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Role of the Harbour Master

The Role of the Harbour Master

Ports can be busy places and, by the very nature of their business activities, may be hazardous places to work. The Harbour Master has a key role to play ensuring that people living and working in or close to the port, the port’s staff, customers or visitors to the port environment can go about their business safely. Harbour Masters must be familiar with all relevant safety, environmental and health laws at the international, national and local level.

Port Marine Operations

The safety of navigation for any vessel utilising the port and its approaches is the Harbour Master's primary concern. Harbour Masters regulate the manner in which vessels conduct their navigation in port. Most regulatory requirements are clearly set out in the form of port by-laws, general directions, Pilotage Directions etc and these clearly define what the “rules of the road” are in terms of safe navigation.

Ship Arrival

From initial information provided by the ship on draft, length overall and displacement, the Harbour Master will allocate a suitable berth and apply any restrictions he may feel necessary for the safe passage of that particular vessel in his port. Vessels arriving at a port will normally contact the port control or VTS station to receive instructions on the plan for their arrival and stay in the port. This exchange usually involves confirmation of the time the pilot will board and the berth to which the vessel is proceeding.

Harbour Masters normally designate a safe pilot-boarding area where the vessel boards her pilot who then subsequently communicates with the port authority shipping control office or VTS whilst proceeding towards the intended berth. If the vessel is exempt from pilotage, in compliance with port regulations, then clear instructions on the manner of entry and navigation will be given and the vessel will be asked to register and confirm its passage plan. The passage plan is the detailed and recorded confirmation of what the ship intends to do at every stage of its passage from the pilot station to finally arriving alongside. Any subsequent movement of the vessel, a berth shift, for example, will also be subject to passage planning.

The Harbour Master has a duty to inform vessels about any hazards or problems that may affect safe navigation, for example:

  • Any obstructions in channels or alongside berths
  • Limitations of tugs
  • Weather restrictions in the harbour or at berths
  • Any failure of any aids to navigation such as lights or buoys

Vessel Types

Ports handle a huge variety of ship types ranging from supertankers, through cruise and cargo ships, large container vessels, bulk carriers, warships, Ro-Ro vessels and ferries right down to smaller but no less important vessels such as fishing vessels and pleasure craft. Different types of vessel require different port facilities to enable then to be handled efficiently and safely. Part of the Harbour Master's role is to be fully conversant with the types of vessel that represent the port's main business and to have a thorough knowledge of their requirements whilst they are in port.

Ship's Stay in Port

The role of the Harbour Master in terminal and cargo operations will vary according to the governance of the port. The Harbour Master's advice is regularly sought during a ship’s stay by companies, organisations or government officials associated with such activities as fuel bunkering, tank cleaning and the delivery of stores, water and crew.

The Harbour Master has a role to play in determining the berthing of ships and the control of the front quay or ship-shore interface. This includes the removal or segregation of dangerous goods for a determined period on the terminal, the measures to be taken by stevedores and dockworkers to prevent safety or environmental irregularities and the accessibility to the ship-shore interface by unauthorised persons.

The success or otherwise of a ship's stay in a port will be measured by how the Master, crew and ultimately the operator/owner consider the port has met their operational requirements. Port operations must be carefully planned well in advance of the vessel's arrival alongside. There are many planning considerations for the Harbour Master but amongst the main ones are: a suitable and safe berth; provision of pilotage and tugs; confirmation of mooring resources such as linemen, line boats, mooring teams etc; liaison with stevedores on the ETA/ETD of the vessel to enable them to plan their resources for loading/discharge effectively; key loading/discharge plant and equipment availability and reliability; security requirements and liaison with statutory authorities where necessary. Another key element is a good relationship with the ship's agent who will have first-hand knowledge of the ship's requirements.

The Harbour Master’s expertise is also essential for the management of any incidents and in the timely implementation of response and emergency plans.


Port Management

In addition to the technical and statutory responsibilities of the role, today’s harbour master is increasingly involved in the day-to-day management of port operations. Increased involvement and greater responsibility for the commercial business of a port is a growing area of activity for many harbour masters.

Strategic Planning Process

If they are to remain competitive, ports must move with the times in response to global shifts in maritime trade. Strategic-level business plans must be developed. Harbour Masters may contribute to the development of a long-term master plan for the port.

Other Authorities in the Port

The Harbour Master may co-operate with a number of authorities including representatives of port state control, customs, veterinary agencies, health agencies, environmental agencies, local government and utilities.

Local Community

Ports, as with all businesses, are expected to engage with their stakeholders in an open, honest and transparent manner. Working in the port environment inevitably brings the Harbour Master into contact with the wider community. Although Harbour Masters may exercise jurisdiction over the water frontage or waterway of their port – a decision that may be determined by statute or regulation – they are also expected to consider the requirements or concerns of the community on the use of the port’s navigable area and its impact on the community.

It is not only commercial vessels that make use of a port. Recreational fisherman, diving clubs, rowing clubs, tour boat operators, visiting yachtsmen and power boat drivers, marina operators and many more must all be consulted. Conflict may arise between those pursuing different activities. The harbour master has an important role in engaging with interest groups, resolving such issues and ensuring the safety of all harbour users.

