both need to board new ships soon. Once again, there isn’t enough time to head to Laboe. "We’ll have to wobble around a bit more here," Wagner laughs to the two pilots. One of them, Georg Krahn, sits in the pilot house trying to prepare for his next assignment. "You don't go on board as rested when you're being tossed around here," he says. His colleague Hartmut Köller agrees from the cabin. During wind and storms, the situation is especially taxing for many colleagues: "Some really struggle with seasickness. This can naturally affect our work on board, where we always need to be highly focused."

Lighthouse Assessment Still Pending
The Kiel Pilots’ Brotherhood finds the situation untenable. The strain on personnel and equipment is simply too great, says Elder Gerd Pitschmann. He wants to fight for the pilot transfer station at the lighthouse. He feels abandoned by the Baltic Sea Waterways and Shipping Office (WSA) responsible for the lighthouse. "We’ve been waiting for the report since January, but we’re getting no information about the lighthouse’s condition or what the future holds." In response to an inquiry from NDR Schleswig-Holstein, the WSA stated: "Due to the tower’s exposed location, the comprehensive inspection to determine the damage could only be completed after the storm season." They are working on a feasibility study, but cannot currently provide a timeline or financial estimate for recommissioning.

"Laboe Must Not Become a Permanent Solution"
The Kiel pilots are trying to prepare for various future scenarios. A permanent pilot station is to be set up in Laboe’s tourist information office by late summer, making the holiday apartments a thing of the past. However, Gerd Pitschmann insists that Laboe must not become a permanent solution. The cadence of approximately 33,000 boarded ships per year is hardly sustainable this way. Pilot boat operator Daniel Wagner, like his colleagues, hopes the situation will soon improve. He still has eight hours ahead of him today. Until four in the morning, he will be on the Kiel Fjord—if things go badly, without any further breaks.
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