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Oliver's Wharf - pilots will refuse to bring ships in if development in the creek goes ahead

Colne Marina plan branded "dangerous" by ship pilots

Pilots responsible for guiding ships into the port of Brightlingsea have branded the proposed Colne Marina development in the town's creek "dangerous" and say that if it is built they will withdraw their services

In a report and risk assessment (click to download a copy) the three Brightlingsea Harbour pilots claim the extension of pontoons to create an additional 90 berths planned by Morgan Marine would remove "abort options" for shipping, adding: "Post-development any commercial vessel that has entered Brightlingsea Creek and subsequently develops a problem will have no abort, no contingency and no option other than to cause injury and damage."

"None of the pilots are prepared to risk the consequences of causing injury to anyone, damage to property or the environment," say the pilots, who are self-employed and point out that they are only liable for the first £1,000 of any claim for damages. As a result, they suggest that a succession of incidents could "seriously undermine Brightlingsea Harbour Commissioners' financial position, to the point of cuts to services that affect the harbour community as a whole" as the body would be liable "in the event of criminal or civil action".

Part of Morgan Marine's proposal includes the installation of a dolphin to protect boats moored in the west basin from ships using the Oliver's Wharf. But the pilots say that this would interfere with the process of swinging, or turning, a ship and could cause it to hit the pontoons. In addition, they say that if a ship had to drop anchor in an emergency – perhaps in the event of engine failure – the lack of room for the vessel to swing "would lead to catastrophic damage".

"What is clear from our risk assessment is that the presence of the safety dolphin is not a sufficient mitigating factor for hazards arising at Brightlingsea for commercial vessels," says the report. "The reliance of Morgan Marine upon this feature at the cost of all the established abort/contingencies that have been established for decades is flawed, faulty and negligent."

Further, they say that a 17.5m extension to the pontoons in Morgan's eastern basin – which would reduce the width of the navigable channel – would be at risk should a ship be unable to stop at the wharf. Currently a ship can run past the wharf in an emergency and proceed to an area past the eastern basin known as The Folly, where it has another chance to turn or ground on soft mud.

The pilots conclude that if the development goes ahead, vessels could not be brought safely in to Brightlingsea Creek. They say: "We’ve taken the decision together that we would not offer our services for pilotage post-development of this dangerous application. We have made this decision –with much regret - as a final resort."

• Morgan Marine's plans were discussed by Brightlingsea Town Council's planning committee on June 10, when a majority of councillors voted to take a neutral stance. They claimed that they did not have enough information to make a firm decision, but not before hearing criticism of Morgan Marine's environmental impact assessments and concerns about restricted navigation from businesses, clubs and boat owners that use the creek.

The plans for the marina – which Morgan Marine says will cost £2m, create 10 jobs, improve shore-based facilities and generate work for local marine businesses –  are to be discussed by Tendring Council's planning committee at a date yet to be announced.


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