Leisure Use of Ports

Leisure activities may take many forms, including recreational boating (both power and sail), swimming, diving and organised aquatic events. The Harbour Master can mitigate the risks associated with large aquatic events through the application of safety management principles and risk assessment. However, private and irregular use of the port for recreation is difficult to monitor and control. Many ports and harbours now use their websites and social media to promulgate safety information to port users. The zoning of activities to separate, for example, swimmers from personal watercraft may be introduced. Prohibiting access to some areas may be required and will require local regulation. The focus should be on community engagement and finding a harmonious method for the co-existence of recreational activities. 

Latest News & Events

Investments to improve efficiency and expand port capacity

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Turkey’s maritime industry is receiving a boost thanks to a new loan from the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) of US$ 17.5 million to the operator of Tekirdag port on the Sea of Marmara.  ICBC Turkey is providing an equal loan.

Ceyport Tekirdag Uluslararasi Liman Isletmeciligi is operating the port under a 36-year concession granted by the Turkish privatisation authority last year (2018).

It is understood that the EBRD loan will partially finance the acquisition of operating rights, the modernisation of the port and the expansion of its capacity, to which the company has committed under the concession agreement.

Tekirdag port handles general cargo, dry and liquid bulk, containers and ro-ro vessels and serves industrial and agricultural production and trade in the region.

It is the only port in the western Marmara Sea that provides both ro-ro and rail-ferry services to the eastern Marmara region. Enhanced port infrastructure will play a key role in directing a larger share of cargo from roads towards railway and shipping lines, which are more environmentally friendly alternatives.

The port operator is a subsidiary of Cey Group, one of the largest logistics groups in Turkey, which also includes Ceynak Lojistik and the operators of Samsun port and Mesbas port located in the Mersin Free Zone. 

Member States of the IMO have urged further firm action in coming years to advance gender equality throughout the maritime sector and reach a barrier-free environment, following a year of action to “empower women in the maritime community” – the World Maritime theme for 2019.

IMO Assembly adoption of resolution

The IMO Assembly, meeting for its 31st session from 25 November to 4 December adopted a resolution on Preserving the Legacy of the World Maritime Theme for 2019 and achieving a Barrier-Free Working Environment for Women in the Maritime Sector.

This resolution urges governments, maritime administrations and the industry to endeavour to reach a barrier-free environment for women, so that all women can participate fully, safely and without hindrance in the activities of the maritime community, including seafaring and shipbuilding activities.

Furthermore, the resolution notes testimony from women from across the various maritime industries which demonstrates that barriers and obstacles still exist at every level. Work towards gender equality, including the fostering of a safe environment for women in the maritime sector, remains incomplete and should continue to be pursued.

Governments, maritime administrations and the industry should consider ways to continuously identify and overcome existing constraints in all aspects of the maritime sector, in particular, in terms of recruitment, promotion, training, capacity-building and technical cooperation.

Role of Harbour Master/ Port Operations Professional
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Investments to improve efficiency and expand port capacity

Modernisation will help shift cargo from roads to shipping and railway

Turkey’s maritime industry is receiving a boost thanks to a new loan from the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) of US$ 17.5 million to the operator of Tekirdag port on the Sea of Marmara.  ICBC Turkey is providing an equal loan.

Ceyport Tekirdag Uluslararasi Liman Isletmeciligi is operating the port under a 36-year concession granted by the Turkish privatisation authority last year (2018).

It is understood that the EBRD loan will partially finance the acquisition of operating rights, the modernisation of the port and the expansion of its capacity, to which the company has committed under the concession agreement.

Tekirdag port handles general cargo, dry and liquid bulk, containers and ro-ro vessels and serves industrial and agricultural production and trade in the region.

It is the only port in the western Marmara Sea that provides both ro-ro and rail-ferry services to the eastern Marmara region. Enhanced port infrastructure will play a key role in directing a larger share of cargo from roads towards railway and shipping lines, which are more environmentally friendly alternatives.

The port operator is a subsidiary of Cey Group, one of the largest logistics groups in Turkey, which also includes Ceynak Lojistik and the operators of Samsun port and Mesbas port located in the Mersin Free Zone. 

Member States of the IMO have urged further firm action in coming years to advance gender equality throughout the maritime sector and reach a barrier-free environment, following a year of action to “empower women in the maritime community” – the World Maritime theme for 2019.

IMO Assembly adoption of resolution

The IMO Assembly, meeting for its 31st session from 25 November to 4 December adopted a resolution on Preserving the Legacy of the World Maritime Theme for 2019 and achieving a Barrier-Free Working Environment for Women in the Maritime Sector.

This resolution urges governments, maritime administrations and the industry to endeavour to reach a barrier-free environment for women, so that all women can participate fully, safely and without hindrance in the activities of the maritime community, including seafaring and shipbuilding activities.

Furthermore, the resolution notes testimony from women from across the various maritime industries which demonstrates that barriers and obstacles still exist at every level. Work towards gender equality, including the fostering of a safe environment for women in the maritime sector, remains incomplete and should continue to be pursued.

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