Veteran Sandy Hook pilot dies after falling from containership


A pilot from the Sandy Hook Pilots Association fell while boarding a containership at the entrance to New York Harbor and later died from his injuries.

The incident occurred at 0430 on Dec. 30 as veteran pilot Capt. Dennis Sherwood, 64, of Freehold Township, N.J., climbed onto the 982-foot Maersk Kensington near the Ambrose Pilot Station.

Coast Guard spokesman John Hightower said Sherwood was making his way up the ladder when “he slipped and fell off back onto the pilot boat.”

Authorities learned of the incident almost immediately, and the Coast Guard dispatched a vessel to escort the pilot boat to a shoreside facility, Hightower said. Sherwood was transported to a Staten Island hospital where he was pronounced dead from undisclosed injuries.

The Coast Guard is investigating the incident and has shared few details. For instance, it is unclear if the vessels were underway at the time. The Coast Guard would not say whether there was any kind of failure involving the ladder, how far Sherwood fell or where he landed on the pilot boat. The pilot boat itself also was not identified.

“Capt. Sherwood’s passing is an unfortunate reminder of the dangers that pilots face every day in the normal course of their duties,” said Capt. Jorge Viso, president of the American Pilots Association (APA). “It is also symptomatic of continuing problems with the design of pilot transfer arrangements on ships.”

The pilot embarkation system on the U.S.-flagged Maersk Kensington consisted of a combination pilot ladder and accommodation ladder. Viso described this as a relatively common arrangement that is required when the water surface is more than 9 meters (29.5 feet) from the access point to the ship.

The embarkation system on Maersk Kensington in 2010, with a smaller pilot ladder below the accommodation ladder.

Courtesy Derek Lilley

“This particular arrangement, however, involved a trapdoor in the platform of the accommodation ladder, with the pilot ladder hanging from a bar near the bottom of the platform,” he said. “This is a controversial trapdoor arrangement considered unsafe by pilots. Our information is that the pilot fell while attempting to climb from the top of the pilot ladder up to the platform through the trapdoor.”

The APA has “expressed concerns to the appropriate authorities” about the incident in general, as well as the trapdoor boarding arrangement specifically. The group called for investigations that are “thorough and swift.”

In a prepared statement, Maersk Line Ltd. said the company “deeply regrets” Sherwood’s death and expressed its “sincerest condolences to his family, friends and brothers at Sandy Hook Pilots.”

“The company is cooperating fully with official investigations ongoing and is committed to sharing any learnings that can contribute to improving pilot safety,” said Edward Hanley, vice president of labor and marine standards for Maersk Line.

AIS data suggests Maersk Kensington arrived in the New York area after port calls in India, Oman and Algeciras, Spain. The 6,200-TEU vessel arrived at about the same time as a major winter storm that brought snow, rain and heavy winds.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather buoy located near the pilot station registered wind gusts up to 36 knots at 0600 on Dec. 30. Wave and weather information for the time Sherwood fell was not available.

Sherwood was a Sandy Hook pilot for 35 years, during which time he guided ships into terminals throughout the region, according to his obituary. He was described as a good storyteller and avid golfer. He is survived by his wife, Marianne Sherwood, and four children.

Three fatalities involving pilots boarding or disembarking vessels have occurred in U.S. waters in the past 10 years, according to the APA. Over the past 15 years, there have been seven fatalities.

The Sandy Hook Pilots Association issued a statement acknowledging Sherwood’s death. The organization did not respond to a request for additional comment.

By Professional Mariner Staff