Regional Focus: Glasgow builds on maritime heritage of the city

Glasgow is steeped in a strong historic maritime tradition providing shipping companies with a traditional seafaring base to carry out their operations.

Although they are proud and happy to celebrate the legacy Glasgow has to offer, many are ready to embrace new challenges that are coming their way.

In the last year the Scottish Maritime Cluster has been formed with the view of providing further business opportunities and growth for the hub.

The Cluster that was only conceived as an idea over a long lunch is quickly gathering pace and will launch officially during London International Shipping Week 2017 in September.

The idea of hosting a Cluster organisation in Scotland was born last year with the Lord Mayor of London at the time Lord Mountevans and Head of Maritime London Doug Barrow and many other ship designers, builders and managers.

As explained by Anglo-Eastern’s Douglas Lang, the Cluster’s first Chairman: “There have been a number of attempts over the years to develop a cluster, either city-based or Scotland-based. For one reason or another they just haven’t gathered traction. But I think this time it’s the right people at the right time coming together and we certainly seemed to have hit a note among the companies up here that there is something we can do. In some respects it has been very much pushing an open door, everyone seems ready for it.

“If we go back to the start I think Lord Mountevans and Doug Barrow should take a share of the credit. They came up here in March 2016 and I set up a lunch. We had the ship builders, managers, designers all invited and we ended up having a very good discussion. After the Lord Mayor left we were all still there and we got talking and said ‘we have lots of common issues, is there something we should be doing.’ Out of that the cluster was born.”

After forming the organisation last year it very quickly gathered pace and the Cluster organisation now has 40 members. In the very near future members will be holding brainstorming sessions in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen where they will input their findings to the Scottish Government, who has asked the Cluster organisation to contribute to its strategy papers.

The organisation is focused on the growth of business opportunities and building on strong and globally recognised experience. Scotland now offers ship owners a wide range of world class maritime service and support, with an emphasis on engineering, innovations and people.

Mr Lang who is also based in Glasgow as the Group Managing Director (Offshore) at Anglo-Eastern, told SMI Anglo-Eastern’s Glasgow deep-sea operation is largely driven by the UK tonnage tax. 

“Glasgow is a relatively small operation within the Anglo-Eastern Group. Our main business on the deep sea side has been driven by the UK tonnage tax. Without that there would be very little reason for people to have their ships operated from here since most of the market growth is coming from Asia. Even that has changed because you have European tonnage rates everywhere now and they are all competing with each other.

“Having three offices in Europe possibly doesn’t make much sense but we are a service driven organisation and meeting the clients’ expectations and complying with the various tonnage tax regimes means that’s what we’ll do. If that changes then we will have a major challenge because finding new business and new clients who want their ships managed from the UK, never mind Glasgow, is very difficult,” Mr Lang explained.

Looking ahead Mr Lang believes the ship management hub in Glasgow must embrace the changing structure of shipping and progress on the legacy the maritime history has left for the city.

Mr Lang said: “Glasgow has the very historic maritime tradition, the whole reason we are here is because of the history. Back in the 50s and 60s half of the world’s tonnage was built on the Clyde. You look at it today and there is one naval yard and one very small commercial yard in the space of a very small number of years. We had the owners and we still do have them.

“That’s the legacy that has meant we are here. The people that set up the shipmanagement centre came from that background. They are now 60 or 70 years old so what is coming in now? We have people coming from abroad because that is where the core expertise is coming from. The ships today are manned by the Indians, Filipinos, Russians, etc. and that is the new feedstock. They have no reason to come to Glasgow other than what Glasgow has to offer. There is a much bigger challenge now to make us justify our existence here.”

As the Group Managing Director in the Offshore sector, Mr Lang noted: “Offshore is an incredibly tough market, just where it’s going nobody really knows but it’s fascinating. It’s a great time to be involved and try to develop things. There is a structural change coming to the offshore market. The offshore market is probably leading the march towards remote control vehicle/autonomous vehicles. I am very positive, I think the opportunities are fantastic but it won’t land in our lap, the playing field is getting bigger all the time and our service offering has to be the best available.”

Shipmanagement company Norbulk Shipping has operated out of Glasgow since it was first set up in 1983 and its long-term plan is to continue.

Norbulk Shipping’s core business is technical shipmanagement. Its present fleet consists of LPG carries. VLCCs, products and chemical tankers, refrigerated cargo vessels, container and bulk carriers.

General Manager Walter Woodage spent many years at sea serving as Chief Engineer with Anglo Nordic before joining Norbulk in 1987. The company controls its management operations from Glasgow office, where key operational staff are based and the ISM Document of Compliance is held.

Talking about its Glasgow operations, Director Peter Karlsen said: “It’s been a very good ship management centre for us through the decades. As far as the availability of local people goes, we have some very loyal staff that have been with us for many years. It helps that we are based right in the centre of Glasgow.  There is a very strong seafaring tradition and previously ship building in Glasgow. We are very happy to be operating out of here. Some of our staff from outside the UK have relocated and settled here.

