Effective from 1st February 2002 the following amended River Plate Pilotage regime entered into enforce:
- Vessels trading in a deeper than 29 feet s.f.w even keel or 8.84 metres draft through the "Punta Indio Channel", linking Reclada Pilot station with Buenos Aires roads - Zona Comun, or vice versa, shall perform the River Plate Pilotage under assistance of two (2) pilots on board, via-a-vis the former regulations, which called for only one (1) river plate pilot on duty.
This decision by all Argentine River Plate Pilots Associations is backed-up by the Argentine Coastguard Authority Regulation No. 113-98, which contemplates that whenever a vessel trades longer then 10 hours continuous steaming through the a.m. enclosed water fairway-channel, which nowadays are most of the cases, do require two (2) river plate pilots assisting her.
As from 1.1.92, whilst pilots still remain under the control of the Coast Guard Pilotage Department (Direccion del Servicio de Practicaje Y Pilotaje, Prefectura Naval Argentina) as per decree 2694/91, they now act in a private capacity, offering their services to the ship owner, either individually or in association with others. The ship owner therefore is now free to employ any pilot he may care to choose.
Pilotage is compulsory for all foreign vessels in all zone (rivers, streams, passes, estuaries, channels, ports) and licensed pilots must be employed. Argentine flag ships and foreign flag ships belonging to Argentine Ship owners (under decree 1772/91) must also comply, although they can opt for certain exemptions which are mentioned below. In all zones the following exemptions apply as to compulsory employment of Pilots:
- Ships and convoys belonging to the Argentine Navy or Coast Guard.
- Ships, convoys and dredgers under foreign flag, that due to international treaties may sail without a local Pilot or with a foreign one.
- Non propelled integrated river conveys under any tow system provided drafts of the component units do not exceed limiting exemption lengths and draughts.
- Argentine dredgers, dump barges, buoyage tending craft, without limits to draft and/or length.
- Argentine vessels (or foreign vessels covered by decree 1772/91) under command of an argentine Master who must have made 12 entrances and 12 departures during the previous 24 months.
- Vessels involved in scientific investigation, technical or other tasks, subject to the criteria of the Coast Guard.
- River convoys under Argentine flag, provided their overall length and draft do not surpass exemption limits.
- Within ports, provided a ship is to only shift alongside berth with its own lines, without use of tugs or own propulsion and subject to the authorisation from the Coast guard provided there is no risk towards themselves and third parties.
- In between Zona Comun and the nearby lightening zone only Argentine flag vessels are exempted from taking on a Pilot.
All vessels exempted from carrying a Pilot, may request their services if so desired, and are thus to comply with all regulations of this service.
Pilotage Zones are divided between rivers, sea approaches and ports as follows:
River Plate: This zone is delimited towards the East by an imaginary line joining Punta Rasa, Argentina, and the Recalada Lightship, thereon toward Punta del Este, Uruguay. On the West by an imaginary line joining Punta Lara, Argentina, through km 37 on the Access Channel to Buenos Aires and thereon to Punta Negra, Uruguay. Inbound vessels from Recalada Pilot Station towards La Plata, Buenos Aires, or up river to the port of destination, pilot changeover takes place, as follows:
- If bound to La Plata, the port pilot takes over.
- If bound to Buenos Aires, the port pilot takes over.
- If bound to River Parana ports (via Martin Garcia or Mitre Channel) River Parana pilots take over.
- If bound to Concepcion del Uruguay a River Uruguay Pilot takes over.
Ships inbound from Montevideo are in charge of an Uruguayan pilot and at Zona Comun and Argentine pilot takes over if proceeding towards Argentine ports as indicated above.
If proceeding to Uruguayan ports on River Uruguay via Martin Garcia an Uruguayan pilot remains in charge. Uruguayan pilots when in Argentine waters are subject to its laws and regulations. Outbound vessels, except those going to Montevideo, must disembark River Plate at Recalada Light vessel, but if prevented from doing so by bad weather, they can continue provided mutual agreement has been reached between Master and Pilot.
