Cover Story: Rock solid Bolstering its brand

News that Gibraltar is to get its very own Maritime Academy has cemented what has been known for a very long time – that the British Overseas Territory, which acts as a ‘petrol station’ for thousands of vessels passing through the Strait, is most certainly a maritime centre of excellence and not just a place for the business of bunkering.

The academy, which will be based at the University of Gibraltar and opens to students this September, is being partially funded by the Government of Gibraltar as part of a drive to widen the maritime cluster’s expertise. It was announced by Gilbert Licudi QC, the Minister with responsibility for the Port, Maritime Affairs and the University, at last year’s inaugural Maritime Week Gibraltar – an event designed to draw international attention to the territory’s maritime capabilities.

Minister Licudi told SMI: “In conjunction with the University of Gibraltar, Government, Gibraltar Port Authority and the Gibraltar Maritime Administration, the academy will soon become a reality and I am happy to say that we have already have a lot of interest from people wanting to take part in this new endeavour.”

The University’s Communications and Marketing Manager, David Revagliatte, added: “The Gibraltar Maritime Academy has been created to support Gibraltar’s expanding maritime sector and help widen shipping industry’s growing demand for highly skilled deck officers and engineers. It will offer undergraduate degrees including an accelerated BSc (Hons) Maritime Science with Nautical and Engineering pathways as well as STCW courses.”

The move to open an academy has been widely welcomed across the maritime cluster with many sectors already enjoying discussions with the academy as to how they can link up and blend skillsets, including Gibdock, and the Gibraltar Port Authority (GPA).

“We are very pleased about the Maritime Academy,” the GPA’s CEO and Captain of the Port, Manuelo Tirado, told SMI. “We are a maritime centre of excellence and it was one of the key elements we were missing. The prospect of having an academy run by the University of Gibraltar, in conjunction with the Gibraltar Maritime Administration (GMA) and the GPA, makes a lot of sense.”

James Ramagge, Director at law firm Triay & Triay, said: “I think there is definitely a demand for it, and I think the people involved in it have got the experience to make it a success.

“All of these things ultimately lead on to making Gibraltar a more legitimate maritime centre and increase our visibility. At the end of the day, if the academy is a success, then there will be a lot of people training through it, and those people will go on to be in positions where they may well be taking decisions on where a vessel is flagged – be it a yacht or a commercial one.”

Dylan Cocklan, of the GMA, added: “As Gibraltar Maritime Administration, we have always been advocates of having people with a maritime and nautical background. We are fully supportive of it.”

While many in Gibraltar agree that great strides have been made in putting Gibraltar on the map of maritime hubs, more could still be done to promote the cluster’s maritime services as a whole, rather than just focusing on its bunker operations – it is the largest bunkering port in the Mediterranean with around 60,000 vessels transiting the Strait of Gibraltar every year.

Mr Ramagge said that with many companies in Gibraltar doing a great amount of international business, particularly the bunker operators, lawyers and ship agents, Maritime Week Gibraltar, of which Triay & Triay were one of the sponsors, was useful in terms getting Gibraltar’s name out there in a more cohesive way, and also of use locally to get everybody in the industry going in one direction “because, obviously, the maritime industries are quite diverse yet at the same time can be quite interconnected.”

Christian Hernandez, Partner at law firm ISOLAS and also President of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce, said: “Gibraltar is a full service jurisdiction in terms of the shipping work and the marine work that we do, and on the practical side, and logistical side, the Port of Gibraltar is the busiest port in the Mediterranean. It’s a full service port in terms of ship supplies, ship spares, bunkering, crew changes, ship repairs, and I think it continues to go from strength to strength.

“It’s a pillar of the economy that Gibraltar, as a jurisdiction, is keen to promote because it is not dependent on the border with Spain. To that extent, it is almost Brexit-proof.”

One company which has been enticed to set up in Gibraltar is Ince Gibraltar, which came about through the international law firm Ince Gordon Dadd’s acquisition of Ramparts, which was founded by Peter Howitt and set up in the World Trade Center.