“There are a number of global shipmanagement locations of which Glasgow remains a very competitive and efficient cost city, compared to other centres round the world. We’ve had a very stable environment here over the years, compared to the rising costs of other cities in Europe or Far East. We are able to offer a very good service from here. Our cost control has been steady, the weakness of the pound has probably helped us as well. We are able to dedicate more resources to managing ships for the same fees as a result of our competitive overheads.”

Norbulk has followed the recent formation of the Scottish Maritime Cluster, although it admits it hasn’t dedicated the time and actively involve itself as much as other companies have. But Mr Woodage says companies in Glasgow have always worked together very well.

He said: “I know most of the key technical staff at the other companies and if I need to know something I will just call them and it’s the same for them. It has always been like that. We are all competitors but we all share the same goal of wanting to see Glasgow flourish and prosper. It’s in all our interests to promote Glasgow as a shipmanagement centre.”

Norbulk has seen the cluster develop a lot over the years, with more companies moving to Glasgow and expanding their operations. The company itself has always remained independent with no private equity take a share in the company.

Leading provider of maritime services globally, V.Group has had a base in Glasgow since the acquisition of Acomarit in 2001.

While Glasgow has a large office, the group also has significant bases globally, with its corporate headquarters in London.

Glasgow is home to a range of V.Group’s services including its shipmanagement operations, including Marlins – its training business, Seatec Services from conditioning safety through to safety, V.Travel, business development, compliance, IT and HR functions, and technical and dry docking services.

Northern Marine, part of the Stena group, believes Glasgow to be a good traditional base for maritime activities and even hinted at more consolidation for the UK as one shipmanagement centre.

Managing Director Phillip Fullerton said: “Glasgow is a city steeped in maritime culture with an abundance of personnel who work in related industries such as shipmanagement. It has that traditional base of seafarers like Belfast, Southampton or Liverpool, and as a geographical location, the city is a very good base for us.

“Glasgow is an established shipmanagement centre, which, as a city in the UK, can offer cost efficiencies in comparison to other shipmanagement hubs such as Singapore or Hong Kong. They are expensive places to do business. With only London offering the same shipmanagement capability in the UK, I see no reason why there couldn’t be further industry consolidation in Glasgow. The industry here has a bright future.”

Northern Marine currently has 100 ships under technical management and a further 50 under crew management. Last year the company acquired the Glasgow-based Clyde Group, an established and industry-recognised provider of marine services including maritime and offshore training as well as travel management solutions.

One of Northern Marine’s main focuses is training, which Mr Fullerton believes is something that needs more investment throughout the whole industry.

“There has been a big underinvestment in training across the maritime sector. Training has been one of our key business drivers since the company was set up, hence the reason why our business has always focused on seafarer training and education. Our training objective is not to tick boxes and simply ensure minimum standards and certification are achieved. We believe deeply that the high standard training we provide is essential in ensuring a competent, skilled and motivated workforce. This is evident in the quality of seafarers and offshore personnel we supply and manage. Our course offering and state of the art training facilities at Clyde Training Solutions are not only of benefit to our own seafarers, but are also available to the international external market.”

A state-of-the-art training facility based in the middle of Glasgow Airport is growing considerably since it was set up in 2014 in an ambitious five-year plan.

Chief Executive Officer of Stream Marine Training (STM) Martin White, who previously served as a Deck Officer with the Merchant Navy, set up the training organisation after he believed there was a niche in the market, following 10 years working in the marine industry.

In its ambitious plan it has secured funding for another facility to open in Liverpool and it has plans for a third centre in the South of England.

The facility has recently undergone major improvement work by adding to the facilities it already holds to enable it to offer a wider variety of courses. The centre can now hold 40 courses and by the end of the year it plans to roll out another 15 courses.

In July STM moved all its staff out of its previous building and into the new facility marking the first major move in the refurbishments.

By the end of the completion of the new facility in Glasgow, it will boast nine new classrooms and a canteen area. It will also maintain its current facilities on site that includes a helipad, fire training ground, swimming pool and life raft for marine evacuation training procedures.

Mr White began his career in the marine industry as a qualified Deck Officer before he decided to set up his own training facility. Following his time at sea he worked in the oil industry in the marine sector.

He said: “It was really when I was working on the rigs that I recognised there was a gap. There wasn’t a lot of training for what I was doing around the world anywhere. When I looked at what training was available I saw there was a gap in regards to the innovative side of our business, which is designing our own courses. When I looked at it I thought I could come up with something new here.

“There is a lot to offer here in Glasgow. It is a very strong hub for innovation so it was a great base for us to set up our first facility.

“When the plans started to come together and I gained funding for the facility people looked very strangely at me when I said I was going to open up a maritime training centre on an airport. But there was a reason for that. We needed to get people here easily. It wasn’t so much about the flights but all the transport links like the trains and buses come here to support the airport network. Glasgow is a progressive airport so it fitted in with what I wanted to do. Here it has all the hotels on campus so we can offer companies the whole package. We can book all their accommodation and meals so all they have to do is book them on the course.”

The centre has grown dramatically in just three years and it has issued more than 18,000 certificates to industry.