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Khalid M. Al-Dukeer

Khalid A. Al-Watban

Mohammed J. Al-Hajri

Hamad S. Balharith

Saleh N. Al-Sheetah

Ali S. Al-Ghamdi

Saleh S. Al-Kully

Captains courageousSaudi Aramco harbor pilots tame tankersWRITTEN BY KYLE PAKKA PHOTOS BY FAISAL I. AL-DOSSARY AND HADI A. AL-MUKAYYL

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ike a falcon high on the face of a cliff, Capt. Saleh N. AlSheetah stands on the open bridge wing of the Namur, his sharp eyes judging the slowly narrowing gap between the side of the crude oil tanker and the fenders of berth 20 at Saudi Aramcos Ras Tanura Sea Island Terminal.Al-Sheetah must gently bring the Namur all 333 meters (1,093 feet) and 300,000 tons of her up against the fenders, called dolphins, and in close alignment with the loading arms of the berth. I tell my pilots to land on the berth as if you were going to trap an egg between the ship and the dolphin without breaking it, chief harbor pilot Khalid A. Al-Watban says.

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The bow of the supertanker Namur edges toward the loading arms of a berth at the companys Sea Island Terminal at Ras Tanura. Another tanker, fully loaded with crude oil, crosses in front. Every day, about five million barrels of crude oil are loaded at Ras Tanura alone. Saudi Aramco harbor pilots are a key link in the energy supply chain, guiding supertankers to and from company terminals. Above inset: Harbor pilots usually board tankers by climbing a rope ladder up the ships side, but can also climb gangways such as this one.

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Al-Sheetah, drawing upon his nearly quarter century of experience in these waters, is relying mainly upon the current and the wind to propel the Namur onto the dolphins. A world thirsty for oil is waiting for Al-Sheetah and his fellow harbor pilots, who are all Saudis, to safely berth tankers at one of Saudi Aramcos terminals. Saudi Aramco harbor pilots are entrusted with steering the massive vessels into berths at company ports on the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea, after taking over the helm from the tanker masters who piloted them to the Middle East from around the world. The whole world is waiting for our oil, Al-Watban says, underscoring the importance of the job performed by harbor pilots. Every day, about 5 million barrels of oil are loaded on ships at the Ras Tanura Terminal alone (a total of about 7 million barrels of oil a day are loaded on tankers at all Saudi Aramco terminals), but the oil isnt going anywhere if company harbor pilots cant bring the ships safely in, and out, of the terminals. Al-Sheetah and his colleagues are well aware of the responsibility that lies on their shoulders. But now, as the Namur closes on the dolphins, Al-Sheetah, relaying orders through the ships master at his side or over his hand-held radio, radiates calm, cool professionalism. Saudi Aramco is accustomed to measuring its business in millions of barrels and thousands of tons, but now it comes down to inches the distance between the Namur and the waiting berth covered at a snails pace. RIGOROUS TRAINING Al-Sheetah, a senior pilot, holds a class 18 license, the highest rating in the company and the result of a long odyssey of schooling, hands-on training and rigorous examinations.

To become a certified harbor pilot at the lowest rating, category 4, takes about seven to 10 years of training. The odyssey begins when newly hired employees choose harbor pilot as a potential career. Some employees, such as Al-Sheetah, whose uncle spent 42 years with Saudi Aramco and retired as a port captain, know about harbor pilots and want to be one, while others know very little about the companys Pilotage Operations.

Capt. Saleh S. Al-Kully, who currently holds a category 13 license, joined the company in 1993 through the College Degree Program for Non Employees. Even though his father wanted him to be an engineer, Al-Kully had other ideas: I wanted to do something different, something new and challenging. A couple of friends in the Marine Department liked their jobs and inspired Al-Kully to join them. I wasnt planning on being a pilot, says Capt. Mohammed J. Al-Hajri, but I heard about the uniqueness of the job. Al-Hajri now holds a category 18 license. Also now rated a category 18, Capt. Hamad S. Balharith at first wanted to be an electrical engineer, but the company had plenty of them, and a Harbor Pilot career was suggested instead. The first of what will be many exams is a simple one: Can the employee swim? If not, he attends a five-day swimming course.

