Leaders of the Isle of Man’s maritime sector are reaching across the Irish Sea to work with Merseyside-based businesses as they look to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.
In the latest of a series of weekly Mersey Maritime online Face-2-Face events, John Garland, general manager of Isle of Man Maritime, and Cameron Mitchell, director of the Isle of Man Ship Registry, addressed dozens of fellow Mersey Maritime members.
They talked about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the island’s maritime sector and about how they were now working to reinvigorate its economy by working with people and organisations on the island and overseas.
Both John and Cameron highlighted the plight of around 100,000 seafarers stranded out at sea around the world, unable to come onto land because of the global pandemic. There are tens of thousands of cruise ship crew stranded without pay.
Isle of Man Maritime has launched the Splash for Seafarers social media campaign to raise cash for the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN), which works to promote and support the welfare of seafarers all over the world.
ISWAN has seen a “dramatic” surge in demand as the coronavirus pandemic has affected seafarers worldwide, with its 24-hour helpline recording over 470 COVID-19 related cases affecting more than 7,000 seafarers.
John said: “We want to encourage as many people as possible to support Splash for Seafarers. Mental health for seafarers is such an important topic and so many right now are effectively stranded.”
Cameron added that seafarer welfare was now a top priority for the maritime sector with evidence of a grim rise in suicides now emerging. He added that the registry was now working with Liverpool-based online training provider Tapiit.
“Working with Tapiit, we have developed a seafarers welfare app which has been designed to offer training and support for seafarers,” he said.
The Isle of Man’s maritime sector can be divided into three sub-sectors – shipping, yachting and the plethora of firms that provide services to them. Mr Garland said he had taken the time during the COVID lockdown to engage more with his members.
“Everything here was going quite nicely until March when we hit the wall,” said John. “Over the past few months we have been producing content and engaging more with our members and the Government. I have taken the opportunity to speak to our members more than I would have normally have done and I have made quite a few new friends.
“What has become clear over the past few months is how fortunate we are on the Isle of Man to have such a diverse array of experience, knowledge and skills within our maritime sector. We have produced a briefing paper for Government to make sure that maritime voices are being heard.”
In March, the Isle of Man acted quickly to close down its borders with the popular Steam Packet ferry service between the Island and Liverpool coming to a halt. Consequently, the island has been able to bring coronavirus under control very quickly and it has seen no new cases for more than 40 days.
It means the economy on the island itself is now very much open for business with its inhabitants free to go to work, to bars and to restaurants. However, its borders remain closed for the moment and now both John and Cameron are busy planning for the re-emergence of the economy post-COVID.
“We are planning to finish 2020 quite strongly,” said John. “We are going to be focusing on organising some local events for our members. We need to engage more with economic development and re-energise the Isle of Man economy.”
Isle of Man Maritime has looked to engage with the wider UK Women in Maritime initiative as well as encouraging more of its young people to consider careers in the sector. John added: “We carried out a survey of 15 and 16-year-olds and a lot of them thought the maritime sector was just about Steam Packet and cruise ships.
“We have not been good enough in offering our young people pathways to careers in maritime and we need to now start creating those pathways. That is one of the big key pieces of work we will be doing in the coming months.”
Cameron said the Isle of Man Ship Registry had been making strides towards the difficult task of the decarbonisation of the shipping sector. It is the first registry in the world to oversee the conversion of VLGC (very large gas carriers) registered under its flag to dual-fuel LPG engines.
“COVID-19 has been a catalyst for change for advances in technology,” said Cameron. “We have been undertaking a lot of project work over the past few months. And we now have people doing business development roles in Japan, Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Greece.
“Our Government, here, has reacted very well and very quickly to COVID. And our staff have been amazing. We are now partnering with Polaris Media (marketing firm and Mersey Maritime member) as we look to raise our profile globally.”