Since the time of the Romans, the evolution and development of the maritime sector has been of vital importance to Britain's commercial and economic interests. Early links were established with trading partners worldwide, links that endure today — particularly in our relations with the U.S.
As befits a country with arguably the third largest navy for defense in the world, our expertise in systems and equipment integration is much sought after by shipbuilders across the globe and, understandably, many U.K. marine equipment companies view the U.S. Coastguard Agency Deepwater project with more than a passing interest.
So where does the Society of Maritime Industries
fit into the picture? Put simply, our mission is to promote and support the interests of all U.K. companies doing business in the maritime industries. More grandly, we are the voice of U.K. maritime business representing suppliers of equipment and services to naval and commercial shipping; ports and terminals; offshore oil and gas
; pollution control
If we look specifically at our members' marine equipment interests, it is perhaps an under-recognized fact that this sector represents approximately $1.5 billion a year in export sales — the U.K. is one of the largest players in the market. Which equipment appeals to customers? Well, besides our skills in ship design solutions and systems integration, the U.K. is also a market leader in propulsion systems
, generators, weapons systems
, navigation and communications, HVAC, accommodation, and deck and cargo equipment.
Within the context of platforms with a defense role, the U.K. itself has a significant domestic market, with more than $25 billion allocated to a new carrier program and air group, the first batch of T45 destroyer class ships, the Astute class submarine and further sums on a number of support vessels.
Naturally the new technologies for these classes of ships will be available to share with our defense partners — providing a very credible reason why U.K. suppliers should receive more than a cursory glance from U.S. designers and procurement managers.
Of course, a large number of U.K. companies in the maritime sector have already set up business in the U.S., either through joint ventures or subsidiary companies, and we know more are on the way. It is not only the big players such as BAE Systems (BAESY)
who have a presence in the U.S., but also smaller companies such as Young & Cunningham of Glasgow, Scotland. Y&C set up facilities in Houston many years ago and have been long-standing suppliers to Avondale and NASSCO, recently winning the contract to supply valves to the T-AKE class of ships.
Moving back to the work of the Society in all this, one way we support companies in bringing their products to market is by participation in major international maritime trade shows and conferences. However, our promotional work for British firms goes well beyond putting on a good show. We also take groups of companies on Trade Missions to visit potential customers on their home turf. The concept of doing group missions to overseas customers is an ideal one for small companies wishing to enter a market for the first time and start the process of building relationships before they go to the expense of a full sales trip or exhibition presence.
The Society also undertakes more traditional methods of marketing its members' products and services, with the publication of an annual directory containing information on members interspersed with articles on the state of the industry.
However, whereas the Directory is a much sought after reference tool, the industry now demands a more direct and up to date method of procuring equipment, and this summer saw the launch of our new web portal www.maritimeindustries.org which provides an extremely functional approach for procurement personnel to search for marine equipment — including the ability to find quickly the technical information they require. Once the desired equipment or service has been selected they can email from the site to the equipment supplier
to receive more information, a quotation, etc. The fact that this web portal also acts as a comprehensive information resource for anyone involved with our five sectors is an added bonus for the visitor.
While so far I have discussed the promotional efforts we undertake on behalf of member companies, I must also stress that we have a responsibility to the industry as a whole: we constantly research information and ensure it is collated and disseminated to as wide an audience as possible. This work can range from producing indices on the size and economic effect of our sectors to inform government, the media and corporate analysts to specific original research on potential markets for members' products and services. The demand for an authoritative independent source for such information has led to the decision to employ a Director of Research to the Society's staff this August to spearhead our work in this area.
An area of increasing relevance, which cuts across all our sectors, is the environment. The Society of Maritime Industries has under its umbrella the British Oil Spill Control Association (BOSCA), which was launched in order to coordinate actions of companies in oil spill shoreline clean-up and has since developed into an association which represents all forms of oil spill prevention and remediation. Through BOSCA, the Society is now instrumental in the setting of standards for the sector and responsible for running the independent accreditation scheme for oil spill contractors, with the support and sponsorship of the regulatory environmental authorities in the U.K.
To conclude this brief tour of the Society's work on behalf of its members, I must not forget the important role we perform as the conduit by which businesses in our sector can lobby government on issues, which affect the competitiveness of the industry. (Although increasingly we find we need to keep one eye on the deliberations of the European Commission as well.)
This function is in fact the second key aim in our strategic plan, a reflection of its importance to a trade association such as ours. Put simply, our two primary aims of promotion and lobbying are all about 'opening doors' so that our member companies can do the business with a range of products and services that we offer.