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Former harbourmaster leaves behind milestone for the Westport Port

31 Mar 2023

Former harbour master Trevor (Curly) James is being acknowledged for being instrumental in developing a pilot exemption training programme for the Westport port.

 The new programme led to two key staff gaining a pilot exemption certificate (PEC) early this month.

The exemptions allow Steve Christieson  and Kevin Marfell to bring the Kawatiri dredge in and out of Westport without the need for a local pilot to be on board. Previously with respect to the dredge this was done under an exemption to the Maritime rules with no clear guidelines since the Westport port did not have a local pilot, active pilot exemption or pilot programmes.

Master of the dredge Kawatiri Steve Christieson says: “It is quite a milestone and Curly was a big part of making this happen since we had to develop our own pilot exemption training programme from scratch; something that has not been done in New Zealand for many years.”

In many ports around the New Zealand pilots are required to assist masters to navigate their vessels safely into and out of the harbours, which is important with a challenging bar to navigate at the Buller River mouth.

Mr Christieson says: “It was kicked off a year ago when Curly voiced concern that as Westport port had currently no pilot and or a pilot exemption program commercial shipping wasn’t possible from the port; a not uncommon issue around small ports in New Zealand.

There were no clear rules or guidelines on how to put new training programmes together and assess pilots. We were hugely assisted by Matt Conyers, a pilot from Nelson and Maritime NZ for around 12 months, and finally Kevin and I passed the exam that we all developed and Maritime NZ approved in March 2023.”

The pilot exemption is specific to the Kawatiri and the Buller River and is a Maritime NZ approved qualification.

The two qualified staff can now train others to gain a pilot exemption for the Kawatiri and the Buller River.

Mr Christieson says: “This is creating a precedent for other ports around the country who face the same issue and have lapsed or don’t have a pilot exemption and pilot training programme.”

With coastal shipping coming back it will become more important for ports to have pilots who can assist ships to safely enter and depart their ports.

“Without Curlie’s energy and passion this would not have happened. He was pretty proud when I told him Kevin and I had received our PECs just before he passed away. He leaves an amazing legacy behind and big boots to fill.”

The dredge and the port staff are working together with Maritime NZ to develop a pilot training programme that will enable a pilot certificate training and certification programme for Westport to be approved by Maritime NZ.

Mr Christieson says: “This will be another first and we think, all going well, in three to four months we have the training programme signed off by Maritime NZ. The aim is to qualify a pilot which will allow them to bring vessels over 100 tonnes into and out of the Westport Port.”

Chief financial officer Douglas Marshall says: “Having this skill available to ships coming into the Westport Port, is a key for the revitalisation of this key asset for the town.

Steves’s skills, his knowledge and his pilot exemption were all reasons to give him the job of the acting harbourmaster for the coming three months, until we have found a permanent replacement for Curly.”


further information please contact:
Chief Financial Officer
Douglas Marshall