River Parana zone: This comprises the main course of the Parana River as from the Port of Parana (km 601) to its delta and includes the outlets of the Parana Guazu, Bravo, Sauce, Ibicuy, and Parana de las Palmas to the River Plate, including Talavera Passage and Mercadal cut, and that area of the River Plate delimited as follows: to the North, km O R. Uruguay or km 138 R. Plate at their junction point off Punta Negra, Uruguay; Eastwards, to an imaginary line joining this point with km 57 Banco Chico Pass, thereon to beacon km 7700 of the access channel to the port of La Plata, but including the Lightening Zone just off Zona Comun; Southwards to an imaginary line joining Beacon km 7.7 with km 37 of the access channel to Buenos Aires, continuing along its northern edge until it joins with the Coastal Channel at km 4 and thereon to the mouth of the River Lujan. The following stretches are to be considered as the continuation of the above Zone:
- Km 0 River Uruguay to Nueva Palmira Roads.
- The junction of the Mitre Channel with the Buenos Aires access channel and km 37 of same, for vessels proceeding from upriver ports via Mitre channel or vice-versa.
In addition to piloting vessels in the above waters, Parana pilots are licensed to berth or unberth vessels at all river ports except Santa Fe, if so required.
River Uruguay: The main course of the river from Concepcion del Uruguay roads, down river up to km 0 (138 km River Plate) and similar area of the River Plate mentioned for River Parana zone.
Bahia Blanca zone: The stretch of water between an imaginary line joining Punta Tejada and Punta Lobos beacons inwards towards the respective ports or berths.
Beagle Channel Zone: The area comprised within the following geographical points:
"A": Lat. 54 deg. 45' 00,0" S; Long. 68 deg. 36' 38,5" W
"B": Lat. 54 deg. 57' 00,0" S; Long. 68 deg. 36' 38,5" W
"C": Lat. 54 deg. 57' 00,0" S; Long. 67 deg. 13' 00,0" W
"D": Lat. 55 deg. 24' 00,0" S; Long. 67 deg. 13' 00,0" W
"E": Lat. 55 deg. 24' 00,0" S; Long. 66 deg. 25' 00,0" W
"F": Lat. 54 deg. 45' 00,0" S; Long. 66 deg. 25' 00,0" W
Zones covered by pilots of two (2) nationalities: This circumstance can happen in River Plate, River Uruguay and Beagle Channel waters. The applicable criteria is port of origin in the first two cases, ie. a vessel proceeding from a Uruguayan port must use a Uruguayan pilot and if proceeding from an Argentine port, an Argentine pilot, both being licensed to sail in these waters. Vessels entering from sea and proceeding to Uruguayan ports on the River Uruguay are required by Uruguayan regulations to call at Montevideo to take on Uruguayan pilots.
If a vessel proceeds from an Uruguayan port on the River Uruguay bound for any foreign port via the Parana Bravo, Parana Guazu, Parana de las Palmas and Mitre Channel, she must use Uruguayan pilots for the River Uruguay, Argentine pilots for River Parana and Uruguayan or Argentine pilots, as per Owners option for the River Plate. Regarding the Beagle Channel, Argentine and Chilean ships will apply their own regulations and exemptions. Third flag vessels, if westward bound, are to follow Argentine regulations, whilst if eastbound the Chilean regulations apply. The ship is to fly the flag of the country as its yardarm.
Suspension of service: This may be ordered by the Naval Prefecture when hydro-meteorological causes and/or "force majeure" so justify it and no claims are admitted on behalf of users.
Details of services: Services will be carried out with the pilot permanently on the bridge. When pilotage distance is not greater than 220 km only one (1) pilot needs to be ordered, otherwise two (2) pilots are required.
The pilot is entitled to a rest period of up to six (6) continuous hours once having performed services for eight (8) running hours, including interruptions not greater then three (3) hours' duration. In those cases where eight (8) hours on duty have been complied with, but it can reasonably foreseen that pilotage can be completed within the following two (2) hours, then, if jointly agreed by Master and Pilot, the aforementioned rest period may be ignored.
Those vessels requiring to perform continuous navigation, without rest periods must order two (2) pilots whom alternatively attend the bridge. Furthermore, in those cases in which it can be foreseen that service is to be greater than eight (8) hours without the possibility of an interruption, the Coast Guard may demand a second pilot to be placed on board.
Evidence of service: Once pilotage has finished, the pilot shall fill in a form which contains the ship's main particulars, associated time events, drafts and other pertinent remarks. This form must be signed and stamped by the ship's Master.
Ordering of a pilot: Applications for pilots are made by Owners, Managers or Agents as agreed between them and the Pilotage Service Company, it being advisable to book these services as early as possible. The party requesting services can opt for any particular pilot or pilotage company.
