Isle of Man Round Table Debate

In the latest in our round table debates, some of the Isle of Man’s leading players discuss the drive to grow the cluster. Moderated by SMI Publisher Sean Moloney, the participants were: Russell Kent, Co-Founder and Director, Isle of Man Maritime; Lars Ugland, Director, Isle of Man Maritime and Chairman Ugland Marine Holdings; John Garland, General Manager, Isle of Man Maritime; Dick Welsh, Director, Isle of Man Ship Registry, also on Executive Board, Isle of Man Maritime; Bruce McGregor, Director, PDMS Ltd, also on Executive Board, Isle of Man Maritime; Dan Jespersen, Managing Director, 7C Shipping; Sven Fromm, Owner and MD, Clever Marine Services.

Sean Moloney
Tell us about Isle of Man Maritime, which you set up last year?

Dick Welsh
We have just had our first AGM. We meet up every month as the Executive and that involves not just the private sector but three different Government departments, as well as private sector involved in shipping, yachting and other maritime services on the island. It’s been a journey and we now have a General Manager in place, so we have somebody working for the organisation, and it has got a proper corporate structure in place. It’s been innovative in its approach in getting to where we are today.

Sean Moloney
What are your targets, and what are you hoping to achieve?

Russell Kent
The main objectives of the IOM Maritime are to be a public private agency. We spent most of 2018 in transition from the former shipping association to IOM Maritime and the main goals of that is to provide job opportunities and growth opportunities within the maritime sector from the island but to do that in a co-ordinated and structured fashion. It’s very important that we’ve got buy-in from the Government departments as to our objectives because previously for the shipping association we could be seen shouting from the sidelines but IOM Maritime is a much more collaborative approach and we are looking to promote a wider range of interests within the maritime sector on the island, be it superyacht forums, development of the harbour strategy, the leisure yachting sector, developments in the commercial shipping industry, so it’s a much broader spectrum that we are trying to cover.

Sean Moloney
Lars, bringing you in on this, this sounds really good and very supportive as far as the Isle of Man is concerned. You are heading up shipping companies in the international market, so what role can IOM Maritime play internationally and what is the objective there because it is about promoting the Isle of Man as a cluster as well?

Lars Ugland
I think the Isle of Man is a very good place to have a shipping company, and to work from, and sometimes it is surprising there are not more shipping companies that actually register here. I think that the closeness you have to Government is very important to be able to influence decisions that affect the whole industry. On top of that, I think the ship registry we have on the island is, in my opinion, the best registry, and I have been working with different registries. It’s not because they are the most cost-efficient it’s the service they provide.

Sean Moloney
Getting back to the IOM Maritime, what about the international perspective? Is it going to have an internationally marketing role as well?

Russell Kent

The first steps we have made are having a presence at London International Shipping Week, and we also have close tie-ups with Mersey Maritime so we attend their industry awards events. It is very useful to expand the connections we have within the broader international maritime arena. In terms of pushing that forward, some of that is driven through the Ship Registry. I know that Dick has employed some consultants in Greece and Singapore to represent the Registry.

Dick Welsh

We’ve just put in place business development people in Athens and Tokyo and we’ve had a business development manager working for us in Singapore for some time. I think rather than us just selling the Flag per se, working with IOM Maritime we are now selling the Flag and the whole Isle of Man picture that here we have this maritime sector where there are organisations which can look after you, whether it’s legal services, or whatever professional services that are here on the Isle of Man. We’ve got ship owners here, we’ve got insurers, lawyers – it’s that whole picture, so working with IOM Maritime works really, really well. For example, at London International Shipping Week we can put together a sub-group of IOM Maritime and make that happen.


Russell Kent

The same thing has happened for the Monaco Yacht Show. IOM Maritime organised a stand and we got buy-in from at least eight to 10 partner companies on the island to promote the yacht sector on the island. So, internationally, we were promoting the yacht services the Isle of Man can provide. Those are the two main international events that IOM Maritime is organising. That is how we are trying to increase our international presence.

Bruce McGregor

The aim is obviously to promote internationally the comprehensive capabilities within the Isle of Man maritime cluster, all facilitated by cross fertilisation across organisations within the group. And any interest generated can then feed through as opportunities for any specific organisations. In the current business climate, a lot of organisations we speak to need more than just one service, so the fact we know each other, means we can promote and share services across the group to provide greater value. It’s promoting, hopefully, awareness and real interest to the island as a whole and, of course, its maritime cluster while also facilitating export of services from the island.

Sean Moloney

Looking at the setting up of the group, is it also important to get across to the stakeholders of the industry what the Isle of Man stands for, what it’s potential is and what it’s opportunities are here, but also what you can do on an international stage as well because you’ve got very big players here on the island?

Bruce McGregor

Absolutely – if the industry or wider global market isn’t aware then they will look elsewhere. Other jurisdictions who are making their case will attract those people, so by promoting the cluster itself along with the Isle of Man from a quality jurisdiction point of view, then we are ensuring we are out there delivering that positive message.

