Executive Profile: Captain John Hughes, President of Secunda Canada LP
by Kathy A. Smith
While Canada provides an impressive 13 percent of the world’s oil resources, people think most of it – if not all – comes from the “tar sands” of Alberta. Yet the main exploration areas off Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are poised for substantial growth over the next five to 10 years, says Captain John G. Hughes, President of Secunda Canada LP. Approximately eight billion barrels of identified recoverable reserves are available in the region and, with dwindling global oil reserves elsewhere, several major oil companies have been focusing their efforts here.
“The area is also convenient to northeastern U.S. markets, plus there is a great supply chain already in place in eastern Canada,” says Hughes, a 30-year offshore industry veteran who began his career in the merchant marine. “This means huge economic benefits not only for Secunda but for all the tertiary industries involved in supporting these contracts.”
Originally from London, England, Hughes enrolled at Georgian College in Ontario in the late ‘70s in a three-year maritime technology/cadet program. While at school he worked for several shipping and oil companies, most memorably on Shell’s oil tankers off the East Coast of Canada as well as in the Canadian High Arctic. Upon graduation, he worked as a navigation officer on tankers and bulk carriers, travelling extensively worldwide.
In the early ‘90s he was one of the first Canadian mariners to be trained in the then-burgeoning technology of dynamic positioning, a skill he would later bring to his offshore work. Before embarking on a long tenure with Secunda Marine Services Ltd. (SMS), Hughes spent two years with Transport Canada Marine Safety. One of his career highlights was as Master of a Dive Support Vessel in the Gulf of Mexico, supervising a “truly professional and tight-knit crew” for SMS, which he did from 1991 to 1996 before coming ashore to work his way up the managerial ladder.
Taking over as Operations Manager for SMS in 1996, Hughes eventually became Managing Director before the company was sold in 2007 to McDermott International Inc. He then ran his own consulting firm until the formation of Secunda Canada LP in March 2012. He was instrumental in orchestrating the formation of the new enterprise after recognizing that McDermott’s main focus wasn’t on Secunda’s offshore vessel fleet. The majority of the company’s 15 office staff and over 150 offshore personnel were hand-picked by Hughes from the original Secunda workers and augmented with new talent from outside the industry. “It was important to retain the highly-experienced offshore personnel who knew the ships and the clients,” he says.
Secunda Canada’s expanding fleet of six predominantly ice-class vessels provides platform supply, anchor-handling, standby rescue, and towage services under long-term contracts for companies like Exxon Mobil, Encana Corporation and Suncor Energy. Secunda also provides iceberg towing services to ensure the safety of oil rigs and platforms, a unique but necessary activity due to particular challenges around the Grand Banks off Newfoundland.
Hughes has seen a lot of changes, particularly in technologies for offshore vessels. “With improved seismic technology, oil companies are working in deeper water, which has further advanced dynamic positioning technology. That means offshore vessels need to also work in ever-deeper water and have larger carrying capacities and better power plant and thruster arrangements for improved station-keeping and fuel economy. For future vessel purchases, Secunda is focused on the latest fuel-efficient, eco-friendly designs, and the company also invests in the latest software technologies to ensure the business runs as efficiently as possible.
Recent lease-bidding activity in Nova Scotia has generated great interest among some of the world’s oil majors, including Shell and BP, and Newfoundland has industry commitments now for new gravity-based structures to increase oil production and bring new fields on stream over the next five to 10 years.
“I think there is tremendous potential for long-term, stable development here, which bodes well for eastern Canada, so Secunda is well-positioned to grow with these increasing opportunities,” says Hughes. “For me, my career in shipping has been very satisfying. With this new company and the promise of significant development of the industry we serve, the future could not look better.”
Kathy A. Smith is based in Victoria, BC and is a frequent contributor to The Maritime Executive.