Jean Pruniéras

Published on 18 February 2008

Jean Pruniéras died on 6th March 2004, whilst still organising over the preceding few weeks, the round table study by the European Commission on small and medium-sized ports for the “Institut Français de Navigation” (French Institute of Navigation).

This great engineer worked tirelessly for the security and efficiency of marine navigation.

He started his career at the port of Oran and he joined the Lighthouses and Beacons Service in 1955, never to leave it.

In 1963, he was the Chief Engineer for the Lighthouses and Beacons Technical Service. In 1972, he became the Director of the Lighthouses and Beacons Service and as a result, became the thirteenth Secretary of the Lighthouse Commission, succeeding some very illustrious predecessors, such as Augustin Fresnel and Léonce Reynaud. He also became the Secretary-General of the “Association Internationale de Signalisation Maritime” (AISM - International Maritime Signalisation Organisation). In 1977, he took on the title of Director of the Lighthouses and Beacons and Navigation Service (SPBN) after the integration of its services with the CROSS (Centres Régionaux Opérationnels de Surveillance et de Sauvetage - Regional Operational Surveillance and Rescue Centres). He would hold this role until his retirement in 1988.

When Jean Pruniéras joined the Lighthouses and Beacons Service, it was completing the reconstruction of its installations and taking up the technological challenge, which would encompass the spread of electrification, the use of electronics and automation.

Within the different spheres Jean Pruniéras tackled during his professional career, one of his achievements was leading to its conclusion the definition through AISM, of a unified signalisation system, by making the STPB (Lighthouses and Beacons Technical Service) carry out a study on the recognition of flashes which would allow the definition of differentiable rhythms of lights and therefore those of cardinal buoys. This unified system, which had been under research since the end of the nineteenth century, would be adopted by the “Organisation Maritime Internationale” (International Maritime Organisation) in 1981.

At the end of the 1970s, he would also carry out an important study on the usefulness of positioning systems , with a view to researching the various radio- aided navigation systems which were most suitable for different uses (navigation, fishing, canals etc).

Jean Pruniéras had very quickly understood the importance that radar would have in improving navigational safety in canal ports and then at sea. Studies carried out have led to what we now call VTS (Vessel Traffic Services). The installation project of such a system off the tip of Brittany had been prepared under his direction; the Amoco Cadiz disaster (March 1978) had led to finance being found for the project. If this device, combined with the State’s other means of action at sea was not enough to prevent all accidents, as was sadly demonstrated by the Erika catastrophe at the end of 1999, it has at least meant that many other were avoided. It is estimated that around 15 serious accidents have been averted between 1980 and 1999.

The French experience thus acquired under Jean Pruniéras has led to the adoption of numerous regulations by the AISM, the “Association Internationale des Ports” (IAPH - International Ports Association) and the “Organisation Maritime Internationale” (OMI). When the European Commission launched a vast study programme on the VTS at the beginning of the 1980s, naturally it was Jean Pruniéras who was called upon to execute the necessary action. And when his peers elected him the head of the “Institut Français de Navigation” and then of its technical committee, his fame led to this organisation being granted the co-ordination of different European actions in this domain and more generally in everything remotely touching on navigational security. He was still working on it on the eve of his death.