Ladders for embarking/dropping pilots: Regulations and recommendations in connection with this sub-title are to follow guidelines set out by:
a) Local Maritime Ordinance 4/89 dated November 7th 1989, annexes 1 and 2 which fully incorporates recommendations set out in Chapter V Rule 17 SOLAS 74, and IMO amendments as per Resolution A.889 adopted on November 25, 1999.
b) International Maritime Pilots Association recommendations. Masters are encouraged to exert diligence in this respect and not rely only on pilot ladders, but to be ready to have main accommodation ladder combined with pilot ladder ready should freeboard circumstances so dictate.
Attention should also be paid towards adequate illumination during dark hours and the advisability of safety/life-saving appliances. Care must be also exercised on those ships carrying deck cargoes or when the main accommodation ladder faces aft and vessel is of light draft.
Recalada Light Vessel and Pilot Station
The Recalada Light Vessel, stationed at Lat. 35 deg. 04' 22" / Long. 55 deg. 57' 47" W, nearby km 239,1 as from Buenos Aires is the pilot station for vessels sailing the River Plate channels.
The vessel is stationed at the point where the Punta Indio Channel started before its lengthening. In March 1998 the channel was extended a further 34 km looking for deeper waters. As the Punta Indio Channel was dredged from 8,50 to 9.70 m (28 to 32 ft) at datum the channel had to be lengthened to reach a point where there was at least 9,70 m (32 ft) natural depth.
PIlot boats operate from both the Reclada LIght Vessel (the pilot station) and directly from Montvideo, and when necessary pilots fly over to Montevideo and board the pilot boat there.
This light vessel and Pilot station is the ex-freighter Rio Limay with an overall length of 155 m, red hull with white and light blue slanted stripes painted forward and a pair of white coloured crossed anchors on either side plus legend "PRACTICOS". Its superstructure is painted white. Apart from the pertinent light signals she is fitted with radio aids, Racon responder for fog signal.
Inbound/outbound vessels are frequently requested to carry Pilots going on/off duty and take on/drop off same, weather conditons so permitting. Its radio station attends both service and safety aspects of navigation within the River Plate. Over VHF contact is made via Channel 16, Call Sign L3V or Channel 12, 14, 15 and 77, Call Sign L3Z. RT contacts may also be made. Please refer to "Radio Signals/List" books for further details.
Incoming vessels must request a River Plate Pilot with a recommended minimum 24 hour notice via Agents at Buenos Aires and also give an accurate ETA to the light vessel plus further confirmations or adjustments upon approach. It is to be noted that during bad weather this Pilot Station can suspend its service, however, one of the boats stationed at Reclada can operate in virtually any weather condition and has a cabin for the pilot to remain on board.
River Plate Channels
All channels from the beginning of the system to Santa Fe (km 585) through the Mitre channel have been handed in concession to Hidrovia S.A. for dredging, buoying and beaconing. The Martin Gracia channel, an alternative route in the River Plate for ports on the Uruguay and Parana rivers has been contracted out to Riovia S.A. Both companies charge a toll to those vessels using their channels.
Waterborne traffic within this basin can be summarised in the following manner:
a) Navigation to/from Recalda Pilot Station to Zona Comun.
b) Zona Comun to/from Port of Buenos Aires and La Plata.
c) Zona Comun to/from Rivers Parana, Paraguay and Uruguay via Martin Garcia Channel.
d) Zona Comun to/from River Parana, Paraguay, Parana de las Palmas via Emilio Mitre Channel and eventually River Uruguay.
The main trunk line is between Recalada and Zona Comun, and this fairway comprises the Punta Indio, Intermediate and Banco Chico channels. Zona Comun is an important junction point as traffic either converges/diverges from here and changeover of Pilots takes place between the different pilotage areas/zones. Furthermore, Zona Comun also acts as a waiting anchorage, not only as an habitual one before ships may proceed towards their assigned berths at La Plata, Buenos Aires or upriver ports, but also as an extension of upriver anchorages or any other port, when these latter are congested, or due to other unforeseen difficulties such as a sudden significant drop in water levels.
It should be noted that the Coast Guard may order vessels to anchor at other waiting zones, eg. towards the exterior of the River Plate (ie. towards Recalda or even remain at that station) should traffic conditions so dictate its convenience. This can occur during abundant grain seasons.