Mr Howitt remains as Managing Partner and the firm has employed experienced Gibraltar maritime lawyer Anne Rose as Partner for the shipping practice.

Stephen Jarvis, Partner and International Brand Ambassador for Ince, said: “We are here because we believe in Gibraltar and we are promoting Gibraltar in lots of different ways.

“It isn’t a case of coming here to ruffle feathers and take work away from anyone else but Ince is here to actually add value to Gibraltar and work with Gibraltar for the benefit of Gibraltar.”

Mr Howitt added: “I have been here for many years now and knew a lot of the lawyers already, so I wasn’t a complete outsider when I started. It has the chance to bring in business that could benefit others.”

Ms Rose said there was much positivity in Gibraltar and the shipping side of the business had got off to a good start.

Ince Gibraltar says it is looking forward to the ‘Brexit Bounce’, with European companies who rely on passporting into the UK losing their passporting rights unless they set up in Gibraltar.

Minister Licudi said Gibraltar is considered a maritime centre of excellence for various reasons, not just because it is the top bunkering port in the Mediterranean. Factors include the professionalism of port operators when servicing clients, and the port not only offering bunkers but ship chandlery, ship repair, under water cleaning, medical assistance, provisions, spares, and stores. The port is also just a five-minute drive from the airport, which makes crew changes easy.

“We also have the English legal system, which is considered to be one of the best systems worldwide,” he said.

This was echoed by Mr Hernandez, whose firm, ISOLAS, is one of the busiest in Gibraltar for ship arrests.

“We are one of the premier jurisdictions in ship arrest in the world and the reason for that is its geographical location as well as the fact that it is English Law based so there is a large degree of certainty in the law that we apply,” he said, adding that with the local judges being highly experienced in shipping matters and the English Court of Appeal coming to Gibraltar twice a year, there is also a high calibre of judges.

“The ship arrest practice is obviously cyclical to the extent that we do it when a ship needs to be arrested because somebody hasn’t paid, ultimately,” he said. “We can do a case in Gibraltar from start to finish. Clients are quite happy for the matter to be litigated from beginning to end because I think we have a very good reputation.”

Ship registration forms the other side of the work carried out by Gibraltar’s law firms, though the uncertainty of Brexit has created a bit of a lull.

“Because of Brexit we have been treading water to an extent on the ship registration side,” said Mr Ramagge. “We really need to establish where we are going to be, not in a pessimistic format, but I think once we know where we are, we carry on and market ourselves accordingly.”

GMA’s Mr Cocklan said the Shipping Registry, which currently has a registered gross tonnage of 1.9 million commercial vessels, had been registering ships but not at the rate it is normally used to, and this was mainly to do with the uncertainty of Brexit.  However, he is hopeful that once the terms of the withdrawal have been negotiated the Flag’s quality reputation and its modernisation programme will encourage more owners to flag their vessels with Gibraltar.

Diana Soussi Avellano, Registrar of Yachts, said the flexibility and the swiftness of the service timeframe were also key factors, along with the security of British Law.

“The British Flag is a very reputable one, so when you put all of these things together, along with the geographical location, it is a good package.”

The yachting side of the Flag, seemingly untouched by Brexit, is growing steadily, she said and one of the Registry’s current initiatives is expanding on the yachting side to vessels under construction. She said the service, already offered on the shipping side, had been expanded to yachts because of the increase in their size.

The Registry is also modernising through digitalisation and one area it has focused on quite strongly is the documentation for seafarers.  The ship inspection database is also being improved, making it both easier for the Registry and for interaction with the client. Gibraltar, along with the Red Ensign Group, is also now moving to accept electronic certification.

Gibraltar Maritime Administration will be promoting the Flag as part of the Gibraltar pavilion at this year’s Posidonia exhibition in Greece in June.

Though Brexit is bringing some uncertainty still, Gibraltar has taken a proactive approach by putting in contingency plans.

As the GPA’s Mr Tirado explained: “The good thing about Gibraltar Plc, and that obviously includes the port, is the fact that we looked at Brexit in a proactive way, rather than reactive, and we have planned for the worst case scenario. We have had contingencies in place for some time now.”

