In the Spotlight: Graham Westgarth

In February, our Chairman Graham Westgarth came to the end of his term as president of the UK Chamber of Shipping. The association is the voice of the UK shipping industry, working to champion and protect the industry on behalf of its members. Here we talk to Graham about his time at the helm and the themes that have dominated the agenda during his tenure.


Can you outline the role and vision of the UKCOS?

The Chamber works with relevant stakeholders with the aim of creating an attractive environment in the UK for shipowners globally. It aims to be at the heart of conversations about UK shipping and starts forward-looking discussions and debates. Our members turn to us for advice on everything from decarbonisation to seafarer welfare.


Why are maritime membership organisations like the UKCOS so important?

As an island nation, we’re dependent on the sea for our connection to the larger world. The fact that, as a country, we don’t really manufacture anything anymore means we’re more reliant on international trade than ever before. It’s therefore essential that we have associations like the UKCOS, committed to pushing the legislative agenda on behalf of the UK shipping sector and ensuring that the public understands the vital role of shipping.


Can you tell us some of the highlights of your Presidency?

After I became president, I initiated a strategic review and launched a new strategy that encompasses the four As of: advice, advocate, amplify and advance. The strategy is designed to help provide clarity around where the Chamber should be focusing its efforts to deliver on the priorities of its members.

During my presidency, I’ve spent a lot of time highlighting the vital role of seafarers and have ramped up our dialogue with the government and the shadow cabinet. There have been four shipping ministers during my tenure which has sometimes made ongoing dialogue challenging.

On a national level, the Chamber has played a role in promoting short sea shipping as an efficient way to move goods and it has been a huge advocate of the net zero strategy.

I am proud that during my tenure, the UKCOS joined Together in Safety, a global coalition of shipping organisations working together to raise safety standards across the industry. The Chamber has also agreed to sponsor a marine awareness campaign designed to promote shipping and the opportunities that exist at sea and ashore.


On taking up your presidency role, you said that the industry would face “ongoing challenges and opportunities associated with decarbonisation and digitalisation.” How do you think the industry has responded to these?

Shipowners have come together and embraced the decarbonisation challenge, investing in technology and innovative solutions and showing their commitment to achieving net zero targets. However, these developments are happening against the backdrop of an uncertain legislative environment.

What is missing now is the governmental strategy that will enable the shipping sector to achieve its green goals. We need the necessary robust infrastructure and a clear route map. Ports and grid capacity roll out must be prioritised with certainty over when connections will come online, thus allowing investments in new vessels or retrofitting to take place. At an international level, we need certainty on upcoming legislation, to allow shipowners to make informed investment decisions.

I have no doubt that the shipping industry will succeed in tackling the technological challenges it faces but the infrastructure must be there to enable it to succeed. The IMO must now work quickly to complete impact assessments and agree on measures to reduce emission intensity of fuels and place a price on carbon. Without this, we will end up with a patchwork of regulations which will add complexity, cost, and inefficiency.


What other themes have dominated the UKCOS agenda during your time in Presidency?

Latterly, the ongoing situation in the Red Sea has been our primary focus. In the reporting of attacks, the people element often gets lost. The situation is extremely unpredictable, and my thoughts are with the seafarers impacted by these events. The sooner we see stability return to the region, and the resumption of commercial shipping through the Suez Canal, the better for all concerned.


You have a maritime career spanning more than 50 years, including 18 years at sea. What do you love most about working in shipping?

Shipping is all consuming. It is a 24/7, 365 days a year industry. You must be agile and prepared for the unexpected. As an international business, it is complex due to its breadth and no day is ever the same. For these reasons, people who stick with it are passionate about the essential role it plays in the global economy. Once people enter our sector, they often stay for the long term, if not their entire career; I still have friends that I started out at sea with when I was 16.


The recruitment and retention of seafarers is a challenge for the maritime industry. Is enough being done to address this?

As an industry, we aren’t doing enough to attract new talent into the sector. Shipping contributes to every aspect of our daily lives, and this cannot be overstated. Globalisation only exists because of shipping and without it, our most loved brands wouldn’t exist.

We should be proud of the role we play in the world and take every opportunity to profile it. We need to do more to tackle preconceived ideas and work harder to shine a light on the career paths available.

Vessels are becoming ever more sophisticated, and there are more opportunities than ever before to optimise them. This means we’re going to need people with a wider skill set than ever before, both at sea and ashore. At V. for example, we have an in-house team of data scientists who are looking to develop tools which will assist us in managing our customers’ assets in a safer and more efficient manner. There are so many diverse roles and career paths available that it truly is a great time to start out in shipping. Those embarking on maritime careers now will go on an exciting journey towards net zero.