Lars Ugland

When we moved to the island years ago, the final decision was because of the shipping association (now the IOM Maritime) here on the island. I knew nothing about the island and I knew nobody on the island when looking for the right place to set up a business. I think that IOM Maritime is very important for the industry to look at the Isle of Man as a place of international shipping.

Sean Moloney

When you are speaking to your peer group, what are you telling them about the Isle of Man?

Lars Ugland

I speak about my experience of being on the island. We have been able to influence changes to the maritime sector.

Dan Jespersen

This is what I like about this process with IOM Maritime. Initially it was an association that made changes and now we’ve got the support from the Government, which we can show the industry, which for me is an extremely important thing to tell the world that we are not here fighting legislation, we are working with the Government around creating legislation. We continue to increase the presence of the island, and the amount of ships that we have on the island and the work that is being done out of the island simply because the people who are backing us and who are working with us can actually see the benefit. So, we are moving from other jurisdictions to the island simply because the trust to the island and the stability that it creates becomes apparent when you are here.

Russell Kent

It is exactly why IOM Maritime appointed a figurehead . Previously, the shipping association was made up of individuals giving up their own time to meet a few times a year whereas now we are very much focused on monthly meetings and with securing some Government backing we have employed a figurehead. Basically, John is there to go out and promote, and to sell the sector. We feel that is a very important development in that now there’s a focal point it’s not just a group of individuals giving up their time. We also have a focal point who has got an office in the middle of the business district in Douglas and any of the members can go in at any point.

Sean Moloney

John, what are the opportunities and what are the challenges?

John Garland

The key to our strength on the island is diversity. That is what struck me, and I knew the sector very well having been on the island for over 20 years. Knowing the sector pretty well already, coming from a finance background (I spent four years travelling with Dick and his team getting more involved in the maritime sector), going back to the diversity, you have the shipping association, and it was great what they did for decades, you’ve also got the Isle of Man Super Yacht Forum who again have done a tremendous job, and also as a third part to this, we also have the IOM Maritime Forum and between these three different parts you had a shipping, superyachts and a maritime forum. So, it was a bit of a no brainer to say actually IOM Maritime should bring these all in together and create a bigger cluster. We are also looking at what other clusters and organisations are doing such as Mersey Maritime. I think we have about 20 events and forums this year and we will end this year in October/November with a jobs fair, trying to help young people who want to get into the maritime sector and trying to attract more people into the industry. Also, with London International Shipping Week we are going to steal the show for the fourth time!

Sean Moloney

You are seeing ship owning looking to move to more favourable environments. For instance, some of the Greeks are looking to move to Monaco – why can’t they come to the Isle of Man and avail themselves of the excellent services? Dick has been doing a huge job with this on the Registry over the years but what is the international marketing strategy now?

John Garland

The Government are going to come in and work with us and educate us as to what the Government is up to with regards their strategy, and then we will dovetail with that.

Sean Moloney

Sven, you are a member of the cluster here, how fired up and enthusiastic are you about the future?

Sven Fromm

I’m quite enthusiastic about the future and the IOM Maritime brings all three forums together which basically has an advantage for us, as with any kind of meeting you run into the yacht people, the finance and tax guys for example. For me as a member, it’s important we have a point where we can talk to all the guys on the island who can help us to be known outside internationally. They can also help with connections to other ship owners. Clearly with things like London International Shipping Week if I stood as Clever Marine Services alone, I would never attempt to be part of it. The IOM Maritime, with the Ship Registry and Government working together is a huge plus and makes it possible. The IOM Ship Registry is one of the best in the world, and the reason is competency. IOM Maritime also supports the smaller outfits in the organisation to do international marketing, which is great. You can find expertise within the organisation too.

John Garland

Being based at the Barclays Eagle Lab in the heart of the Douglas Business sector, our location means that we get a lot of footfall, and the Chamber of Commerce are there too. So if anyone wants to come and see me they will find me there. It’s given me an opportunity to see the sort of businesses that are coming onto the island.

Sean Moloney

Bruce, tell us about plans for LISW?

Bruce McGregor

We’ve got a fantastic event planned, we always dare to be a bit different and this year’s plans are no exception. One of our main objectives is that it’s got to be memorable. In targeting a memorable event venue, we have partnered with the Northern Lighthouse Board who service both Scotland and the Isle of Man to deliver reliable, efficient and cost-effective aids to navigation for the benefit and safety of all mariners. Our event will be on their vessel, Pharos, tied-up alongside HMS Belfast on the Thames and we will have a marquee on the back of that. They are really keen to help promote the IOM maritime cluster because of their IOM connections, which is great. We will also be providing tours of the vessel as part of the overall plan to do something attractive and different at LISW19.

Dan Jespersen

What has been created through IOM Maritime is a group of people who respond positively to pressure and this is why we are really now on the right track and moving the needle in the right direction.

Lars Ugland

One thing in addition to that, that I have seen in the last year or so is that the Government is listening now to our opinions which they didn’t do before and it’s only in the last two years that we have started to engage more with the Government and that’s also why they are part of this organisation.

Sean Moloney

Has the Business Enterprise Scheme moved towards your sector?

