Opinion

A year ago, pilot Capt. Dennis Sherwood died in the line of duty


by Frank Diegel - published on 30 December 2020 1088 -

photo: Sherwood family / official obituary
It has been exactly one year ago that a pilot from Sandy Hook (New York), Dennis Sherwood, died in the line of duty while attempting to board the container vessel Maersk Kensington.
What has happened since then? Has safety been improved for the pilots?

A look back

Capt. Dennis Sherwood, a pilot of Sandy Hook fell backwards off a ladder while boarding a vessel on December 30th of 2019 at 4:30 a.m. and died of his serious injury in Staten Island hospital, according to U.S. Coast Guard reports. A routine investigation of the accident has been initiated.

After the accident, the shipping company Maersk expressed its regret about the fatal accident in a short message distributed on a small maritime website.
Maersk Kensignton with non-compliant combination ladder
Maersk Kensignton with non-compliant combination ladder
Maersk Kensignton with non-compliant combination ladder
Maersk Kensignton with non-compliant combination ladder
IMPA President makes a statement to IMO on January 17th 2020 regarding the passing of Captain Dennis Sherwood. A letter to IMO was published via Twitter. Saying: “This controversial trapdoor arrangement has long been considered unsafe by pilots. It is clearly not in compliance with current SOLAS requirements.” … “Captain Sherwood’s death is a tragic reminder that much more needs to be done.” He demands further that all flag states, port states and ship operator organizations should support an initiative “to get rid of this arrangement, immediately”.
The Pacific Pilotage Authority proclaims on March 4th 2020 on the shipping inustry:
"There is a common misunderstanding amongst vessel operators that vessels built prior to 2012 are exempt from some of the requirements for pilot transfer arrangements. This is incorrect...".

The rules for trapdoors have been in place since 1979 and the requirement for the pilot ladder to extend above the lower platform to the height of the handrail has not changed.
Improperly rigged pilot transfer arrangement. Photo by Pacific Pilotage Authority
Improperly rigged pilot transfer arrangement. Photo by Pacific Pilotage Authority
Improperly rigged pilot transfer arrangement. Photo by Pacific Pilotage Authority
Improperly rigged pilot transfer arrangement. Photo by Pacific Pilotage Authority

What has changed until today?

In my opinion: Nothing!
Nothing has been changed on board the Maersk Kensignton, the ship continues to sail with a non-compliant "trapdoor arrangement". Some also speak of a "widow maker". All ships of the Maersk "K-Class" have the same combination ladders. They are not allowed and do not comply with the rules!


The combined arrangement of the pilot ladder and accommodation ladder were contributing factors in the death of the US pilot Capt. Dennis Sherwood, as the Pacific Pilotage Authority (Canada) stated.
Non-Compliant PBA on Maersk Kensignton (January 2020). Photo by Tom Rutter
Non-Compliant PBA on Maersk Kensignton (January 2020). Photo by Tom Rutter
Non-Compliant PBA on Maersk Kensignton (January 2020). Photo by Tom Rutter
Non-Compliant PBA on Maersk Kensignton (January 2020). Photo by Tom Rutter
Is Maersk such a big and powerful company that none of the global organisations dare to do anything about the company's non-compliant practices? It is clearly about economic interests: Replacing all non-compliant pilot ladders would be very costly for Maersk.

But also the local pilots, who have the right to reject a ship if the pilot ladder does not comply with the applicable rules and the ladder is unsafe, do not dare to take the consequences against these trapdoor arrangements. There is also economic pressure here, because no one wants to mess with the powerful shipping company Maersk, which provides employment in the port.
Often it is also - with all due respect - the unawareness of the pilots about the applicable rules in relation to the trapdoor arrangements. Or the pilot says: "We've always done it that way. The vessels of this kind have been coming for years. What's the problem?"

I can never tire of pointing out the problem of non-compliant trapdoor arrangements and supporting all those who are also fighting against these abuses. Especially today, one year after the fatal accident of Capt. Dennis Sherwood. It is time for a change. Now.
Editor's note:
Opinion pieces reflect the personal opinion of individual authors. They do not allow any conclusions to be drawn about a prevailing opinion in the respective editorial department. Opinion pieces might be deliberately formulated in a pronounced or even explicit tone and may contain biased arguments. They might be intended to polarise and stimulate discussion. In this, they deliberately differ from the factual articles you typically find on this platform, written to present facts and opinions in as balanced a manner as possible.
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