The Punta Indio Channel commences at Lat. 35 degrees 04' 36" 7 S; Long. 55 deg. 57' 8" W, 239 km away from Buenos Aires and extends toward the interior of the River Plate. It should be noted that at buoy 20' (km 147) there is a significant change in channel direction of about 39 degrees, and the section between buoys 19/23 is known as El Codilo (Elbow). As from km 147 and up to km 87 the channel is called Intermedio and from this last point up to km 57 the fairway is called Paso Banco Chico.
The width of the Punta Indio Channel is indicated by buoys, which between 01/05 and 15/30 consist of pairs and between 06/14 alternatively single and pair buoys, offering a navigable lane of min/max 100/200 m according to dimensions and ships' drafts. Regarding the Intermedio and Paso Banco Chico channels the width is about 600 m.
Adjacent Transit Zones
These extend on either side of the aforementioned channels. At Punta Indio, these adjacent water strips extend 300 m from the line of buoys and 500 m beyond the limits of Intermedio and Banco Chico. For safety and traffic control purposes, ships using Punta Indio' channel are classified as follows:
Class "A": those drawing 7.30 m (24 ft) or more
Class "B": those drawing more than 6.40 m (21 ft) and less than 7.30 m (24 ft)
Class "C": those drawing more than 5.80 m (19 ft) and less than 6.40 m (21 ft)
Class "D": those drawing less than 5.80 m (19 ft)
Class "A" ships use the channel in its full extension.
Class "B" ships may use the channel when prevailing water levels indicate it is prudent to do so; otherwise outbound vessels use southern adjacent strip and inbound ones use northern adjacent strip.
Class "C" ships use the above mentioned adjacent strips but may use the channel only if low water levels force them to do so.
Class "D" ships are forbidden to use the channel unless it is free of traffic; therefore, their normal tracks follow the adjacent waters as indicated for ships under Class "B" and "C".
For Intermedio and Paso Banco Chico channel, Class "A" ships use them throughout, whilst all others are to use the adjacent waters, inbound on northern side, outbound on southern side.
Zona Comun Roads & Pilotage Station: This anchorage, manoeuvering and lightening zone lies south of the fairway connecting km 57 of Paso Banco Chico and km 37 ( access channel to Buenos Aires and Mitre channel) and is just off La Plata port being delimited by: true bearing 040 degrees from La Plata East Beacon, km 7.700 (at the channel entrance) and true bearing 320 degrees from same beacon and within arc distances of 2 and 5 nautical miles as from the East beacon. The area within these limits used to be divided into different anchoring sub-zones according to vessel's destination but since the channels were improved to allow vessels to sail with 9,70 m (32 ft) draft now, the whole area is open to allow deep laden vessels to anchor in the deepest spots, irrespective of their destination. A lightening zone lies adjacent to the eastern sector, between an arc distance of 7 nautical miles as from La Plata semaphore and latitude 34 degrees 46' S. Also an exclusive anchorage for Naval ships lies south of the lightening zone.
Pilots embark and disembark from ships via launch service from La Plata. It is to be noted that the port is sometimes closed due to fog or bad weather, even for small vessels like pilot boats.
Vessels which do not enter port, but commence their first cargo operations by ship to ship transfer at Zona Comun formalize their entry at the anchorage, being visited by the pertinent authorities accompanied by the vessel's Agent. A similar arrangement is made for clearance on departure. Vessels which take on further parcels of cargo at drafts above the limitations set by the Canal Punto Indio or this initial transfer zone, do so at the so called Alpha Zone or others nearby Recalada. Vessels can also make bunkering arrangements at Zona Comun via barges fitted to operate in open waters of the River Plate. The holding ground of this anchorage is to be viewed in terms of a soft mud river bed and dragging of anchors can occur.
Zona Comun Towards La Plata/Puerto Rocca: Approach to above ports is made through an artificial channel of about 4 km in length from the coastline and 60 cm wide dredged to 9.10 m (30 ft), protected on either side by breakwaters with a separation of about 292 m at its entrance (riverside) which gradually reduces to about 204 m where the channel cuts through Rio Santiago island for about 1850 m until it metts the Rio Santiago at a site called Cuatro Bocas (Four Months) which offers a truning basin of about 400 metres diameter of which 250 m has a depth of 9.10 m (30 ft). The channel and the Grand Dock are dredged periodically. From Cuatro Bocas ships either proceed towards La Plata docks further inland, or towards Puerto Rocca further westwards. Ebbing and flooding tide currents act nearly perpendicular to the access channel thereby causing ships to experience a significatn set.
