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Commentary: Why we’re in a class of our own

Published on 2 November 2023

Our industry is unique. I’m not the first – and certainly won’t be the last – CEO of a membership organisation to say these words. It’s something which I have repeated recently in dozens of conversations with industry stakeholders, regulators, and others.

IMCA’s Members are a small niche of companies and organisations that have the expertise, technology, and extensive offshore experience to safely deliver extremely complex and ever more demanding projects at sea. 

They are also unique in the way that they work. They manage a global specialist fleet of only a few hundred vessels, which travel from offshore energy project to offshore energy project around the world. Crewed by teams with extensive experience of working at sea, and backed by subject-matter specialists onshore, there are few industries that can claim to work in this way.

IMCA Contact

Iain Grainger

This is something which we tend to take for granted, and that my extensive career in the sector has probably numbed me to, but the truth is we are international in way others can only claim to be. Where companies are based, where ships are flagged, where crews live, and the seas in which we are working, do not affect our positive impact as we strive to deliver global ambitions around a new offshore energy mix.

Photo: Fugro, Excalibur

We’re also working in unique circumstances. Layered on top of the worldwide movement towards carbon reduction and Net Zero, is conflict in Europe which has brought energy security concerns to the fore. The result is unprecedented demand for our Members’ expertise and a lack of the skilled people, specialist vessels, and innovative technology to meet this.

While our uniqueness should be obvious to anyone who has spent the time to understand our industry, we need to remember that not everyone has, and that the nuances of our work and how we deliver it means we are often “misunderstood”.

The recent repeal of the UK Offshore Workers Visa Concession is one example. IMCA has joined a range of UK based maritime and energy organisations with a plan to engage the Government, make the case for our highly specialised industry, and highlight the potential damage to targets for offshore wind and more than 104,000 jobs along the UK’s supply chain.

In the USA, we have recently seen the return of more proposals to limit working offshore through the Offshore Workers Fairness Act. These – much like previous legislative attempts – are based on a flawed and fundamental misreading of our sector. There is no domestic talent pool with the skills and experience for safe offshore delivery, there are no US based specialist contractors, and there is currently not a single US flagged specialist vessel. Further restrictions will simply result in the US becoming a less attractive place for our Members to do work, putting any national ambitions for offshore wind at risk.

Obvious to us maybe, but it is my job as CEO of your industry body to keep explaining – to anyone who will listen – why we can truly claim to be in a class of our own. Continued information, education, and advocacy on behalf of our industry will help ensure that future misinterpretations can be avoided.

Iain Grainger is CEO of the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA).