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Executive Profile: Paul Watkins, Sales & Project Manager, Survival Craft Inspectorate

By Kathy A. Smith

Long-awaited new IMO lifeboat hook regulations are just a few months away, and Paul Watkins, Sales & Project Manager for Survival Craft Inspectorate (SCI), has had a hand in them. Watkins, whose offshore and maritime industry career spans over 30 years, has worked most of that time for the Aberdeen-headquartered company that designs, installs and maintains lifeboats for the shipping, oil and gas, and cruise industries.

The Making of an Engineer

The friendly, effervescent executive started out as a 17-year-old engineering apprentice for Johnson-Hunt Ltd., a heavy engineering company near his hometown of Manchester, England, where he quickly rose through the ranks to become a Quality Control Inspector. Following a fellow inspector’s suggestion, Watkins soon found himself working offshore in the Middle East, which firmly set his career path.

As an inspector and subsequent project manager, he worked for several Middle East construction companies, including Abu Dhabi’s NPCC, where he supervised such projects as hyperbaric pipeline repairs and riser installations, eventually moving on to oversee field hook-up and installation for Statoil and topside fabrication and installation for Britoil in the North Sea. In the 1980s he was involved in the massive task of the jacking up of the Ekofisk Field oil platforms, which were slowly sinking due to subsidence in the seabed.

When oil industry contracts dried up, Watkins would take on other maritime contracts to fill the void. Personal highlights included an unusual foray involving the salvage of the Hindostan, an East Indiaman ship laden with silver bullion that sunk in the Thames Estuary in 1803, and the massive Delta Works flood and storm surge barriers that stretch across the coast of southern Holland.

Career at SCI

Watkins’ role at SCI, where he’s been since 1993, involves numerous large-scale projects such as the design and installation of offshore and maritime-survival training centers, upgrades of existing lifeboats and davit systems on offshore installations, and total refurbishments of cruise and ferry lifeboat and davit systems. Before SCI, he also spent time with Norway’s Eide Maritime Group, managing semisubmersible drilling and accommodation (flotel) refurbishments, vessel conversions and fixed installations.

It’s no surprise that his passion, easygoing manner and engineering intelligence are called on as SCI’s representative at the International Lifesaving Appliance Manufacturers’ Association (ILAMA) and the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee. “Until I started attending IMO sessions eight years ago, our company was often in a reactive rather than proactive position when concerned with SOLAS and LSA code amendments,” he reports. “Now we are able to have involvement at the grassroots level in the development of measures to improve safety.”

Since 1986, on-load release hooks, now called release and retrieval systems, have been implicated in many, mainly drill-related, lifeboat accidents and deaths worldwide. Watkins explains, “Undoubtedly the hooks introduced great improvements over the offload hooks previously used, but they also introduced other factors such as complex design and the possibility of unintentional release.”

Under the new regulations, which enter into force on January 1, 2013, hook manufacturers must test their designs against stringent new criteria as outlined in Chapter III/1.5 of the SOLAS regulations. Any noncompliant hooks must be replaced on ships at their first drydocking after July 1, 2014 and no later than July 1, 2019 – a massive undertaking that could affect more than 60,000 lifeboats. “The new regulations are the result of years of hard work by countless people at all levels of industry and regulatory circles. They will definitely improve mariner safety, but we can’t be complacent and need to keep our eyes on the ball,” Watkins cautions.

The Safelaunch® Release System

SCI developed its fully IMO-compliant Safelaunch® hook way back in 2001. “It has been exciting to see the company grow from humble beginnings into an internationally capable organization, which is relied on by hundreds of clients, and to have had a focal part to play in that progression,” Watkins beams.

Like his colleagues, Watkins is expecting to see more advances in lifeboat safety. “For now, with the new regulations, I hope that crews will have more confidence in their lifeboats and release hooks,” he says with palpable concern. “I count myself very fortunate to have enjoyed a varied career in the maritime and offshore industries, and during that time great friendships have been forged. I appreciate having the opportunity to use my experience and position to really make a difference in the safety of all those who are exposed to the environment of the sea, which, of course, includes many of my friends.” – MarEx   

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.