Martin Garcia Channel (Zona Comun toward the mouth of the Parana Guazu, Sauce, Bravo and Uruguay
rivers) : From Zona Comun vessels approach km 37 of the main access channel to Buenos Aires and then turn approximately North by East toward the Barra del Farallon channel which extends up to km 54; it is narrow and shallow, with a muddy and fine bottom. Currents lie in a NW/SE direction. As from km 54 up to km 61 the channel is known as the Paso del Farallon, and in this stretch the bottom is of a harder texture. Between kms 61/70 the channel is again artificial and called Barra de San Pedro; its bottom bed being slightly hard at commencement turning to soft sand/mud towards its end; thereon, between kms 70/76, Paso San Juan appears, being a natural narrow channel with a bottom of fine sand.
Once km 77 is cleared, the channel widens. Then between kms 83/93 the channel narrows again to about 90 m, and this section is called Canal Nuevo; between kms 93/100 follows the Canal del Infierno, which is quite narrow in between km 93 and 95.5, but once this last point is cleared it widens considerably. It lies between the Uruguayan coast and the Island of Martin Garcia. Reportedly, the bottom is hard at kms 93/95.5. Once km 100 is cleared, the following stretch up to km 109.5 is known as Canal del Este; from this last point and up to the entrance of Parana Guazu (km 122.5) Parana Bravo (km 138) and River Uurguay this passageway is known as Canal Principal which is wide and deep in comparison to all other stretches described.
The above group of channels are known under the general name of Martin Garcia channels. Anchorages, for waiting tides/favourable water levels, can be found eastwards of km 93.8 or upstream of km 109.5 Variations of water levels are subject to astronomical tides, storms and wind effect.
The channel will be dredged down to 9,70 m (32 ft) at datum in all its stretches and allowing for normal tides vessels should be able to sail with 9,70 m (32 ft) draft provided a two (2) foot underkeel clearance is stipulated by the Coast Guard. However, as hard rock has been found in the bottom of the channel the UKC could be greater than two (2) feet unless the hard bottom area is dredged deeper.
The Martin Garcia Island lies on the Playa Honda sandbar and it is surrounded by channels and it rises about 25 m above water level. Its contour is irregular and measures about 3380 m in NW/SE and about 1700 m in NE/SW directions; northwards it extends further due to alluvial formation.
CAUTION: The Boletin Fluvial periodically updates eventual limitations in this channel; Masters should consult Agents/Pilots about width, UKC and depths limitation before proceeding.
Zona Comun Towards Buenos Aires, Emilio Mitre Channel and Parana De Las Palmas
The Access channel towards Buenos Aires commences at km 37, about 7 nautical miles westward of Zona Comun and 20 nautical miles eastwards from port of Buenos Aires. At km 7.3 (from Buenos Aires) the main access channel divides into the North and South Channels leading towards respective anteports. The width of this channel between buoys is 200 m. In August 1998 the following limitations were given in the Boletin Fluvial: Access channel kms 37-12, 10.4 m (34.1 feet) in a channel width of 100 m. Access channel kms 12-7,3,9.75 m (31.11 feet) in a channel width of 60 m. North Access Channel kms 7.3-0.9 is 9.85 m (32.3 feet) in a channel width of 60 m. South Channel kms 6.8-0 is 8.5 m (27.9 feet) in a channel width of 60 m.
The main channel and its northern branch do not present significant alterations in course, but the south access does present a few in its short stretch. Ebbing and flooding currents run fairly parallel to the former but are at a angle to the latter. At km 12.0 a branching off occurs, giving rise to the Emiio Mitre Channel which leads in a NW direction towards the mouth of the Parana de las Palmas via Las Viboras stream.
The Emilio Mitre channel has enhanced tanker traffic between Zona Comun and the Esso distillery at Campana, by noticeable shortening distances and greatly improving permissible drafts as opposed to the Martin Garcia route. By the same token it has opened up Campana and Zarate to other types of cargo.
In connection with those vessels proceeding from upriver ports and bound to Buenos Aires via this channel, standing regulations have contemplated the possibility of ships turning about at km 12.
There is no appreciable difference as to distances run, between ports upriver of San Pedro (km 277) on the Parana and sailing via Martin Garcia or Emilio Mitre channels to Zona Comun.