10 March 2021

Meet the team – Robert Lough - ISM/ISPS MANAGER, WYM Group

Bob, you have been with WYM Group for more than 10 years, but what is your background in sailing before that?

I am a Class 1 Master Mariner with 30 years’ experience at sea. I spent 15 of those years as a captain of passenger ships, so I have a good understanding of the needs and potential frustrations of a modern day captain.

I also spent a decade ashore as Director of P&O Ferries, with responsibility for UK operations in Hull and Felixstowe, so that gave me the experience in the managerial and logistical side of things. I’ve also previously worked as Director of the North of England P&I Association in Newcastle, and Director of the Chamber of Shipping in London where I chaired the Passenger Ship Issues Committee.

What are your main responsibilities at WYM Group?

I am ISM/ISPS Manager which means my job is heavily focussed around security and safety of our fleet. I am also the Designated Person Ashore (DPA) for a number of yachts that we provide management services to.

In my role as ISM/ISPS Manager I write and maintain safety and security manuals to ensure the yachts and ships we look after comply with all regulations and codes.

Over the years I have been responsible for the safety and security management of several privately owned and commercially registered yachts between 500gt and 3100gt, and one passenger yacht of 4300gt.

WYM Group has been in the news recently for its management of the RMS St Helena. Have you had involvement in that?

Yes I am DPA for the St Helena and it has been an exciting and challenging project for us. She is a former Royal Mail passenger ship which carried cargo and passengers between Cape Town and the island of St Helena.

Over the past two years she has been completely renovated and refurbished by our Ship Management team and will become a floating base of the new Extreme E racing series, which will travel to a number of destinations around the globe.

There has been a lot of work to do to ensure that ship will meet the codes and secure all required certification, given it will be able to carry 170 passengers at sea.

We’ve had to bring her back to the UK Flag and Lloyds Register Classification Society It was a challenging project and refit for our team.

What must a ship or superyacht have in place to be able to travel around the world safely?

This is quite rightly a hugely regulated industry so an essential part of my role is to ensure the ships and yachts we manage have all the relevant certification is in place.

It is all about ensuring they comply with the International Safety Management Code (ISM), which ultimately was borne out of numerous serious shipping accidents in the 1980s, the worst being the capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry in 1987. It led to very strict new guidelines being introduced both onboard and offshore which became mandatory worldwide for companies operating commercially registered ships from July 1998.

Yachts must comply with either the Passenger Yacht Code or MCA Large Yacht Code and obtain a Safety Management Certificate from the relevant Flag State in compliance. That is a big part of our work.

To do this we ensure each vessel has a relevant Flag State approved Safety Management System (SMS), which includes a dedicated Safety Management Manual and procedures covering Health, Safety and Environmental Policies and Drug and Alcohol Policies, amongst many others.

It is my role to I ensure they have all of these in place, by putting our manuals and policies in place when we take on the management of a new vessel, or by issuing them to the owner and captain should we take over the management of a vessel which has already sailed for some years under different management.

We are available to provide support and advice to Captains at any time and we are in constant communication with all vessels that we manage to ensure we are constantly logging details such as where they are, where they are heading, fuel used, passage planning as well as records of the completion of safety meetings and drills.

Added to that we can be called upon to help resolve any issues such as accident or incident reports, or any staff disciplinary actions that may need taking.

Management of a yacht or ship is a constant and there are daily, weekly, monthly and annual requirements to meet to remain compliant and stay in line with constantly updating legislation.

So effectively you play a key role from ashore whilst yachts sail to new destinations?

You could summarize it like that, particularly the role of a DPA as they have to ensure everything is being done to comply with the rules and regulations and ensure the ship, its crew and passengers are safe.

In that role I have to be available 24 hours a day should I be needed and the Captains on those ships can call me at any time for assistance.

A lot of time is spent answering emails and taking the required actions.

We have a certification check list which shows at a glance what each vessel requires in terms of renewals and surveys.

We hold all the information a captain of a ship may need at any time, so if there is a need for documents relating to insurance, ISM, ISPS, MLC, and MARPOL, we can find it quickly for them.

What measures are taken to ensure a ship’s safe travel?

When we take on the management of a new yacht we will conduct a Ship Security Assessment. On an existing yacht, already in possession of an approved Security Plan, the Flag State may accept the original assessment.

Obviously, security threats change and we are in contact with the relevant authorities to receive worldwide security updates which are forwarded by e-mail to all our managed yachts.

Most of the vessels we manage sail in very safe waters which are classed low security levels, such as the UK and the Med, which are level 1.

We do on occasions have to arrange for some yachts to have onboard security should they sail in potentially dangerous areas such as Libya, The Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.

We also have documented procedures and checklists in place for use in an emergency and the yachts all have emergency alarms on them which alerts both us and the Flag State Governments should there be an incident.

We of course know at all times where everyone of the vessels we manage is, and where it is heading.

Why would a yacht owner look to change his management company and the people looking after regulation and security?

Like any industry they are looking for the best service at the best price. You can be super-efficient and effective in your work and still see the management of a yacht taken from you if it is bought by a new owner who has worked with other companies and knows them. That just shows the importance of doing a good job for the people who entrust the management of their yacht to you.

We’ve taken on new yachts in those circumstances, but also seen some leave our fleet because a new owner has wanted to use people he is familiar with. The pleasing thing from our aspect is that when this has happened, the Captains and crews have been very sorry to leave us and have said what a good job we have done for them.

I know we have an excellent, experienced team here. That experience runs across the entire management team and is invaluable in an industry like this.

I enjoyed my time at sea as a Captain driving Passenger Ferries between the UK Holland and Belgium and we have to remember that we are here to ensure owners and passengers enjoy their time safely too.

We do that by getting all the compliance and regulation right, leaving them to enjoy the sailing.

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