One of these has been the construction of a new ferry ramp, which is already being used with a vessel coming in from Tangier Med every two weeks.

Lewis Baglietto QC, Partner at international law firm Hassans, also believes that Brexit will bring more opportunities.

“At the moment, the interest being shown is people wanting to flag their vessels in Gibraltar and bring them under the Red Ensign, but until we know the details of the future relationship with Europe, it is hard to assess the full extent of the opportunities which Gibraltar may offer in the maritime sector post-Brexit. Regardless of that, the fact is that there is a certain amount of interest in going ahead and people moving over to Gibraltar post-Brexit.”

Yvonne Chu, Partner in Hassans’ financial services department, said: “We are seeing great traction and more enquiries, and also banks are now starting to lend again since the financial crisis in 2008. Within the last couple of months we have been getting quite a few instructions from banks in respect of re-financing and financing facilities to shipping companies. It is very positive.”

Ian Penfold, Director, Port Agency for MH Bland, said the company’s warehouse – the only one in the port – was only half full at the moment so could also accommodate more storage for goods coming in by sea if there are problems with the frontier and bringing goods in by road.

“Things are being sorted out and I have a lot of trust in this Government, so let’s just get on with it,” he told SMI, adding that he believes Brexit could bring many opportunities for MH Bland.

Another company which is looking to increase its storage capacity is Redwood International, which offers freight forwarding, courier services, removals and port services. Its Managing Director, Danny Gabay, said the company was doubling the storage space it had in its warehouse at the North Mole, by having two floors.

“We are looking to do this soon,” he said. “It is coming at a good time with the Brexit situation because we might have clients who want to have stock here in Gibraltar to avoid having to transit them. It would make a lot of sense for clients who have regular vessels calling to have some essential spares in Gibraltar and that is the kind of business we will be looking at.”

He added: “People are starting to get nervous about storage space. I’ve been saying for years that we should dedicate some space for warehousing because Gibraltar is in a situation where in the past we have been put under a lot of pressure and we need to be able to fend for ourselves.”

Mr Gabay believes a shuttle container vessel from Tangier Med, would be a good solution and would be quite easy to set up.

Karl Alecio, General Manager for Redwood International, said business had generally been increasing for the company and though it had been busy for much of 2019 in its removals service relocating some of the schools to a new larger state-of-the-art secondary school, the shipping side was doing well.

“From a shipping point of view, we’ve got a very good team now,” he said. “With all the enquiries we get, we give them such a good service that they tend to use us again. Business is increasing and we have got a few new clients.”

Nicholai Bado, Port Operations Manager at Wilhelmsen Ships Service Gibraltar, said 2019 had also been a good year for his company with it servicing an average 120 ships a month.

However, he said it was difficult to gain market share in Gibraltar, even more so with new players coming into the market. “A lot of people think we have a big market share because we have grown,” he said, adding that though WSS had many global customers, the Gibraltar office was also very strong on the spot market.

Mark Lincoln, Operations Director at ship agents and bunker trader Rock Maritime Services said more agents had been granted licences last year which had obviously increased the competition for market share: “It’s the same pie but there are now more slices in it,” he told SMI. However, he added: “One of the beauties of Gibraltar is that it is a tight-knit community. Yes, a lot of people are in competition, but we sometimes help each other out.”

Like others, he believes though Gibraltar has made great strides in promoting itself as a maritime cluster, it could still do more, especially where yachting is concerned.

“The services and the facilities exist. It’s just a question of how to promote them,” he said.

“Gibraltar is seen as a bunkering destination but there are so many other things we would love to be able to get people to do whilst they are here – things they can combine with a bunkering stop. More and more of that is happening both on the shipping side, and the yachting side. Instead of just stopping for fuel they are maybe changing a crew member or getting more provisions onboard.”

The IMO Global Sulphur Cap, which entered into force on 1st January, has been another challenge facing the Med’s largest bunkering port. Seemingly it has been a pretty smooth transition for most.

“People have been able to get the product they need fairly quickly and there have been no issues that we are aware of,” Mr Lincoln told SMI. “Considering the number of vessels changing over, and the amount of tanks that needed cleaning, I think the industry has coped very well.”

