Tim Protheroe Lloyd's Register

The Role of Class in Shipping – A Discussion with Tim Protheroe, President, Lloyd’s Register North America

Rob Almeida
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April 16, 2012

I met up with Tim Protheroe, President, Lloyd’s Register North America, for a chat at this year’s Connecticut Maritime Association (CMA) conference, here’s what he had to say:

21 March 2012

RA: Tim, I understand you spoke to an audience this morning at the CMA, what did you speak about?

TP:  The panel topic this morning was: “Are We Too Regulated”. There has been quite the onslaught of regulations for bulk carrier operators, tanker operators and general cargo, and I think it has distilled into two areas:

The impact of regulation on seafarers and their ability to cope with and accommodate it; there is a vast amount of regulation that is now becoming more of a distraction onboard in terms of the new administrative demands, which are difficult and challenging.

And the other is: ‘who pays for it’.

Regulation requires a lot of capital expenditure for things such as ballast water abatement technology, emission scrubbers and that sort of thing.

One presenter at the conference this afternoon said: “we’re dying under a mountain of regulation”.

Classification societies regularly update their rules and apply and distribute them via new construction standards which are guided by what we learn from in-service activity, casualties, technology, material updates and changes in mechanical systems.

On a statutory level, we act as recognized organizations on behalf of flag administrations, which have the responsibility to ensure that the vessels that fly their flags comply with the IMO Conventions.  So, new regulation often comes from IMO resolutions and conventions (such as SOLAS, MARPOL, STCW, Load Line), which cascade down into national legislation and is enacted for vessels carrying that flag.

A lot of flags delegate the responsibility for verifying compliance with regulations to classification societies, principally because there are overlaps with class requirements and elite class societies typically have global networks of technical experts at their disposal.

For the seafarers, there are challenges associated with bringing them up to speed with the required surveying work. Because of our role in the industry, Lloyd’s Register reinvests a lot our annual capital back into research and development to provide the innovation the industry requires, to keep owners and operators abreast of the latest available technology and to remain a credible technical advisor to the IMO. The IMO doesn’t really have a dedicated technical arm; it relies in part on the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) to provide advice.

One of the biggest challenges we face at Lloyd’s Register is maintaining a consistent interpretation of the regulations across our 2,000 or so technical experts across 250 offices in 80-odd countries. So when our clients’ ships go from one location to another, their onboard and shore staff know what to expect.

Keeping everyone on the same page with a practical approach to the interpretation of the statutory and classification requirements takes a lot of internal effort in the face of this never-ending cycle of changing legislation.

RA:  One of the things about regulation that Graham Westgarth from Teekay mentioned this morning is managing the regional differences.

TP:  He was eluding to the port state control regime, where you are likely to get different interpretations because that lacks the consistency of a global approach like class. We train our people using the same methodology to ensure the same approach to regulation whether you’re Japanese, South African, or whatever.

Under the present Port State Control regime, ships and their crews can often find themselves at the mercy of local or individual interpretations, which can be disruptive.

Part of the value that class can bring is independent technical advice and interpretation. A Port State inspector can come onboard and say: “this is wrong, this is wrong and this is wrong, and you need to get class to verify this before we issue a release”.

It can be our role to say, “hang on a minute guys”, and support a consistent interpretation of the regulation, pointing out things such as the fact the owners or operators’ approach is within the interpretations in their safety management system. It may not be black and white, but they are compliant.

Or we may have to explain why the port state inspector’s interpretation is completely justified and we then help all parties to find a solution that will get things fixed ASAP, and get that ship back on its way.

It’s very much a facilitation role, being solution-oriented because surveyors using our depth of knowledge and diverse technical expertise. Even if a class surveyor is less experienced, there is a deep historic and global experience that they can rely on.

These days it’s all about turnaround times. Good operators like Teekay operate their ships way beyond the bare regulatory minimum. They set their own very high operating standards. Still, it always will be possible to find something that will not line up with an auditor’s thought process or expectation, creating an issue. A class society’s role is often to provide a sanity-check and consistent interpretations.

RA:  How much does Class interface with IMO?

TP:  A lot.  IACS, as a body, has representation as an NGO at the IMO. Also, a US classification society like ABS will accompany the US delegation, we might accompany the Canadian and British, Bureau Veritas will accompany the French, to act as technical advisors.

We are absolutely not there in a decision-making role; we help to give confidence to those who are there to vote that what they are considering is technically sound.

Class collaborates with many industry organizations — INTERTANKO, the MCA, the US Coast Guard, etc., – and, when invited, we provide technical input and validation.

There is the growing perception that some of the regulatory advances are getting out in front of the available technology. So the industry is asking: ‘can we comply with the specific requirements of, say, ballast-water exchanges with the available technology?’ I get a sense from the owners that confidence levels are not where they should that the available systems are robust. So we are engaged with the manufacturers on R&D and type approval. It’s cradle-to-grave technical support that goes beyond the ship to components and sub-parts.

RA:  Is class getting involved in the issue of piracy at all?

