Delivering excellence in ship management: An interview with Graham Westgarth

On May 1st this year, Graham Westgarth was appointed as CEO of V.Group. We catch up with him three months on to share his thoughts on V.Group’s vision, as well as his plans for the coming year.

In terms of the future direction for ship management with V.Group, what does your vision look like for next year and beyond?

After a period of vital investment in crewing and technology, we’re now in a position to leverage this investment to continue to increase the levels of service we’re delivering in ship management. Thanks to the resources that we’ve put into enhancing our crewing operations and our digital platform ShipSure, our fleet cells – our frontline services – are better equipped than ever to be more responsive, more autonomous, and give our customers more insight into what their fleets are doing. The vision for the whole group is to combine flawless service delivery with local service and expertise coupled with the benefits of global leverage and support., Our ambition is to be recognised by our customers as the global leader in ship management, and I’m confident that we can achieve that.

What can V.Group offer as a major ship management company?

V.Group is committed to providing the best service to customers wherever they are based in the world, providing local expertise combined with access to the economies of scale, global leverage and world class maritime expertise. Ship owners are now facing an unprecedented range of regulatory challenges that are making their lives ever more uncertain. As a customer focussed company, we not only provide ship management services, but certainty and confidence for owners wanting to stay one step ahead. The 2020 sulphur cap and carbon reduction targets for 2050 present urgent challenges for the short, medium and long term. As ship managers, we have a vital role to play in ensuring our customers’ fleets and businesses are prepared to face them.

We also aim to reduce the uncertainty our customers face by providing them with access to a comprehensive range of marine services which can be offered as either part of a ship management agreement or as bespoke offerings.

ShipSure is a vital tool in delivering consistency of service across our platform; a powerful digital platform that helps us collaborate better, make data-driven decisions, and seamlessly connect different areas of the business. Through ShipSure, V.Group uses data-driven insights to deliver better outcomes for our customers, integrating technology and data where it adds value. At V.Group we believe that innovation is not a goal, or an end in itself, but an ongoing process to solving the problems that are most important for our customers.

What is V.Group’s approach to the upcoming 2020 sulphur cap? 

The biggest concern for our clients today is 2020. There’s still so much uncertainty about the availability of fuels, the safety of fuel, and how it will affect day-to-day operations. What makes it particularly difficult is that there is no single template for how to plan ahead – it depends on vessel type, very much on region, and on the dynamics of a particular fleet.

There are still important questions to be asked – for instance, what is the availability of HSFO going to be like for owners who’ve decided to go down the scrubbers route, and what does that mean for their ROI? What version of the ISO 8217 standard is going to be used for dictating the quality of fuels? This is where having a third-party ship manager is especially valuable, and particularly one like V.Group that has a) highly specialised expertise in technical management when it comes to fuels, and b) both the global reach and local knowledge to properly implement the changes that will be necessary. We’re ahead of the curve in terms of offering ship implementation plans, which look at every aspect of the changeover and help to mitigate the uncertainty our owners are facing.

Safety is a top priority for V.Group. How does the company put this into practice?

With 47 years’ experience in this industry, including 18 at sea, safety is of particular importance to me. I have experienced fatalities and witnessed the direct impact this has on the families – it’s the worst thing you can possibly imagine. Therefore, if I can do anything at all to eliminate the risk of that type of event, then I will do it.

As a people business with around 2,700 shore-based colleagues and a seafarer pool of circa 44,000 (with approximately 21,000 on board at any given time), safety is of the utmost importance to our business. Last year, V.Group introduced a new HSEQ structure within Technical Management to enable quicker and more effective sharing of best practice, drive greater collaboration to support our safety culture and improve our collective performance. We also have a number of safety initiatives underway, such as our partnership with Lloyd’s Register to drive port state control (PSC) performance improvements on board V.Ships managed vessels, our collaboration with HiLo and our ‘Stay Safe and Come Home’ campaign.