A TERMINAL operator has strongly criticised ship pilots for refusing to berth at container Terminal 8 on Thursday evening when the wind speed rose to 20 knots and the No 3 strong wind signal was hoisted. Mark Leese, managing director of Modern Terminals Ltd (MTL), said wind speeds of 20 knots were common in Europe on a normal day and people continued working in such conditions. ''We just cannot stop the port with such a large throughput when the No 3 signal goes up,'' he said, adding that this was not the first time such an incident had happened. The quick intervention by the Marine Department after MTL complained that pilots wanted to stop work at 5 pm, six hours after the No 3 signal was hoisted, had averted serious traffic jams on roads leading to the port, Mr Leese said. ''We cannot be held to ransom by the pilots,'' he said. Andrew Milliken, MTL's general manager of the terminal operations division, said MTL decided to continue working after assessing that weather conditions would not get too serious. T. W. Lam, acting chairman of the Hong Kong Pilots Association, denied that there had been any interruption to services offered by the pilots on Thursday but declined to comment on the pilots' refusal to berth at Terminal 8. ''When a typhoon is approaching, it is natural that services may be interrupted,'' he said. Ian Dale, Hong Kong Pilots Advisory Committee chairman, said it was natural for terminal operators to be unhappy if pilots ceased to work, but they would only do so if their lives were at risk in bad weather.