Plimsolls awarded to vessel safety advocate, pilots’ group and digital aid to navigation

Plimsoll Merritt

The editors of Professional Mariner have presented Plimsoll Awards for 2012 to the association representing U.S. ship pilots; to the man behind the creation of a new, safer class of lightering support vessel; and to an electronic version of an aid to navigation.

Presented annually by the editors of Professional Mariner to honor advocates of safety and innovation in the maritime industry, the Plimsoll Awards are named after the member of Parliament in Britain in the late 19th Century who successfully backed legislation to end dangerous overloading of vessels.

The American Pilots’ Association (APA) was named the 2012 winner of the Plimsoll Award for Outstanding Service by an Organization in recognition of its long history of promoting the highest standards of marine piloting and navigation. The association has been particularly effective in exploring ways that technology can be exploited to enhance maritime safety.

The APA did groundbreaking work in the development of portable pilot units, using GPS technology and laptop computers to achieve vessel positioning accuracy within two meters. The pilots’ group has also demonstrated a keen understanding of the human element in applying new technology. The APA has worked hard to make sure technology is applied in the safest possible way by its member pilots.

The innovation prize went to Vesper Marine for its Virtual AIS Beacon digital aid to navigation. Accepting the award was Vesper’s Steven Gloor.

The award was accepted by Capt. Jorge Viso, a Tampa Bay pilot who serves as chairman of the APA’s Navigation Technology Committee. The awards were presented March 20 in Stamford, Conn., at the Connecticut Maritime Association’s Shipping 2012 conference.

William G. Merritt, general manager of AET Offshore Services Inc., was selected as the winner of the 2012 Plimsoll Award for Outstanding Service by an Individual. Merritt conceived a new class of lightering support vessel designed to enhance operational safety. His efforts culminated in the design and construction of AET Innovator, a purpose-built vessel that is expected to be the model for a new generation of safer lightering support vessels.

In the past, such vessels were usually aging offshore supply vessels adapted to lightering operations. Merritt recognized the shortcomings of such converted vessels and pushed for a new class of purpose-built vessels. For the actual design, Merritt and AET turned to Elliott Bay Design Group of Seattle.

The award for outstanding service by an organization went to the American Pilots’ Association, which was honored for its support and development of e-navigation and training. Accepting the award for the APA was Capt. Jorge Viso.

AET Innovator was designed from the bottom up to have the right characteristics for its mission. These included maneuverability for operating safely between large tankers; proper freeboard at the stern to allow for safe and efficient deployment of fenders; and crew comfort. Because lightering support vessels are frequently on station for very long periods, crew comfort has important safety implications, since crew fatigue is often a contributing factor in maritime casualties.

The 2012 Plimsoll Award for Innovation went to Vesper Marine for its Virtual AIS Beacon. The concept involves the use of a shore-based transponder to broadcast an AIS-type signal indicating, for example, the location of a hazard to navigation.

The potential for such virtual aids to navigation is particularly great in remote locations or in areas of extreme conditions where it is difficult or even impossible to keep a conventional aid to navigation on station.

In a demonstration project, a Vesper Marine Virtual AIS Beacon is being used in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand, to mark the location of a dangerous subsurface ledge known as Tarapunga Rock. Located in one of the most remote parts of the country, Doubtful Sound is frequented by cruise ships. But the waters there are characterized by powerful swells that can exceed 20 feet. Those conditions, along with the remoteness, make a conventional aid to navigation impractical. The solution here was to install the Vesper Marine Virtual AIS Beacon.

Accepting the Plimsoll was Vesper Marine’s Steven Gloor.

By Professional Mariner Staff