For an island in the middle of the Irish Sea, 572 square km in area, the Isle of Man is a major presence in global shipping.
The Isle of Man Ship Registry (IOMSR) accounts for over half of tonnage sailing under the Red Ensign Group and is ranked 17 in the world by Clarkson Research, just after Italy in tonnage terms – at around 15 million – and some way ahead of South Korea and the USA.
Douglas, the island’s capital, is home port to around the same number of gas tankers and bulk carriers as are listed on the Norwegian International Ship Register. The registry currently has a total of 138 oil, gas and chemical tankers amounting to 5.35m GT.
Tanker owners from across the world are attracted to the island, neither part of the UK nor a member of the EU, by its competitive costs, removal of tonnage tax and high quality. As a self-governing British Crown Dependency, ships registered here can fly the Red Ensign and can rely on British Royal Navy support anytime, anywhere in the world.
Although the registry’s client base is traditionally European – with Greek owners an important contingent – about two-thirds of Isle of Man tonnage is now managed from Asia, and that is rising.
Cameron Mitchell, the IOMSR’s Director is leading the drive to expand flag registrations across Asia which includes appointing Jon Kingdon a well-known naval architect and Mandarin speaker as its first permanent Chinese representative in Shanghai. The registry further has a network of overseas representatives in Greece, Japan and Singapore. Mitchell highlights its “pedigree” as one of the world’s best performing flag states. The registry has held top spot on the Paris MoU Port State Control whitelist and is firmly on the whitelist in the Tokyo MoU rankings. It is also one of the high-performing flags on the US Coast Guard’s Qualship 21 scheme.
The IOMSR was the first flag state to join the Getting to Zero coalition, an alliance of more than 120 organisations from the maritime, energy, infrastructure and finance sectors working towards decarbonising the international maritime shipping sector.
In another recent milestone, the IOMSR was the first flag to issue acceptance of a modification for a Very Large Gas Carrier to run on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as a greener fuel for Oslo-listed shipping company BW LPG. The innovation, which saw the IOMSR present the paperwork for approval to the International Maritime Organisation, paves the way for ships to be retrofitted to run on LPG. In time this could help align fleets more closely to the IMO’s targets to halve greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from ships by 2050 compared with 2008 levels.
The IOMSR is working on the project with partners Wartsila Gas Solutions, MAN Energy Solutions and DNV to retrofit 15 BW LPG vessels with 12 due to complete by December 2021 with the remaining three due to complete by quarter two 2022
As well as cutting carbon emissions, the work gives an immediate return on investment.
Pontus Berg, Executive Vice President (Technical and Operations), BW LPG, said: “BW LPG has chosen to commit 12 of our VLGCs to be retrofitted with pioneering LPG propulsion technology. This is a significant upfront investment of over USD100 million, and it represents our willingness to act on the ESG front.”
“Building new ships can provide the benefits of operating with LPG but comes at a heavy cost. Counting total emissions, a new ship represents about 70,000 tons of carbon dioxide in the materials and building process. Compared to 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide for retrofitting, the sustainability outcome is much better from retrofitting than from building new vessels. We thank the Isle of Man Ship Registry for its strong support and for embarking on this journey with BW LPG to take the lead and advance technology closer towards a zero-carbon future.”
Gas carriers already have the safety and control systems in place to handle a liquid gas cargo. Other types of ship would have to install it.
However, Mitchell says: “I believe more companies will look to go down this route as it is an action they can take now. Although it requires the ship to be out of service for two months, work can be done during a dry-dock period.”
The IOSMR is also leading digital innovation. It was one of the first flag states to offer digital certificates and last year conducted the world’s first remote annual survey with DNV as the covid pandemic broke.
The Berge Zugspitze was anchored at Port Hedland on Australia’s west coast, with IOMSR senior staff monitoring the live interactive video stream from their desks nearly 14,000km away.
Mitchell says: “There will be older ships and those with issues where we will still want to go onboard, and of course, we reserve the right to insist on an in-person inspection if we feel it is necessary. But remote general inspections are here to stay.
“Preparation is critical. A large amount of documentation needs to be sourced and reviewed beforehand, followed by a plan for how the survey will be carried out. As crew members will be walking around holding cameras, practicalities like risk assessments also need to be considered.
“There are limitations to using a camera feed: you have to be clear when explaining what you want to look at, and it is important to go through the process slowly and methodically, so nothing is missed.
“Tankers and gas carriers are a challenge: while a normal smartphone can be used to stream video in the vessel’s accommodation area and engine room, on deck, the only option is to have a device securely enclosed in an Ex-rated case to prevent the risk of explosion.
In another pioneering move, the IOMSR has launched the first seafarer welfare app, in recognition of the challenges facing crew members spending months at sea.
‘Crew Matters’ is available to around 10,000 seafarers sailing on more than 400 vessels under the Manx flag.
It has many features – such as welfare support, physical and mental wellbeing classes, and educational training – but a key one provides social activities, such as live gym workouts, to get seafarers interacting more on-board to combat isolation which can so easily turn into full-scale depression.
Seafarers can also log their work and rest hours, and if they feel stressed or unwell, there is a live ‘SOS’ function giving immediate access to the ‘Seafarers Help Live Chat’, free, confidential and available 24/7.
Mitchell, whose background is as a marine engineer who served at sea with companies including Maersk and Farstad, says: “The feedback from ship owners, clients and non-clients, about ‘Crew Matters’ is really positive.
“Owners want to find new better ways to help and protect seafarers and want to embrace digital innovation.
“We hope this app will be a step forward for the industry and make a positive difference to many thousands of seafarers sailing under the Isle of Man flag, as well as acting as an inspiration for other organisations looking to support seafarers around the world.”