In the return of our regular member profile feature, Richard Brooks, General Manager at Williams Shipping Marine, discusses the company’s legacy, future commercial opportunities, and the challenges of bringing on board new personnel.
Could you tell us about Williams Shipping Marine and your background as a business?
Williams started life in 1894 as a family-owned marine company based in Southampton – and it is still owned by the Williams family today. As well as marine services, we now offer transport and logistics support.
We currently have 9 workboats registered with the NWA – a mixture of tugs, multicats and road transportable multicats – as well as a fleet of 13 barges.
Aside from our Southampton base, Williams has an operation in Pembroke, South Wales, which evolved after we took over port services from the Milford Haven port authority 12 years ago. This strategic site is valuable in allowing us to access areas such as the Irish sea.
How did your career in the maritime industry develop and what does your current role at Williams Shipping Marine encompass?
I’ve worked in the maritime sector for nearly 20 years in various roles, including periods at sea, commercial operations with a large container operator, and marine casualty investigation. If you were to sum it up, my work has been largely on the operational and legal side of things.
Currently I’m General Manager at Williams. Having completed work experience here just over 20 years ago – I grew up in Southampton and knew the company – I was pleased when the opportunity arose to come back and work here.
My job involves overseeing day-to-day operations, chartering, and personnel, as well as being customer-facing and overall management.
What are your current priorities as a business? Which markets are you currently targeting?
The marine division of Williams primarily completes two types of work. The first is port services – which have been offered in Southampton since 1894, and were later extended to the Pembroke base. This includes supplying vessels with stores, water and so on – as well as offering a passenger launch service.
We also use the larger multicats and barges to complete work on marine infrastructure projects – which could take place anywhere in north-west Europe.
As we look to build on these two sectors, we’re quietly confident that there are lots of opportunities. The marine civil engineering industry – particularly in the UK – is buoyant, and multiple large marine infrastructure projects are either ongoing or on the cards to take place soon.
Our strategy is now to consolidate what we’ve got – and we’re now thinking about expanding the fleet in terms of numbers.
What are some of the large marine infrastructure projects you mention?
The Dover Western Docks Revival, currently approaching its end, has been a major project in the UK.
In addition to this, pipeline projects – such as Thames Tideway and the new jetty for the MOD at Thanckes Oil Fuel Depot in Plymouth – offer opportunities. There are also the Hinkley point marine terminal, and the possible tidal lagoon at Swansea Bay.
Williams has seen quite a lot of work come in from Ireland – and there are opportunities in France as well. We currently have barges at the Western Docks Revival and the Thames Tideway projects – which also creates work for our workboats, in a supporting role.
In which sectors are you seeing most growth at the moment?
The marine civil engineering sector is offering lots of opportunities – if you went back 3-4 years, the market was very depressed, but in the last 12 months that has really turned around.
Last year was a reasonable year, and we foresee that carrying on into 2019, with opportunities ranging from dredging to constructing new berths or large-scale infrastructure projects – such as Thames Tideway.
It is this demand for core services which led us to recently expand our fleet with the Willdart, a 14m Meercat. We have owned 4 Meercat vessels of similar size over the years; we’re familiar with them and, as a vessel type, they’re very useful for port services work.
How would you assess the state of the market at the moment? Are there any challenges you’re encountering?
One challenge has been getting good quality and experienced staff – particularly marine engineers – and enticing new entrants at the younger level has also proven difficult. We’ve had apprentices in the past – and we’re keen to take more on – but trying to find people has not been easy.
The NWA apprenticeship scheme, which my colleague Shaun Mansbridge is heavily involved with, is making headway, and we’re close to getting a framework in place to encourage more young entrants.
Why did you stand for election to the NWA committee and what will your role be as a committee member?
Personally, I feel it’s easy to sit on the side-lines and criticise, but the NWA relies on people putting their hand up and putting that effort in. Getting involved has the potential to benefit us as a company, but more significantly I believe it’s important to put something back into the industry in which you work.
Equally, the fact that we’re based in Southampton – just around the corner from the MCA – is logistically convenient. As the MCA and NWA often work closely together, it will be useful for me to be able to pop around the corner for a meeting at short notice. Being local, we also see MCA employees at events and around the ports, which is good for building a relationship.
Standing for election also made sense from a company point of view, as Williams has been involved with the NWA since its inception. Our Managing Director, Philip Williams, previously sat on the NWA committee, while Shaun Mansbridge is currently on the Safety Forum.
What is your objective as a newly elected NWA committee member? What are the key issues you would like to tackle?
The main issues will ultimately be those raised by NWA members, in line with my responsibility – as a representative – to reflect and highlight the concerns of the members.
Having said that, proactivity is important, and an aim for me is promoting the workboat sector both to the MCA and to the wider maritime sector. The workboat sector sometimes struggles to be heard above other, larger maritime sectors – and you’ve got to keep ‘beating the drum’.