Today, the senior ship pilot of a major American port notified authorities that he will refuse to board any Russian-flagged ships that arrive in the harbor. This comes on the same day as the UK’s transport minister called for all UK ports to refuse access to any Russian “flagged, registered, owned, controlled, chartered, or operated vessels.”
The senior pilot asked west coast port authority officials to notify him if any Russian-flagged ships request admission into the port in an email sent exclusively to gCaptain. The pilot refuses to board Russian ships, according to an email sent to the local port authority’s manager of marine operations. The port official swiftly responded, saying he would forward the communication to the port’s executive staff.
“The attack on Ukraine and escalating threats of nuclear war against the United States as part of NATO has altered the Russian Master/American Pilot relationship,” said the senior pilot in an exclusive interview with gCaptain. “Much of what we do as pilots require trust and teamwork. I have heard Russians support of Putin and don’t believe it’s in America’s best interest to assist them in generating profits.“
If this pilot’s request is granted, it might put pressure on American ports, as well as Russian maritime interests, which are already congested.
gCaptain reached out to a number of pilot associations across the country. The majority stated that the problem had not yet arisen, but that it would be discussed at future port meetings. The topic has not yet been explored, according to Don Marcus, head of the Master Mates and Pilots union.
“In Florida, our pilots can not make that call directly as it would be a violation of state law,” said Laura DiBella Executive Director at Florida Harbor Pilots Association. “We will, however, discuss the issue with our pilots and federal officials.”
Most pilots in the United States are licensed by individual states, and most pilots say it’s unclear if they have the authority to refuse to board ships owned or operated by specific countries.
“The decision not to board a Russian ship would have to be approved by the State or Federal Government,” said an executive on the board of another large west coast port. “We would refuse to pilot a sanctioned ship but we don’t have the resources to track down vessel ownership so that order would have to come from a government official.”
There are now no Russian flagged ships near an American port, according to the AIS ship tracking website Fleetmon. It’s unclear how many Russian-owned, controlled, chartered, or operated ships are in American seas right now.
“We don’t see many Russian ships anyway but some Russian crews and a large number of Ukrainian seafarers,” said one senior California Pilot. “The few Russians and Ukrainians I have talked with are all furious at Putin.”