Dick Welsh

I think that has morphed into a different model now but there are grants, and relocation grants and lots of support available. This is the relocation strategy branded as locate.im. Government officers will come in and give us a talk on what is available and we can then sell that on to clients, friends and contacts within the industry. We are finding more companies that are involved in maritime that we didn’t know about and that is a fantastic thing. The Government here is really pro bringing in new businesses and people because the island is only as good as it can be by making things happen. It’s a service culture. It has nothing to sell and no natural resources, it’s all about service and unblocking those blockages that may exist to attract new businesses.

Sean Moloney

How would you like to see the cluster growing, and with a nod towards the shipmanagement sector, are you confident that sector will stay as it is or grow, or where are the opportunities for growth?

Dick Welsh

We’ve got ship managers that came in the ‘80s and are still here because they love the quality of life. Is this the place to settle for a large shipmanagement organisation? With all the merging, and the big players out there, probably not. I see opportunities where you’ve got maritech. PDMS are at this table – they are a tech company providing services and they built our entire operating platform and we are moving more into digitalisation. Those conversations weren’t even happening in shipping two years ago and now everything is about digitisation. We’ve got secure online digital certificates, fully online signatures, online transactions, we are not sending stuff around the world by courier anymore. This is the world that is going to happen and I think pretty soon that’s going to become cloud-based, or dare I say it, use blockchain, so everyone including port state control can access this data.

Bruce McGregor

What we are seeing is people still need that relationship back to the people who know that domain or particular challenge and whilst we are a tech company and have specialisation in certain areas of maritime, we still need to have those connections in order to maintain and build up domain knowledge in any area.

Dan Jespersen

I think today, because of the technical development, you don’t see that everything is done in the office. A lot more is tech based, which is the future for the island. We may see the traditional path falling but that doesn’t mean that the service as a manager towards ships is falling – it’s just done in a different way.

Sean Moloney

Going back to how the cluster is evolving, are you saying the Isle of Man is getting a lot of interest from this sector and it could start to establish itself as a leading maritime tech cluster?

John Garland

One of the questions is how can we accept blockchain into the maritime sector and part of my role is to find out more about blockchain and how it dovetails with maritime. So, it isn’t a case of we’ll take it off the shelf and make it fit, it’s how do these initiatives apply to the Isle of Man and maritime sector. My role, and our role, is to see which bits work.

Sean Moloney

Surely, if you are creating an environment which is conducive into enticing in tech, you’ve got to have something that interests these companies in coming here to set up base?

Dan Jespersen

The Isle of Man is already in that sector.

Sean Moloney

Looking at other growth opportunities, are there any other sectors that are ripe for enticement?

Lars Ugland

I think there has been a lot of talk about setting up a big training centre for marine personnel and I don’t know where it stands today but I know there have been discussions together with the Government. That is one sector I think would be very beneficial for the island.

Dick Welsh

There are still discussions. We are talking about what could we do here that would bring people into maritime training, but also what do we have that would make them stick here.

Russell Kent

Another area is the environmental issues in shipping and the green, renewable energy sector. There are some potential developments here for windfarm and the island has the perfect environment to try and develop tidal power. We need to have those conversations with the relevant people who are interested.

Sean Moloney

Could we start to see more of a formal alliance between the IOM Maritime and Mersey Maritime?

Lars Ugland

We are members of Mersey Maritime and they are members here and we have a very close relationship.

Russell Kent

In terms of cluster organisations we look to complement each other. We see opportunities for collaboration but there’s no intention to merge.

Dick Welsh

I think the value of clustering the clusters is a fantastic network.

Sean Moloney

Can you see more interaction with other clusters internationally?

Dick Welsh

We need to start small and we’ve got a budget to control and to stay within but where you are getting gatherings of ship owners and ship operators in these big events that are put on, I think if there’s a presence from the Isle of Man there that would be a great thing to have but we’ve got to start small.

Sean Moloney

What are your thoughts on the economy?

Dan Jespersen

The economy in the Isle of Man is a strong economy. We are not presently part of the EU with the UK. But I think the economy of the UK is also very strong and there will obviously be a potential recession coming out of this but it’s not going to be a major upset and as the maritime industry we are not really going to be that much influenced specifically on the Isle of Man. The whole issue around this is obviously the uncertainty and the sooner we can get certainty the sooner we can get on with making whatever the outcome is work.

Russell Kent

The Isle of Man economy has diversified away from just purely financial services as it was previously, and has a number of different aspects to it. E-gaming and ICT sector, which makes up 25-30% of the GDP of the island, is operating in an international environment, so I don’t see how Brexit is going to have much effect on the main driver of the Manx economy. In terms of maritime, the Isle of Man Flag has never been an EU flag anyway, so in some ways we are much better positioned than the UK Flag because we haven’t got to go round and set up all the bi-lateral agreements with the various flag states. The main concern regarding Brexit is the uncertainty regarding UK seafarers and how their endorsements are going to be recognised in port states but that aspect is not specifically affecting the Isle of Man.

John Garland

When we have clarity on what is happening with Brexit then people will see any opportunities and challenges and try and address them as best they can.

Sean Moloney

Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time.