Today on Factiva I came across an article published in the WSJ, "For Pilots
of Big Ships, The Mississippi Isn't What It Used to Be --- After Katrina
Shifts Currents And Swallows Landmarks, Mr. Bach Guides the Way" By Daniel
Machalaba (published Nov 28, 2005).
The author tells the story of one modern day pilot, Gene Bach, whose
knowledge of the lower Mississippi has been challenged after Katrina. The
reporter described the river conditions as piloting a dangerous obstacle
course with missing landmarks, sunken barges and other debris. The Port of
New Orleans alone took about $1 billion of damage and, according to the
author, it is operating at just 40% of its pre-Katrina capacity.
Shipping companies and port officials are said to be grateful for the
pilots, seeing them as critical to returning the flow of shipping commerce
thru the New Orleans area. The president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans
called them “knights in shining armor”. I thought of Twain's“Knights of the
Tiller” when I read that.
Some things change, other things stay the same. They might not call out
“Mark Twain” anymore and instead use radios. But pilots are well compensated
and those same companies who need them now have been known to complain about
the high wages in the past. Piloting still takes time to learn and they
still must belong to an association to be licensed.