The 9th IHMA Congress was held across the beautiful Cities of Bruges and Ghent in Belgium.
The Host Ports – The Port of Zeebrugge and the Ghent Port Company delivered a conference that fed the mind as well as the body, with Belgium delivering on its reputation as a place for good food, enriching culture, and more than the occasional Zot – Bruges (in)famous beer.
The International Harbour Masters Association would like to thank all of the companies that attended, exhibited and supported the Congress this year.
Congress commenced on the morning of Monday 26th May with a formal welcome from the IHMA President Capt Eric Atkinson and The Official Congress Chairman Dirk Vernaeve. Delegates were then officially welcomed to Bruges and the region by Carl Decaluwé the Governor of West-Flanders.
The exhibition was opened in a very traditional fashion by the Town Crier, calling all to join him in walking through the exhibition and welcoming those companies with booths to the Congress. He then gathered the accompanying partners in the courtyard of the Stadshallen and introduced them all to the beautiful city of Bruges.
The conference program proceeded with some fantastic presentations from across the many elements of the HM realm, with day one featuring a significant focus on LNG in the port area which culminated in delegates and exhibitors making a site visit out to the LNG terminal at the Port of Zeebrugge run by Fluxys.
The tour returned just in time for the Welcome Reception, which commenced with an opportunity to learn more about the history of the City of Bruges and access to the incredible Gothic Room at City Hall. Everyone was then invited to the chambers downstairs for a wonderful array of canapés, networking, and one or two more Zot.
Day two of the conference started early and packed in sessions on virtual arrival, the contribution of the HM to the best port access before closing with three excellent presentations on elements of safety, crisis management and port resource management.
That evening delegates networked and caught up amongst the exhibition displays at the official Exhibition Networking Drinks. The evening concluded with IHMA Executive Committee meeting with the exhibitors to better understand their needs and expectations, resulting in some excellent feedback that will be worked towards for Congress 2016.
The final conference day mixed together the latest industry developments with a detailed examination of best practice from HM themselves. Overall the papers committee excelled in creating a varied and valuable program and in his closing remarks Dirk Vernaeve commended the committee ‘for the choice of the theme ‘safe and smooth access to Ports: a challenge’ and for the choice of the papers’. He went on to say ‘I would also congratulate the different speakers for their high level of performance and for giving us interesting insights to think about when we are back in office’.
As Congress closed thoughts turned to the evening ahead and to the wonderful dinner planned at the spectacular Ghent Opera House. Delegates arrived to drinks and canapés, and were treated to a refined Harpist performance in keeping with the distinguished surroundings. As the main dinner room was opened the IHMA President Eric Atkinson gave thanks to the Ghent Port Company for their support, words echoed by Ghent Port Commander and Congress Chair Dirk Vernaeve.
Special words were also reserved for Capt Alain Van Mullem who retired from the Port of Zeebrugge before Congress, but who was instrumental in bringing the program to Bruges and Ghent and who worked tirelessly in the build up to the program to navigate the many intricate challenges that present themselves when hosting such an event amidst historical and well preserved city surroundings.
The dinner again reinforced Belgium’s reputation for fine food and wine, with the event photographer capturing many great moments shared between those present. The fine meal was accompanied by two talented musicians who entertained delegates on the violin and grand piano.
Thursday 29th May was a public holiday in Bruges to recognise the world renowned Holy Blood Procession which brings the City to a standstill. An incredible array of local men and woman, old and young, came together to mark a day when the Holy Blood is brought out to the people and journey’s around the city.
It was also an opportunity for some to mark 100 years since World War I with a tour organised to Flanders Field. The IHMA President laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and then witnessed The Last Post at The Menin Gate in Ypres.
The final day of Congress saw delegates returning to Ghent for a tour of the City before being treated to more wonderful food and drink courtesy of Ghent Port Company aboard the yacht Jacob Van Artevelde.
Before delegates departed for the Port Tour Capt Kevin Richardson was introduced as the new President of the IHMA. He took the opportunity to thank the outgoing President Capt Eric Atkinson for his hard work and dedication to the role over the previous two years and promised to work tirelessly to further the interests of the HM community during his tenure.
The 9th Congress drew to a close but during the week it welcomed over 160 attendees with representation from 27 countries from across each Continent of the World. The exhibition was supported by 28 companies and the event welcomed 9 major sponsors.
The conference programme highlighted best port access from a customer’s point of view and featured animated Q&A discussions between key shipping industry representatives and harbour masters from around the globe.
Attention now moves to Vancouver as the fantastic destination for Congress 2016, more details will be made available shortly and keep an eye out for the Call for Papers which will soon be released.
The IHMA would like to thank the wonderful Cities of Bruges and Ghent for making the 9th IHMA Congress a truly unforgettable experience.