BTA Conference report 2017

This year’s Annual General Meeting and Conference took place on Wednesday 26 April, at the Meon Valley Marriott Hotel & Country Club, near Southampton. Over 40 delegates were present and represented member companies, our new Associates and guests. The Annual Dinner was held afterwards. The conference was kindly sponsored by one of our newest members, Sanmar Shipyards.

Annual General Meeting

At the AGM, Phil Dulson, Managing Director, North & South East for Svitzer Marine Ltd, was re-elected as Chairman, as was Nick Dorman of Targe Towing Ltd to the post of Vice-Chairman. In addition, the following were voted in for the first time or returned as members of the Executive Committee: Tom Woolley (Targe Towing Ltd), Nick Jeffery (Solent Towage Ltd), Duncan Foster (Serco Marine Ltd), Patrick Lyon (SMS Towage Ltd), Rene Raaijmakers (Kotug Smit Harbour Towage Ltd), Gareth Escreet (SMS Towage Ltd), Andrew Murray (Caledonian Towage Ltd), Scott Baker (Svitzer Marine Ltd).

The Secretariat informed the meeting that the fee per tug for the year 2017/18 would be £326 per vessel. This was the same as last year and indeed was a reduction on the previous 6 years. An update on the arrangements for Associate Members was given and the Chairman welcomed Sanmar Shipyards, The Chatham Rope Company, ACL Shipbrokers Ltd, Jason Woodward – ISM and David Brown Marine to this new category.

The Conference

The Chairman opened by welcoming members and guests. He explained the rationale for moving to a venue outside London and hoped the better networking opportunity would be valuable. He mentioned that the new Associate membership category was showing early signs of success, with several companies, with an interest in towage, joining recently. He reaffirmed the value of being part of the Chamber of Shipping and encouraged members to come up with ideas to take to the Board. Tug safety of course remained central and it was somewhat poignant that the inquest was taking place at that moment into the fatality onboard Svitzer Moira. It was reassuring that the UK Chamber had made the development of a safety culture a top priority; they would be following much of what the BTA already does. Indeed the Secretary would also be talking to the European Tugowners Association conference on safety statistics and culture. Following the launch of the Pilots’ Guide to Towage, the Chairman congratulated Jason Woodward on its success thus far, with over 1500 copies now sold. Finally, he reiterated the importance of industry acting together with a strong voice on matters of common interest and if there were further ideas about what the BTA should be doing, then they should be passed on to the secretariat to follow up.

Katy Ware, the Director of Maritime Safety and Standards at the MCA then spoke. She said efforts were strongly focused on the UK Ship Register; the new Director (Doug Barrow) would be developing a more commercial model with the intent of making it the Register of choice. Survey, including ISM audits may be more widely delegated and there was emphasis on motivation and retaining staff, although shortages and the demographics posed problems. Work to remove (EU) gold plating and update regulation and to make it more user friendly was also a priority. Ambulatory reference would in future be used for many IMO regulatory changes, thus simplifying and speeding up incorporation into UK law.

Anna Maria Darmanin, Secretary General of the European Tugowners Association provided a view from Europe. With a strong membership and located in Brussels, she said ETA were well placed to work with other such associations and lobby at the European Commission. The Valetta Declaration in Malta by the current EU Presidency focused on the need for competitiveness in shipping, digitisation, decarbonisation, opportunities for women and with further emphasis on short sea shipping. Single window reporting remained problem with 20% of ports still without any digital reporting systems. She mentioned that the EU Ports Regulation would continue, but ports services needed to work more closely together to protect their interests.

Steve Clinch, Chief Executive of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch then gave a brief history of the MAIB. He said a key principle of their investigations was that no blame was attributed, but this was currently under threat with a call by prosecutors for one accident demanding that MAIB evidence to be released. The call was being strongly resisted. For shipping in general, accident rates were falling, although fishing remained a particular problem. Towage in the UK had most certainly improved since the Flying Phantom casualty 10 years ago. Recent incidents did highlight issues with qualifications and drills as well as persuading individuals to follow what is required by safety management systems. The BTA’s role in proactively pursuing these issues was clearly noted.

