“All our yards are open – we took that decision based on our proximity to UK trade hubs, ports and harbours,” says Nick Warren, Commercial Director at SMS, in the UK. “A percentage of the workforce has been furloughed, but that’s not for health/risk reasons, that is due a downturn in business from our commercial customer base. We’re very much open for business.”
SMS are keen to follow all Government and Public Health advice, and they have changed their integrated management system. “We’ve issued and revised new risk assessments and method statements, increased social-distancing policies and improved sanitation and hygiene across all of our seven sites,” explains Warren.
He told DryDock; “I guess we’re operating at about 60%-70% of our normal volumes? Spend from the marine civils sector, ‘passenger’ centric ferry operators and the cruise space has slowed. Spend from defence, ports & harbours and tug operations remain reasonably constant, as does the likes of UK Border Force.”
When it comes to the reduction in the cruise and ferry market, he says; “Tourist traffic isn’t travelling at the moment; that obviously impacts certain ferry operators on certain routes, and also the cruise market. March has seen a general downwards trend; that said the decline seems to have plateaued. We’re starting to have positive conversations about the reactivation of tonnage, new works, and life post ‘lockdown’ – all of which is positive.
Worker/client safety is being maintained at SMS through “common sense, awareness, and an adherence to Government guidelines.”
Cancellations and postponements
“We’re not so much seeing cancellations – more postponements,” explains Warren. “Either way, the works will need to be done – it’s just a matter of when. Class and Flag certification extensions aren’t helping the ship repair industry, as operators are simply deferring dockings ‘because they can’. This will definitely create a ‘congestion’ of available docks towards the year-end. We’re already working on solutions to this foreseeable challenge, by looking to expand our network further – we will have something to share shortly!”
He told DryDock; “We’ve not turned any jobs away, but we are struggling to look after certain customers in certain locations; for example ‘makers men’ / OEMs might not want to travel, and if they do, we might struggle to find accommodation for them. International travel is also a challenge too.”
“I think the industry is very much working together – we’re all participating in shared initiatives and working together where possible,” explains Warren. “Differing inter-island operators are sharing freight burdens and agreeing schedules together, shipyards are sharing intel, and we’re all talking RE: an industry standard H&S policy via the Society of Maritime Industries. Customers are, to the most part, playing fair. But by way of example we’ve had dockings move to the right, due to extended certification, particularly in Lowestoft, which has allowed us to dock new customers very competitively – Lowestoft has capacity but it is now becoming limited.”
“Our supply chain and our landlords have very much helped the business; ‘cash is king’ at the moment and the ‘we’re in it together’ ethos mentioned above really is helping,” states Warren.
“We’re focused on three things: one – continuing to support our customers, both new and old, to the highest possible standard in these challenging times. Two – remaining competitive across the network; with have dock capacity in Lowestoft and fabrication / workshop capacity in Southampton, Poole and Avonmouth; as such we’ll price projects competitively. Three – offering something new; we know as vessels reactive, as the ‘lockdown’ eases, and as new standards of sanitation become the norm, the market isn’t necessarily ready.”
Adapting to conditions
“We’ve invested in specialist ‘foggers’ that will allow us to ‘fog’ confined spaces, voids, bilges, machinery spaces and all ship-side spaces with an anti-Covid-19 agent,” explains Warren.” This is something new, something different – we’re trying to help mitigate our customers’ problems.”
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