TP:  Piracy is a difficult one, because the issue is largely political, not technical.  To deter piracy, you can load a ship up to the gunwales with guns — and that’s a whole debate in itself — but technically, from a structural standards perspective, there isn’t a huge consideration, because people aren’t going to armor plate their ships or anything like that.

The worst thing is that there are hundreds of people right now being held against their will, so there may be a role for us to play in supporting the industry’s political lobbying.

But while some countries such as the US don’t advocate paying ransoms, many governments are turning a blind eye to cash payments because they realize that that appears to be the only way to get your ship back. A military solution has been elusive.

That’s my personal opinion. On a technical level, there doesn’t appear to be a significant role for class to play.

RA: On a lighter topic, what do you like the most about your job at Lloyd’s Register?

TP:  It may sound a bit cliché, but it’s the fact that surveyors can make a real difference to the protection of life and the environment when they go onboard ships. It’s at the core of why we have a low staff turnover. We actually save people’s lives on a regular basis by stopping ships from sailing and insisting on repairs. We come up against a lot of commercial pressure, and we have to find the balance between what are show-stoppers and what are not.

We tell our surveyors that they need to ask themselves whether they would put their children on that ship to sail away. If the answer is no, then they need to write it up and make sure the vessel is fixed, or limits are put to assure its safe operation before it departs.

That’s what really motivates me. That, and the fact that there’s a lot of variety in the work; you’re not endlessly dealing with one type of ship. If you work at a tanker company, you’re working with tankers all day, every day. The tanker business is a great business, but I like the variety of class.

One minute I’ll be talking about the tanker industry, and the next I’m talking about the cruise ship industry, which is completely different business model and regulatory environment. Next I’ll be looking at project cargos or bulk carriers, or offshore. There’s a huge amount of variety.

It’s rewarding to be in charge of a business where you know that you’re really making a difference in terms of saving lives and protecting the environment. I spent 15 years on ships — I was a captain at one point — so I know how important that is.

lloyd's register surveyor
Image: Lloyd's Register

RA:  Why is being a marine surveyor, or having experience as a marine surveyor such a critical skill set?

TP:  There are a number of kinds of surveyors. There are naval architects who serve their apprenticeships ashore, maybe in a shipyard, or around ships. Others have sailed on ships, such marine engineers.

From a shipboard perspective, it’s very challenging, with an incredible amount of technical and operational requirements to meet. This is why they value a surveyor who can say “here’s what you need to do and how it needs to be done”, providing a solution.

When we train our surveyors as auditors, we don’t encourage the use of checklists, we emphasize the transfer of knowledge. If it is clear that the person you’re speaking to doesn’t understand, we see this as an opportunity to teach and train them. We are looking to see if people understand, not just comply.

There’s a big difference in the mindset and philosophy of an auditor who’s there to verify compliance, rather than someone who is there to verify non-compliance. So we train our people to make sure that they assess understanding; they’re not just there to try and find issues of non-compliance. Anyone can go on board and say, “that’s wrong, that’s wrong, and that’s wrong”; there’s no value in that.

RA:  It sounds like this role provides the perfect knowledge base to go on to other things should they choose.

TP:  Indeed. The guys get a lot of experience. Those that show acumen, interest and the right personality can go into a business development role, or perhaps into a mentoring role. There is a management path, and there is a technical path. We develop senior subject-matter experts who are brilliant in their subject, but they may not be interested in managing people, with all the fun and games that entails. Others, we develop as business leaders. We need both, as one only exists with the support of the other.

There’s a lot of activity in Lloyd’s Register now to define and develop that two-path approach, creating a much clearer road map for the people who come into the organization.

RA:  I was talking with SNAME about this subject today, actually, recalling my experience at Transocean and their efforts to help people understand their strengths via personality profiling.  It was quite a revelation, and from a personal standpoint, it really helped me to understand my own strengths and weaknesses, and from a leadership standpoint, helped me understand the Roughnecks I was working with. Realizing why I’m good at what I’m good at was very helpful to me.

TP: It helps to create mutual understanding. We have a similar thing. It’s called ‘Insights’, effectively, mapping personalities. It is a group exercise that helps everyone to understand why people act the way they do.

Not understanding a person’s personality can create consistent tension. Tension is healthy, but understanding how people operate can really help productivity.

People are the industry’s core assets, not ships. How you develop them in the culture of the organization is very important and, up until 4 or 5 years ago, we hadn’t been paying too much attention to that. Now we’re very active in developing leaders, building roadmaps to those goals. It’s not a perfect exercise, but we’re on the right track.

RA: How does Lloyd’s Register continue to maintain its position as a thought-leader?

TP:  By reinvesting our resources into educational and training institutions – often through our educational trust — research and development, working with manufacturers on technology development, working with industry organizations on joint-industry projects and ventures, and by working with other class societies to stay out in front of regulation and the new technical requirements our industries need.

This requires investing in people who are thought-leaders themselves, who bring experience and knowledge to the organization. And lastly, we maintain our position as though-leaders by engaging in conferences such as CMA, where our people write papers for technical associations and presenting at the right high-profile events.

RA: And by contributing to gCaptain…

TP:  (Laughing) Yes, absolutely.

RA:  I appreciate your time Tim, really great to speak with you today.

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