Iain MacKinnon, Secretary of the Maritime Skills Alliance, of which the BTA is an active member, provided an update on skills and apprenticeships. The apprenticeship levy is now in place with companies paying into it if their wage bill was greater than £3m. The message was to take advantage and start looking toward creating apprenticeships. He said that Dave Roberts of Svitzer was already chairing an employer group to progress creation of a small vessel engineer apprenticeship, which would see those seeking STCW certificates of competence for chief engineer (less than 3000kW or less than 9000kW) eligible to draw down funding for their college training. DfT are in any case looking at cadets being able to qualify for apprenticeships and a similar scheme for small vessel deck officers is being considered.

Adrian Mundin, UK Chamber of Shipping and the BTA’s Secretary, briefed on what the UK Chamber was doing in respect of safety culture. Chamber President, Grahaeme Henderson of Shell, had made safety culture in the industry a top priority. He had pointed out that fatal accidents in the industry were 20 times more likely than for the general worker in the UK. Accountability to develop and uphold a strong safety culture must reside firmly with senior leadership and it is up to chief executives and managing directors to drive forward a fundamental change to our approach. With this lead, the chamber initiated a programme to further promote a safety culture within its membership and the wider industry. Not a drive for more regulation; rather promotion of a culture that demands the observance of existing regulation and safe practices, even on a dark night when no one is looking.  A ‘just culture’ to encourage open reporting of safety related incidents, with the elimination of inappropriate punishment for genuine mistakes and learning from the near misses was part of this and of course has been adopted by many, including towage operators, who certainly get the concept. So what was the chamber doing: safety experts from each sector, including towage, were brought together. The first problem was all those in the room were completely sold on the concept; to ensure the necessary leadership, chief executives needed to be firmly bound in. It was also clear that a difficulty for those reporting to their board was that safety was just another thing on the agenda; it was discussed and passed by. Four work strands were agreed by the group. Firstly, to develop an online forum for thought leadership, alerts and so on – this was launched and is running. Secondly to look for a safety benchmarking tool, identify KPIs, so we know what does good looks like. Thirdly, to get CEO buy in, and finally, to identify all the key stakeholders (brokers, charterers, middle managers etc) who unknowingly (or not) apply commercial pressures that can lead to corner cutting and so a reduction in safety standards. Work remains ongoing and an event is planned in September over a weekend at sea to progress these themes – all are welcome.

Gary Dockerty, Sales Director MEA Region then gave an upbeat presentation on Sanmar as a leading Turkish based and family run shipyard and tug operator. With 26 tugs in their own fleet, they had been also been building vessels for 40 years and had strong links with designer Robert Allen. A notable achievement was to build the world’s first LNG powered tug in 2014. Much of the talk was about solving a steering instability problem seen during sea trials of their Voith propelled VectRA. A very complex problem which could have involved fundamental redesign was solved very simply with strake, in the form of a half pipe welded on the stern in a position to suppress vortex induced motion, thus stabilising the wake.

The Chairman closed the conference by thanking delegates for a good turn out and their attention, the speakers for providing interesting, upbeat and insightful presentations and Sanmar for their very generous sponsorship of the event. He also drew attend to the golf the following morning and thanked Kotug Smit for their kind support for the competition for the Sir William Crosthwaite Cup 2017.

The Dinner

The annual dinner provided an opportunity to network and catch up with colleagues. The Chairman presided and proceedings include the award of the BTA’s ‘Tug Personality of the Year’ to Jason Woodward, formerly of Svitzer and now a consultant, for his huge contribution the BTA safety and seminars over the last ten years.

The Annual Golf Completion

The annual golf completion for the Sir William Crosthwaite Cup took place on Thursday morning at the hotel’s golf complex. A splendid 16 players turned out, with the competition being organised by David Offin of Caledonian Towage and kindly sponsored by Kotug Smit. The overall winner was guest Martijn Smit, formerly of Damen; the winner of the cup was Dave Rhodes of Serco.

Conference kindly supported by Sanmar, builders of high quality and specialist tugboats


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