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Thames pilots steer clear of tough EU river regulations after tide of Brexit

PUBLISHED: 12:34 14 November 2017 | UPDATED: 15:24 14 November 2017

Thames Clipper daily commuter service. Picture: Mike Brooke

Thames Clipper daily commuter service. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

River pilots working on the Thames are likely to escape tough new licensing being voted on today by the European Parliament.

EU vote in Strasbourg on inland waterways licensing scheme. Picture: Mike Brooke EU vote in Strasbourg on inland waterways licensing scheme. Picture: Mike Brooke

MEPs are debating an ‘inland waterways’ licensing proposal for qualified pilots to work on any river or canal in the EU, wherever member state they come from, Mike Brooke reports from Strasbourg.

It is aimed at mobility of labour across borders to work on waterways anywhere in the EU.

But it has brought criticism from British MEPs fearing too much control by unelected commissioners, accusing them of “salami tactics” which would “trample on traditional practices” in member states.

EU member states voting for tougher waterway licensing measures by 2021. Picture: Mike Brooke EU member states voting for tougher waterway licensing measures by 2021. Picture: Mike Brooke

The measures bring in stringent safety and qualification moves to tackle dangerously fast-current waterways like the Rhine and Danube, which EU commissioners have two years to draw up, with members states having until 2021 to implement—two years after Brexit.

The measures being voted on today to start in four years’ time fall well outside the timescale when Britain quits the EU by March, 2019—in fact, the fast-current Thames hasn’t even been mentioned in the debates both today and last night.

The Thames is already covered by its own maritime qualification measures for boat pilots by the Port of London Authority.

Thames Clipper commuter service arriving at the City of London. Picture: Mike Brooke Thames Clipper commuter service arriving at the City of London. Picture: Mike Brooke

These measures tackle fast currents in the Thames river bends like the Blackwall Reach and the Isle of Dogs.

They are also geared at switching as much traffic away from roads and onto rivers and canals to reduced pollution emissions.

The PLA operates a Maritime Skills diploma for Thames apprentices aged 18 to 25, often with graduation awards presented by Britain’s Transport Minister as Lord Ahmad did in 2016 at Butler’s Wharf, near Tower Bridge.

Apprentices graduating in 2016 in Port of London Authority Maritime Qualification course to get their pilot licence.Picture: Ben F/Todd-White Apprentices graduating in 2016 in Port of London Authority Maritime Qualification course to get their pilot licence.Picture: Ben F/Todd-White

The diplomas gain two years’ training experience with passenger and freight operators, completing their courses when they take their exams for the Maritime & Coastguard Agency Boatmaster licence.

PLA chief executive Robin Mortimer told the East London Advertiser at the time: “These apprentices are the future skippers of boats that carry 10 million tourists and commuters a year on the Thames and the barges that keep 100,000 lorries off the roads.”

What the PLA is doing is watched closely by EU maritime agencies as an example of safe river management.

PLA-qualified pilot vessel on Thames patrol. Picture: PLA PLA-qualified pilot vessel on Thames patrol. Picture: PLA

The Thames is one of Europe’s busiest waterways, once the world’s busiest commercial port.

It now has regular commuter services as well as pleasure trips, with a weekday run by MBNA Thames Clippers extended in September out to Gravesend, speeding passengers to Canary Wharf in 45 minutes and on to Tower Pier in another 10.

It is turning the tide on Network Rail and London Underground attracting more commuters onto the ever-busy river.

That means heavier traffic with many operators like Thames Clippers and City Cruises competing for river space on the fast-current waterway and the need for qualified licensed pilots, even after Brexit.

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