GPA’s Mr Tirado agreed it had been a “seamless transition” but said the change was still in its early stages.

“As far as the GPA is concerned, we are ramping up our inspections on bunker barges and testing fuels as we normally do with all other products,” he said.

Nicholai Bado said WSS had been receiving many enquiries about whether open loop exhaust gas cleaning systems (scrubbers) were allowed in the Port of Gibraltar but it currently only allows the use of closed loop or hybrid systems.

Mr Tirado added that the GPA was still debating whether the open loop system would be something they could eventually accept and was engaged with colleagues in the Ministry for the Environment.

“We will be looking at studies to see what the effluent is like to see if we will be able to allow open loop scrubbers in our waters,” he said.

John Ghio, Deputy Captain of the Port, added: “We have been proactive about this. We sent out a circular to all of our ship agents informing them exactly what our position is so they can pass it down to their clients.”

Harry Murphy, Director, Commercial Services at Gib Oil, said his company has been 100% ready for 2020 when it actually came about, having acquired two bunker barges in 2018 which they had kept clean with a view to 2020.

“At the beginning it was difficult because we had quite a lot of capacity but limited demand on the distillate only front but over 2019 we have seen the demand for distillates increase quite significantly, particularly with the gap and price between VLSFO and the distillate marine gas oil grades,” he said.

Gib Oil’s longer-term plans including building tankage in the North Mole and environmental impact assessments are currently taking place. The main benefit will be security of supply as Gib Oil will not be reliant on shipments coming in from Spain and any problems with bad weather. The tank farm will be similar to the operation Gib Oil currently operates in Malta.

With greener fuels high on the agenda, last May Gibraltar saw the opening of an LNG terminal at the port, with a regular discharge into the plant every two weeks, allowing the territory to switch from diesel-fuelled power generation to cleaner-burning natural gas, using a newly commissioned 80-megawatt gas-fired power plant.

Last summer the Port also saw its first ever LNG bunkering within British Gibraltar Territorial Waters, something the GPA is very proud of.

Heerema Marine Contractors’ new semi submersible crane vessel (SSCV) Sleipnir was bunkered with more than 3,000 metric tons of LNG and was the largest LNG bunker supply in Europe to that date.

“It was an important milestone for us, because we needed to show the world we were ready,” said Mr Tirado. The fact that we had the STS, the LNG bunker code of practice, the procedures in place, the fact that we did the risk assessment together with the vessel and the Master and so on did prove not only to us but to Government that we can do what we set our minds to and the fact that we are moving in the right direction.”

Minister Licudi agreed adding: “Ships are now being built that will use LNG as a fuel and I am happy to say that the Government  and the GPA has worked in conjunction with Shell to produce the LNG bunker code of practice and the legal framework to be in a position to be able to license an LNG bunker company supply in Gibraltar when the demand starts.”

The Port in general is still busy and Deputy Captain of the Port John Ghio said some sectors had grown dramatically, especially ship-to-ship operations, which had generated a lot of business for stakeholders including tug boats, fender operators and STS service providers.

Cruise calls, which also saw a minor dip last year due to the general repositioning by cruise companies, are also set to increase this year with already more bookings for 2020 than last year. “It is looking positive,” said Mr Tirado.

Minister Lucidi said that the promotion of the Port was a key priority, adding: “It is essential that the GPA and the Government continue to have an aggressive marketing campaign in order to keep the current clients interested in continuing calling at Gibraltar and also to entice new companies and clients in order to reap the benefits which contribute to our economy.”

Another company which has been drawn to Gibraltar is shipping, logistics and marine specialist GAC which opened a new office as part of its ongoing European growth strategy. The company offers ship agency, husbandry and freight services as well as ship-to-ship transfers

Sergio de la Torre, GAC Gibraltar’s Manager, said: “This new office is the latest stage of GAC’s expansion plan to add value to our global services for both existing and new customers,” while Ivo Verheyen, Group President, Europe added: “GAC Gibraltar is perfectly placed to deliver the integrated shipping and logistics services GAC is known for to ships entering or leaving the Mediterranean.”

