Air Logistics

Delivering the goods — keeping supply chains going in the midst of a pandemic

Catching drug smugglers, laying Russian submarine detector alarms off the Scottish coast, and decommissioning North Sea oil wells might not be the sort of thing you would expect a Dublin Port Company pilot to have done.

But that is just some of the work Sarah Ledwith, the country’s first and only female pilot, has had to take on over the course of her working life.

She got the job last November and since then, she has helped bring 200 oil tankers, ferries and freight ships into the port.

She is part of a small army working around the clock in the country’s docks and airports.

It is the likes of her we all have to thank for helping get the €6 billion-€7bn or so of imports safely into the country every month.

Most of our clothes come from abroad, as do most of our shoes, bedding, and handbags.

Almost all of the fertilizers farmers use in the fields comes from outside the country, as does most of the fruit and vegetables we consume, and the vehicles we drive.

All our tobacco is imported, as is all the vegetable oil and fat we consume, and almost all our natural gas and most of the petroleum we use is also imported.

We also rely heavily on imported cereal, sugar, honey, electronics, oil, pharmaceuticals and petroleum.

Each week sees hundreds of ship movements in and out of the country.

Relentless marine traffic

The marine traffic is relentless, and Sarah’s job, and those of her colleagues in ports around the country, is like that of an air traffic controller. . . but for ships.

She is one of just 12 pilots who are involved in the navigation of around a quarter of the 46 ship movements in and out of quay walls in Dublin Port every day.

They don’t use pilots in Rosslare, partly because of the ease with which ship masters can access the port’s berths.

Added to that, the port has a tower that overlooks the berths and if someone needs help, controllers like Ger Gleeson can talk them into the harbour over the radio.

Like some of her colleagues, Sarah is a veteran of the Irish Naval Service, where the Meath native served from 2009 until 2015.

The highlight of her career was being the Officer on Watch on the LÉ Niamh when it was involved in the seizure of one of the largest ever haul of drugs in the history of the State.

Crew aboard the ship intercepted the yacht Makayabella about 300km off the south west coast of Ireland in September 2014 and seized bales of cocaine worth just under €300 million.

Previous jobs include working on the Irish Lights vessel, the ILV Granuaile, in 2016, where she served on and off until around 2000.

One of her jobs there was laying Russian submarine detector alarms for the UK’s Ministry of Defence along a section of the UK coastal area.

Before she joined Dublin Port last November, she worked as a dynamic positioning officer aboard ships involved in the decommission of oil wells in the North Sea.

Trying to communicate with the captains of ships coming into the port poses its own challenges when you are wearing a facemask and English would not be their first language.

Like her other colleagues, she also has to be ferried over in one of Dublin Port’s Pilot Cutters to the big ships as they arrive at the pilot boarding grounds in Dublin Bay.

Then, after the cutter comes alongside the ships, she has to clamber up a manila — or rope ladder — thrust over the vast hull of these ships while they are still moving.

She then joins the captain on the bridge and together they bring the ship in, navigating their way through currents and other potential obstacles.

Even a prevailing gust of wind can push the ships off course.

Freight flights

As well as a constant flow of ships in and out of the country’s ports, there is also a constant flow of freight flights in and out of Dublin Airport 15 minutes away.

One of the three DHL Airbus A300 express cargo planes that land each morning at Dublin Airport. Picture: Neil Michael.

One of the three DHL Airbus A300 express cargo planes that land each morning at Dublin Airport. Picture: Neil Michael.

While companies like American Airlines and United…

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