The European Tugowners Association gathered in Edinburgh for its 53rd Annual Meeting between the 11th and 13th May 2016. The event, hosted by Svitzer, attracted one of the largest turnouts of attendees ever with over 140 members and guests from 23 countries having converged from all across Europe to participate in an extensive programme that included an Executive Committee meeting, the Annual General Meeting of members, a Conference and various social activities.

Mario Mizzi ETA’s Chairman and CEO of Tug Malta, presided over the meetings of the Executive Committee and Annual General Meeting, both featuring a forward looking agenda that from a strategic perspective delved and deliberated on how best the Association is to position itself to better serve all its members in the long run as the industry is facing new challenges and opportunities. The members have again unequivocally voiced their dissent to the manner the Regulation on market access to port services is being drafted with towage receiving disproportionate and discriminatory treatment compared to other port services particularly where other technical nautical safety services are concerned.

At the Conference a distinguished panel of speakers addressed the thought provoking theme: The Changing Face of the European Towage Industry: Challenges or Opportunities.
Hugo Callens opened the conference reflecting on how far the industry came a long way over the years adapting to the dynamics of the time.

Patrick Verhoven General Secretary ECSA profiled the size and economic impact of shipping in Europe and took the audience through how EU shipping policy should promote competitiveness and pitch Europe on the global scene. Patrick accentuated the need for policies that would revitalize short sea shipping, promote maritime careers, safety and security and ultimately sustainability and innovation.

Olaf Merk from OECD spoke about how the towage industry is being impacted by the mega ship era particularly how very large container vessels are leading to fleet over-capacity pushing down freight rates and in turn prompting ship owners to adopt aggressive costs cutting measures. As a result to all this, Olaf explained how mergers and alliances amongst carriers are bringing about dramatic changes in the towage sector both structurally and from investment and tariffs view points.

Svitzer’s COO, Deniz Kirdar True tackled the market, technological and operational factors on towage and identified five areas where towage will be challenged in the future. Deniz argued that as owners and operators we should not allow competition to encroach and compromise on safety standards. Improving safety systems and structures should remain top of our priority list. She affirmed that in tomorrow’s paradigm tug owners that are versatile and responsive to adapt their fleet capabilities will ultimate be fit to survive the more stringent market demands. Cost efficiency is king and bringing these about is the only way forward to ensure a sustainable business as the competitive realities of our customers are brought to bear on towage industry. Deniz also cited increased importance of real time data and data trends as a form of intelligence to commercially and operationally revolutionize the supply value change in the towage sector. The need to embrace new developments to adapt to environmental (green) pressures and reduce emissions was the fifth driver for change singled out by Svitzer’s COO.

Britt Pickering, Claims Director – Shipowners’ Club addressed the issue of whether the towage contracts drawn up under the UK Standard Conditions are under threat. Britt made the case that these are still very much relevant. However as consumer legislation proliferates and spreads into commercial contracts, her advice to tugowners is to resist any amendments to the standard form like the UKSTC. On his part Simon Swallow, CEO Shipowners’ Club, provided an overview of the forces currently at play in the towage-insurance environment.
This year’s annual event proved to be another turning point for ETA. After 14 years at the helm of the Association the members have bid farewell to Hugo Callens who decided to retire. Personally and on behalf ETA’s members, Mario Mizzi paid tribute to Hugo by thanking him for his hard work and achievements throughout years. Meanwhile Anna Maria Darmanin was formally heralded and approved as the new Secretary General during the Annual General Meeting.

The programme of events spanning over three days was sponsored by Svitzer also acting as host and by the Associate Members: Damen Shipyard Group, Sanmar, Shipyard, Anglo Belgian Corporation, Uzmar Shipbuilding, Shipowners’ Club, Redwise Maritime Services, Voith, Schottel GmbH and TOS Transport & Offshore Services.