While some companies are coming into Gibraltar, others are expanding out. MH Bland opened an office in Malta in December, a move which Ian Penfold said had come about through natural progression between the Canary Islands, the Strait of Gibraltar and Malta. “We are seeing the pattern and the bigger agencies that are coming into Gibraltar offering services elsewhere, so we are having to move in that direction,” he said.

Building worldwide networks has also led to global hull remotely operated vehicle (ROV) cleaning company HullWiper joining with Gibraltar company SCAMP – part of the Gibunco Group – to offer a more environmentally friendly, and safer, way of hull cleaning in the Port of Gibraltar.

The partnership – HullWiper by SCAMP – sees remotely operated underwater vehicles being used for hull cleaning instead of divers  and was launched in 2018.

Freddie Pitto, Global General Manager shipping services at Scamp, which also offers underwater  propeller polish, surveys, inspections and afloat repairs, said: “We tried to bring to Gibraltar something additional to our existing systems and seeing that HullWiper was proving to be an efficient and reliable equipment, we agreed to the partnership. This innovative remotely operated vehicle met all the necessary characteristics that we were looking for with regards to environmental protection and safer diver free technology. We have one HullWiper unit at present with an additional unit coming.”

He added that he would also like to expand the area where they can clean. “I’m of the opinion that we should be able to clean on the Eastern Side of the Rock, because we only have the Western Anchorage where we are allowed to carry out our cleaning,  near other port anchorages have a capture area much bigger than ours” he said. 

Simon Doran, HullWiper’s Managing Director, said: “Our partnership with the important global player SCAMP is a positive step in our expansion plans.”

Another company which is very busy is Gibdock which has seen a number of LNG retrofits come into the yard. “We’ve had scrubbers and LNG retrofits and ballast water treatment systems, and all of this is being driven by the legislation that is coming through,” he said. “We are doing this work for our current client base which ties in nicely with the Gibraltar Government’s aspirations for LNG.

The shipyard is also seeing more business in the super yacht side and Lord Alan Sugar’s Lady A is turning into a regular visitor.

The drive to work more efficiently is also spurring on new technologies and one of these areas is the use of ultra high pressure (UHP) washing to replace blasting, where technically possible. Mr Beards said this was also part of the yard being more environmentally focused.

“We do have our challenges and we are working hard to look at different ways of doing things,” he told SMI. “However, when I go to other shipyards around Europe I think we are pretty good. We try very hard but I think there is always more you can do. UHP is an interesting one for us. We’ve got our own reverse osmosis plant otherwise the prohibitive part of it would be the cost of fresh water, so we have addressed that.”

The yard is also constantly looking to the future in terms of its workforce with its next apprentice intake starting this month (February). The joint scheme with the Government offers a four-year apprenticeship for roles including mechanical fitters, electricians and fabrication welders.

Along with the bigger maritime industries in Gibraltar, there are many smaller providers just as crucial to making up the maritime centre of excellence.

One such business is College Clinic, a private medical centre which has been treating Gibraltar’s visiting seafarers for many years.

The clinic boasts the only approved Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) approved doctor in the Iberian Peninsula along with port health officers.

Director Rubén Arguisjuela said the clinic dealt directly with agents and walk-in clients and provided ENG1 seafarer medical examinations as well as vaccinations.

“Seafarers come to College Clinic for everything, from acute tonsillitis to a sprained ankle or broken leg,” explained Mr Arguisjuela, “though if the treatment is more acute or an emergency they will be sent directly to Accident and Emergency.”

The clinic will also soon be able to offer more minor procedures such as endoscopies and colonoscopies, which will save patients being referred into nearby Spain.

While all these providers are vital for Gibraltar’s maritime industry, there is still one area which remains relatively untapped, according to Triay & Triay’s James Ramagge.

“I think everybody feels that it would be good to have more shipmanagement operations here. Yes, ultimately that is a long-term objective, but at the same time there are a lot of shipmanagement centres around at the moment, so you are already trying to pitch to a market that is quite crowded.”