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Transport & Logistics

10th IHMA Congress 30 May – 2 Jun 2016: Report of proceedings

20 May 2016, by Informa Insights

Commander David Phillips MVO – previously a Royal Navy submarine captainImmediate Past Chief Harbour Master, Port of London Authority & now Marine Consultant with Marico Marine, an active member of IHMA and longterm supporter of the IHMA biennial Congress.

Commander Phillips gave an insightful presentation at the 10th IHMA Congress covering ‘The Maritime Security Conundrum’. His personal insights from his time with Port of London Authority on addressing the conundrum and achieving security during the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant and the London Olympics provided practical learnings and key takeaways for attendees.

As we look towards London for the 11th Congress in 2018 you will find below Commander Phillips’ summary report of proceedings in his own words for the 10th Congress in Vancouver earlier this year. A great read for anyone who missed out or indeed would like to refresh their memory!

Report of proceedings

OK…for a moment…imagine you have just been appointed as the Harbour Master of a major international port and you are now standing in the Port’s VTS centre.

Flushed with pride at your achievement in landing this job, with the congratulations of your family and former colleagues still echoing in your ears, you survey your new domain. Through the big windows you see what appears to be frenetic and perpetual motion, container ships, tankers, cruise liners, bulkers, tugs and many other different vessels coming and going. Through the double glazed windows, you can hear tug whistles, ship sound signals and many other noises mingling together to add to the scene growing in your mind of a juggernaut operation, seemingly too big to control.

But…as you listen also to the calm and professional voices of the VTS operators around you and the equally measured and professional responses coming over the VHF from the activity outside the window you take comfort: you have done this before, you are trained and professional and anyway, you got the job. Nevertheless, as this first onset of nerves gives way to a measured, competent and practiced appraisal of your port, you realise that you could use some extra help occasionally; the comfort of testing your ideas by sharing them with other respected professionals.

Fortunately, it is rare to find anything completely new. ‘Someone’, somewhere will probably have done it before, all you have to do is find that ‘someone’; you also have to be sure that the ‘someone’ you have identified is actually competent, experienced and qualified. Again you are in luck, as the Harbour Master of an international port you are eligible to join the International Harbour Masters Association (IHMA). Here you will find that elusive ‘someone’: Harbour Masters from around the world from small ports, big ports, container ports, bulk ports, all kinds of ports and they have all at some stage found themselves exactly in your position.

The one thing I learned from my past as a submarine captain and latterly as the Harbour Master in London, is that you will never know everything and you can always learn a lesson or two from others, mind you they will also expect to learn a thing or two from you. Harbour Masters are invariably very happy to share their experiences and knowledge with others. In my own personal experience at London I could point to many regulations, procedures and operations where I took lessons from other ports, from fendering to pilot management, from issues with recreational vessels to environmental concerns and from hydrography to VTS. The list is endless, which brings me back to the IHMA.

Amongst its many other benefits (outside the remit of this article), every two years the IHMA holds its congress. Here you will find Harbour Masters from upwards of 80 ports around the world, all gathered together in one place for almost 4 days; fertile ground indeed to gather ideas and swap information. There can surely be no more cost-effective way of networking with fellow Harbour Masters, the congress agenda is carefully constructed around a central theme and pointed at professional topics of direct interest to Harbour Masters. The formal debate in the auditorium is enhanced significantly by the exhibition outside, where manufacturers and service providers demonstrate their wares to a focussed and highly interested body of potential purchasers. They come also to learn from Harbour Masters about how their products could be developed and improved.

And this brings me at last to the 10th International Harbour Masters Congress held in Vancouver and hosted with some aplomb by the Port of Vancouver. At the end of this article you will see the agenda for this year’s congress, which had as its core theme ‘Port expansion – the challenges’, which was then split into 5 sub-themes:

  • Planning and Infrastructure
  • How Ports Operate Expanded Facilities and the Challenges and Opportunities this Brings
  • Social Acceptance
  • Harbour master Special Interest
  • Marine Labour

The first two bullets and the last bullet above are self- explanatory, but the bullets three and four need some explanation. Social acceptance – what does that mean? One of the main points that struck me on reflecting on this Congress sometime later, was that throughout the three days, the Congress was punctuated with phrases like ‘stakeholder engagement’, ‘environmental sensitivity’, ‘working with the community’ and ‘people’s needs’; phrases which recurred time and time again. Clearly the need for ports to become ‘socially accepted’ (or maybe socially acceptable?) is a worldwide phenomenon and it is evidently something that the industry as a whole must address. This was very neatly summed up right at the end of the Congress by the Port of Vancouver’s Vice President for Corporate Social Responsibility, Duncan Wilson when he said ports must ‘…engage with the public…’ and ‘…provide ways for the public to feel connected to the port…’ and most
importantly in my opinion ‘…the public must understand the relevance of the port…’.

Harbour Master special interest, was just that – it contained a range of topics from ship interaction, to safe bollard working loads and adaptive tug use to name some. The programme for this particular sub-theme was very well put together indeed and made for a gripping final day that maintained interest right to the end. Overall, the Congress remained true to its theme we heard of expansion plans, the impacts of expansion, impacts on expansion of stakeholder interests, public perception and many other topics from Ports from Bahrain to Cork and from Rotterdam to Darwin.

The social events were pitched just right, the opening registration the night before the Congress started was a great opportunity for informal reunions with Harbour Masters around the world that I had befriended before; and then the welcome reception after the first day was ideal for forging new relationships. The exhibition networking after Day 2 gave the exhibitors a focused opportunity to engage with their marketplace and the Congress Dinner on the final night, as always was a fantastic evening that perfectly capped what had been an informative, valuable and productive three days.

Like most professional people I attend several conferences, all are valuable for networking and learning about new things, but for me, the IHMA sets the highest standard of any, for both the quality of the presenters and the material being presented. Much of the credit for this should go the Papers Committee. A group of 4 or 5 IHMA members who together, check all the presentations in good time before the congress starts and make sure that the presentations are relevant, say something substantive and are properly put together. I know of no other conference that makes its speakers go through such a challenging hoop and I really do believe that it is a discipline that the IHMA should retain. In terms of time and money, the IHMA Congresses (and I have attended three of them) fully justify the resources necessary to send delegates long distances to attend.

This concludes my general observations on the 2016 IHMA Congress, at the Annex are my specific observations on the various presentations in more detail. Please note carefully the warning note that appears in italic font at the beginning of the Annex, which applies also to this piece.

If you would like to continue reading the full congress programme summary please click here. You will be redirected to the Congress website. 



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