Harbour pilot with PSA Marine shares job experiences

SINGAPORE - His job allows him to take free trips on board ships every day, said Mr Benedict Tan.

Having spent more than 18 years in his job, the 45-year-old harbour pilot knows much about Singapore's waters.

"I have been a harbour pilot for so long that I saw how Jurong Island was slowly formed," he said, referring to how the island was created from the merger of seven smaller islands from 1995 to 2009.

Mr Tan was one of seven harbour pilots who received the Biennial Incentive Award from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore on April 3.

The award recognises outstanding harbour pilots who uphold high safety and professional standards.

The job of a harbour pilot is to help navigate ships into a port. They usually take a boat out to board a ship and act as navigators to its crew, guiding them to its destination.

"We only advise the captains on how they should navigate, but they are still in charge," said Mr Tan.

"Most of the time, they take our advice because we know Singapore's waters better."

From the usual oil tankers and cruise liners to aircraft carriers and submarines, Mr Tan has seen them all.

The longest ship he piloted measured 395m, which is 50m longer than the roof of Marina Bay Sands.

He piloted it from the waters off western Singapore to Pasir Panjang Terminal.

Mr Tan described the experience as exciting but had to take extra precautions throughout, such as allowing for extra time for stopping. He said: "Navigating a ship is like driving a car, except that there are no brakes.

"You have to anticipate (your moves) and to stop, you have to go in reverse."

He added that harbour pilots have to constantly keep up to date with Singapore's waters.

Nine-hour shifts PSA Marine has 230 of such pilots who work nine-hour shifts each day and get a day off after three shifts.

Mr Tan said: "Singapore's port is one of the busiest in the world.

"Our ports run 24 hours every day and this is why harbour pilots work even on public holidays and weekends."

During their shifts, each pilot handles about three to four vessels.

"Handling a big ship may take up to two hours, while smaller ones may take just half an hour," said Mr Tan.

"The time taken to handle a ship also depends on how far out at sea it is and its destination."

Asked what difficulties he faces on the job, he said that there are few, including bad weather and frayed tempers.

"The worst-case scenario would be a night squall," Mr Tan said.

"Getting on and off the boat can become quite dangerous in such a situation."

Luckily, he has never fallen into the water.

"Some ship captains can be nasty when they are stressed," he added.

"But most of them are nice and I get to meet captains from all over the world."

Mr Tan said he loves his job and wouldn't give it up for any other.

"I handle more ships in a day than a captain would in a week," he said.

"But that's what I love to do best, that's why I love my job."


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