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New trainee pilots recruited to support tidal Thames trade

Four more mariners with global experience have joined the Port of London Authority (PLA) to help ensure continued navigational safety for vessels visiting the UK’s busiest port.

They join a team of over 100 pilots, working round the clock to guide, in and out of port, the growing number of vessels navigating the tidal River Thames each year.

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.

Adding to 12 PLA trainee pilots appointed in 2021, the new recruits have embarked on a five-year training programme, to equip them with the skills and knowledge essential for vessels’ safe navigation of the tidal Thames.

  • David Barnett, from Cork, started his marine career aboard tankers in 2012, before moving to ferries. For the past three years, he has mainly worked on UK routes to Ireland and continental Europe.
  • A Kent resident all his life, David R Hocking trained first as a Trinity House cadet. On qualifying, he worked as a deck officer on aggregate dredgers around Europe, predominantly on the Thames.
  • Sailing the world with cruise line Holland-America for the first nine years of his career, Stuart Little joined Svitzer Marine in 2020, mainly operating tugs on the Thames and Medway. He moved to London from Preston four years ago.
  • After graduating from Plymouth University, Adam Smith worked initially for the Seabourn Cruise Line, before joining Trinity House as a trainee cadet in 2013, rising through the ranks to become a master. He now lives in Dorking, Surrey.

The team’s work involves boarding and disembarking ships while underway, in all weathers and at all times of day and night, demanding a high level of training and safety awareness.

Bob Baker, chief harbour master at the PLA, said: “The addition of more new blood into our pilotage team not only helps meet growing demand, but will also ensure we can continue to offer a reliable service to our customers, as longer-serving pilots retire.”

Throughout the pandemic last year, the team delivered a 98.8 per cent service level to customers.

About the Port of London Authority

  • 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.
  • Find out more about the PLA Pilotage department