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More pilots to meet growing Thames demand

Another intake of trainee pilots have joined the Port of London Authority (PLA), to meet growing demands for their skills from vessels visiting the tidal Thames.

The four latest recruits are part of a 113-strong team of expert mariners, who guide ships from around up and down the Thames, which is now once again home to the UK’s busiest port. The river is also the country’s busiest inland waterway.

Last year, was the busiest ever for the PLA’s sea pilots. It saw them board almost 11,000 vessels navigating their way up and down the estuary, as trade recovered, following the COVID-19 lockdowns

Embarking on a five-year course to equip them for the specific challenges of navigating the Thames are:

  • Ivaylo Bratovanov, who started his career in the Bulgarian navy. He progressed to become a roving master, working mainly on container vessels around the world. He now lives in Gravesend.
  • Mario Di Costanzo: Born on the Isle of Ischia in Italy, Mario first took to sea working on the ferry linking Sete (France) to Palma de Mallorca in Spain. After graduating from nautical school, he worked on ro-ro, ferries and cruise ships sailing around the world, before moving to London to take up an office-based role in 2019. He’s based in Gravesend.
  • Benjamin Heaton, who lives in Greenwich, worked for BP Shipping for seven years, before joining cruise line Carnival UK, where he rose to the rank of first officer, sailing predominantly in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.
  • Gareth Minter, from Sandwich, has sailed the globe as a Trinity House cadet at Warsash Maritime Academy, where he won the Matthew Flinders’ Navigation Award. He has worked in the offshore oil and gas industry, as well as the wind farm industry, sailing as chief officer.

The work of PLA pilots involves boarding and disembarking ships mid river, in all weathers and at all times of day and night, demanding a high level of training and safety awareness.

Dave Newbury, the PLA’s pilotage manager, said: “Since 2016, we have recruited 79 new trainee pilots, to ensure we can continue provide a robust service for customers, as demand on the river grows and older pilots retire.

“A further four new recruits are due to be appointed in 2022.”

In 2021, the PLA’s pilotage team delivered a 98.8 per cent service record to customers.

Notes to editors:

  • The PLA works to ensure navigational safety along the tidal Thames, stretching 95 miles from Teddington to the North Sea. It shares its marine, environmental, planning and other expertise to promote use of the river and safeguard its unique marine environment.
  • In 2020, London re-emerged as the country’s busiest ports by tonnage of goods handled.