MCA enabled to push boundaries in lockdown

According to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s (MCA) director of UK Maritime Services, Katy Ware, the organisation came through the first lockdown in good shape.

Speaking at British Marine’s current online expo alongside Brian Johnson (MCA chief executive), she unpicked the MCA’s first lockdown experience and where the organisation has found new strengths, notably in pace and pushing boundaries. That was helped partly by early warnings.

“The advantages to working in government was that we knew it [lockdown] was coming,” Ware says. “We had two weeks’ notice, and took the decision two weeks earlier that surveyors couldn’t travel overseas.

“We advised staff to get prepared and take the equipment they needed home. It was a slow, steadied, non-panicked situation. As miserable as it was, the first phase [of lockdown] was the easiest bit. It was more difficult and challenging when we started to roll everything back out.

“With offices in the four nations, there was a constant dialogue about what we can – and can’t – do. It’s been a logistical challenge.”

Covid-19 highlighted the complexities of the maritime industry.

Ware says the MCA ‘worked with other government departments to explain the intricacies of shipping and the maritime world. We spent a lot of time explaining how the industry works’.

The industry is complex with a multitude of players.

“We were lucky to have the lead time which meant we could get advice to individuals and seafarers as quickly as we could,” Ware says.

“Carnival had 30,000 Indian and 60,000 Philippino crew to repatriate. Despite the bad press, they have worked really hard.

“We went flag-blind. It didn’t matter which flag was flying. We did whatever we needed to support them.

“We’ve worked with PHE to name seafarers as key workers and make sure they were granted medical care in the UK.”

All of these actions have had to happen at pace, a fact Ware says her team of 450 has relished.

“We’ve been allowed to push boundaries, there are things we’ve made happen and do quickly which we’d never have been able to do in a normal situation,” Ware says. She cites the example of working with Cranfield University to design a secure online system for oral exams, in four weeks.

“We will continue to develop and move forward,” Ware says. “We’ve made creative policy decisions, the team has been excited by the pace.”

But, as Johnson says, in lockdown two as ‘infected children trail in and out of the house all day’, people are looking for face-to-face human interaction. He says ‘really creative work doesn’t work by video’.

Ware’s concerned for those working at home, and notes they need to become disciplined as it’s not healthy to be sat in front of a computer all day. “The intensity of zoom is phenomenal,” she says.

She’s looking for a blended solution for the future because, as she notes and we can all agree, online committee meetings can be ‘turgid affairs’.

Ware is responsible for the UK flag and port state control regimes, including survey and inspection operations, the UK’s safety, security & environmental regulatory regimes, seafarers training, navigational safety, civil hydrography programme, and UK Ship Register.

She’s responsible for all vessels registered on the UK flag operating in UK waters including the domestic passenger ship and fishing fleet, UK vessels operating outside UK waters, and foreign-flagged vessels in UK waters.

British Marine says 156 participants logged on throughout the first day of the Digital Autumn Expo.

The organisation says that highlights included the morning ‘networking power hour’, where, after an initial welcome, the 45 participants broke out into smaller virtual groups, which rotated every ten minutes.

The Alternative Propulsion session saw 44 participants learn about existing and emerging activity in this area and the need for addressing decarbonisation more fully as an industry as legislation changes.

Watch it online.

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