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The origins of the pilotage service for the Port of Fremantle trace back to the early days of the Swan River Colony in 1829. Pilotage in Fremantle is one of the oldest continuing professions in Western Australia operating in a single location. The story contains some fascinating characters and events over nearly two centuries.

Fremantle Pilots have been the proud custodians of the pilot service in Fremantle since 1994.

Pre 1829: The Port of Fremantle (Walyalup) is located in the ancient country of the Whadjuk Nyoongar people, who have been the traditional owners of the south west of Western Australia for at least 45,000 years. The mouth of the Derbal Yerrigan (Swan River), where the Inner Harbour is currently located, was a significant crossing point prior to European settlement.

1829: Fremantle’s first Pilot, Captain Daniel Scott, operates his own boat from Arthur Head. This Pilot service is of an unofficial nature.

On 5 August 1829 Captain Scott arrived in Fremantle on board the “Calista” and was appointed Deputy Harbour Master and Pilot for a salary of £100. Captain Scott was also largely responsible for having the first sea-going vessel built in the colony of Western Australia, launching the “Lady Stirling” in May 1836.

1831: A total of 27 vessels call at Fremantle for the year.

1832: Port pilotage fees are set based on the size of vessel, although pilotage is not compulsory.

1845: Edward Back is appointed the first official full time Pilot and is based in Fremantle.

1848: Captain Charles Fitzgerald RN, Western Australia’s governor designate, while approaching Fremantle is nearly shipwrecked waiting for a Pilot to come out from Fremantle. This event is the catalyst to move the Pilot Station to Rottnest Island and Edward Back arrives on the island on September 11th, 1848, with his wife and six children. He receives a salary plus rations and in 1849 this is recorded as being 60 pounds annually, plus rations of 1 pound of meat and 1.5 pounds of flour per day.

Fremantle Pilot and boat crew at Rottnest circa 1846.

The SS ‘Sultan’ is the first vessel piloted
into the newly completed Inner Harbour, 1897.

1897: The incomplete Fremantle Inner Harbour, designed by WA Chief Engineer C. Y. O’Connor, is opened. The SS Sultan is the first vessel to enter. Rottnest Pilots bring vessels to the harbour entrance where a river Pilot then boards and berths the vessel.

Work began on the Inner Harbour in 1892 with the first major task involving the construction of North and South moles which used rock quarried from Rocky Bay (Swan River) and Boya in Mundaring Shire. Drilling, blasting, and six dredges were used to remove about 7.3 million cubic metres of sand and rock to create the harbour.

1903: After 55 years continuous service from Rottnest Island, the Pilot service is transferred back to Fremantle. The reasons he gave included “good lights on Rottnest, a new leading light at Woodman Point and the introduction of steam driven pilot boats”. On the 1st of August 1903, Pilots Cleary and Heaney take up duty in Fremantle and are housed in purpose-built houses at Arthur Head.

1942: A US submarine base is established in Fremantle with the first United States submarines arriving in 1942. In the latter stages of WWII, the port accommodates more than 170 submarines from the U.S, British and Dutch navies, that make a total of 416 war patrols out of the Fremantle Submarine Base during WW2.  This submarine base is the biggest Allied submarine base in the southern hemisphere.

1955: The Outer Harbour in Cockburn Sound is declared a harbour on January the 11th. It’s deep-water bulk port facilities are developed to service the Kwinana industrial area which expands rapidly in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Fremantle Pilots are trained to manoeuvre vessels in this new port.

1964: The Fremantle Harbour Trust becomes the Fremantle Port Authority. The new Port Authority building is opened adjacent to Victoria Quay and includes offices and a lounge for Pilot rest periods.

1969: Fremantle welcomes the first container ship to berth anywhere in Australia, marking the beginning of a bulk transport revolution.

1985: Pilot vessel ‘Paddy Troy’ enters service.

1994: The Fremantle Port Authority’s existing Pilots form a private company named Fremantle, Kwinana and Cockburn Sound Pilots Pty Ltd trading as Fremantle Pilots. The Pilot company continues to work closely with the Fremantle Ports Harbour Master to ensure the highest standards of safety and efficiency of marine pilotage in the Port are maintained.

Long serving pilot vessels ‘Paddy Troy’ and ‘Parmelia’

2000: Fremantle Pilots return to one of the original Pilot cottages at Arthur Head. 12 Captains Lane which was occupied by Captain Albert Trivett and his family for 60 years from 1926 to 1985. (Captain Trivett was a Fremantle Pilot from 1920 to 1943 and Harbour Master from 1943 to 1953). 

1999: Pilot vessel ‘Parmelia’ enters service.

2005: Fremantle Pilots becomes the first Pilot company in Australia and one of the first in the world to use a Personal Pilotage Unit (PPU) (an independent vessel positioning system), as a required aid to Pilotage. These systems are now commonplace among all Pilotage providers.

2006: Fremantle Pilots becomes the first Pilot company in Australia and the first in the world to use Simulation not just as a training aid, but as a means for developing and evolving specific procedures to account for various incident and emergency contingencies. 

2013:  Fremantle Pilots relocate to 1 Quarry Street in the east end of Fremantle in September 2013.

2015: Over 2100 vessels call at the port of Fremantle for the year.

Fremantle Pilots Head Office, 1 Quarry Street, Fremantle

The ‘Berkeley’, the first of the
Dongara Marine built Berkeley Class pilot vessels

2016: Pilot vessel “Berkeley” enters service and in October 2016 Fremantle Pilots purchases the vessel outright, making it the Pilot company’s first directly owned Pilot vessel. This vessel was built by Dongara Marine to suit the unique west coast sea conditions and was the first of the “Berkeley” class pilot vessels built by this family-owned Midwest boat builder.

2016: “Ovation of the Seas”, the longest vessel to ever call at any Australian port (348m) arrives in Fremantle.

2019: Fremantle Pilots undertake the first and only pilotage in Australian waters to facilitate STS (Ship to Ship) crude oil transfer between VLCC and smaller Aframax oil tankers.

‘Ovation of the Seas’, the largest vessel
to be piloted into Fremantle Inner Harbour

Fremantle Pilots provided pilotage services
uninterrupted throughout the Covid pandemic

2020 – 2022: Fremantle Pilots work closely with Fremantle Ports to ensure shipping and trade continue safely and with minimal delay during the Covid-19 pandemic. Fremantle Pilots were often required to undertake pilotage duties on vessels with known Covid cases onboard. Strict PPE (personal protective equipment) protocols ensured no pilot contracted Covid on duty throughout the pandemic.

2020: Dual pilot manoeuvres commence on the new generation large container vessels visiting Fremantle Port (up to 349m length overall). This followed extensive simulation exercises undertaken by all pilots to ensure ship handling skills and procedures were developed to handle these very large vessels (when swinging across the harbour, there is just 25 metres clearance between each end of the ship and the wharf).