What follows next is school, but not just any school: nautical college in the United Kingdom. Typically, candidates are sent to either South Tyneside College in South Shields or to Warsash Nautical Institute at Southampton. (Al-Sheetah, who joined the company in 1978, became a harbor pilot the traditional way: He worked his way up the pilotage ladder, beginning with water taxis, tugs and then bigger ships, all the way to supertankers. Al-Watban, who first went to sea in 1975 with a shipping affiliate of OPEC, attended Fleetwood College in Blackpool, England. Al-Watban spent 12 years at sea, becoming the first Saudi Aramco pilot to earn a Class 1 Master Mariner Certificate

Balharith boarded his first ship in 1990. The ship was as big as an island, he says. The ship, with Shell U.K., was fully laden and sailed from the Arabian Gulf to the United States. It was an amazing experience, Balharith says. Al-Kully boarded his first ship while it was in transit in the Suez Canal. A water taxi pulled up alongside the huge ship while it was moving and he clambered up a rope ladder to the deck. I couldnt believe I did it, he says. When Al-Hajri boarded his first ship, a Shell tanker in the U.A.E., It looked to me like a mountain, he says. All of Al-Hajris training was with Shell, before company cadets began serving on Vela ships.

Opposite left: Capt. Khalid M. Al-Dukeer is the Ras Tanura Port Captain, responsible for the companys Terminal Pilotage Operations at Ras Tanura, Juaymah, Jiddah, Rabigh, Duba and Jizan. Opposite right: Capt. Khalid Al-Watban, who first went to sea in 1975, was the first Saudi Aramco pilot to earn a Class 1 Master Mariner Certificate of Competency, which allows him to command any type of oceangoing ship, be it tanker, cargo ship or passenger liner. Right: Capt. Al-Sheetah and the master of the Namur shake hands after a successful berthing.

of Competency, which allows him to command any type of oceangoing ship, be it tanker, cargo-ship or passenger liner.) The entire program consists of five phases, with the first phase a one-month basic induction course where the students, now called cadets, learn the basics of seamanship. Phase 2, perhaps the most difficult for many, is a year at sea. Since the mid-1990s, company employees have spent their sea training aboard ships operated by Vela International Marine, Ltd., Saudi Aramcos subsidiary tanker fleet. We start from zero at sea, Al-Kully says, with cadets performing traditional basic tasks such as swabbing the decks and scraping paint. They work for a week or two in the engine room and stand watches and gradually begin to work on the bridge, assisting with loading and discharging cargo and learning the basics of navigation. It was a very difficult experience, Balharith says. I was the only Saudi on the ship, but I was treated very well. Thats sea life: People work with you and help each other. They know its difficult.

Going away to a life at sea made me more independent and self-reliant, Al-Hajri says. These characteristics are readily apparent in all the pilots. Getting used to the international mix of people, different customs and the strange food aboard ships and at the maritime colleges was a challenge for all the cadets. The cadets

Far left: Harbor pilots calculate myriad factors while berthing: tide, winds, weather, cargo, crew, ship and others, relying on supertankers sophisticated technology and, most of all, their pilots sense, honed from years of training. The sequence of photos shows the delicacy and precision with which several hundred thousand tons of tanker come to rest against the fenders of a Sea Island Terminal berth.

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Pilot vessels transport harbor pilots to waiting supertankers at the companys busy terminals.

had a lot of help, both at sea and on shore. One of the instructors at Southampton was a former company employee, and he became like a father to us, Al-Hajri says. This age-old mariners tradition of helping out the new guys has taken root with the Saudi cadets. We did the same when we came back here, Balharith says. We looked after the new pilots. When someone looks after you, you do the same for others. Its very important, and this is the beauty of working at sea. Al-Hajri and all the cadets were aware that they were representing their country to the other cadets and sailors. I felt proud to represent my country, Al-Hajri says. After their first year at sea, the cadets enter phase three: back to their nautical college for a year where they study the

theory of navigation, charts, electronics, ships stability, radar, meteorology, survival at sea and fire fighting. They also learn the Laws of the Sea, equivalent to the rules of the road: what ships do when they approach each other, rights of way, etc. These rules are established by the International Maritime Organization, or IMO. Everybody at sea knows these rules and knows what the other person will do under any circumstances, Al-Kully says.

Harbor Pilots & FacilitiesTHE TERMINAL PILOTAGE OPERATIONS DIVISION The Terminal Pilotage Operations Division, headed by the port captain, Capt. Khalid M. Al-Dukeer, has five units: Ras Tanura Pilotage Operations, Western Region Pilotage Operations, Tankship Technical Support, Quality Assurance and the Ve