The Gibraltar Ship Registry has received yet another major endorsement of its standing as a quality flag for merchant ships.
Two years ago the register achieved the much-coveted White List status within the Paris MoU, the international governmental organisation that monitors the safety standards of ships calling in Europe and Canada.
This summer, as well as improving its ranking in the White List, the register was invited to join the US Coastguard’s QualShip 21 program, a scheme run in the US.
This is an important recognition because only 11 registers are listed in QualShip 21 and US maritime safety standards are among the strictest in the world.
Gibraltar, along with the UK, is just one of two members of the Red Ensign Group of British registers to qualify for membership of the US scheme.
The achievements will translate into new business for the Gibraltar flag because reputable shipowners whose vessels trade to the US and Europe prefer to register their vessels with countries that are well viewed by inspectors in the ports where they call.
The focus on attracting quality tonnage has been the top priority for successive maritime administrators in Gibraltar over the past decade, but has intensified even further under the stewardship of the latest incumbent in the post.
Alan Cubbin, who took over from Tony Nation last January, was formerly a senior official at the UK Maritime Coastguard Agency and has held a number of critical safety-related posts at international organisations including the Paris MoU and the European Maritime Safety Agency.
Mr Cubbin said maintaining high standards was a key factor in attracting good owners, who would then benefit from both their own and the administration’s efforts.
Membership of QualShip 21, for example, means any Gibraltar-flag vessels trading to US ports would have a reduced target factor when assessed by port state control inspectors who carry out random checks on ships in US ports.
A similar benefit is conferred by the Paris MoU. “It doesn’t mean you won’t get inspected, but it reduces the chances,” Mr Cubbin said.
The Gibraltar flag has grown dramatically over the past decade.
In 1997 there were just 27 ships on the register. By the middle of this year, that figure had risen to 273 vessels, representing nearly 1.7m gross tonnes in tonnage terms.
This is a young fleet, with the average age of Gibraltar-registered vessels currently at eight years, pushed down by a large number of newly-built vessels coming onto the books.
The number of seafarers certified by the Gibraltar Maritime Administration to sail on Gibraltar-flag ships has also risen sharply in recent years, mirroring the growth of the flag as a whole.
The administration, working alongside the vessel operator, is responsible for ensuring seafarers on Gibraltar-registered ships hold valid certificates appropriate to their rank and qualifications.
Last year alone, the administration endorsed 2,192 seafarers and issued provisional papers to a further 1,995, bringing the total for the preceding five years to 6,286 and 5,242 respectively.
To illustrate the growth, in 2002 the number of seafarers endorsed by the administration – including provisional certification – was less than 1000.
The Gibraltar Ship Registry has received yet another major endorsement of its standing as a quality flag for merchant ships.
Mario Hook, Gibraltar’s Public Services Ombudsman, is a man who clearly enjoys his job.
Together with a dedicated and close-knit staff, his role is to investigate complaints stemming from the administration of public bodies and entities providing public services.
These range from serious grievances about housing, to minor objections about the size of water bills. In this office, however, all matters are treated equally.
“Even if a problem is small in nature, it can be a major source of concern for the person involved,” Mr Hook said. “We look at all complaints in detail.”
In recent years, the bulk of the work has involved issues relating to housing.
There were extreme cases on occasion, including instances of homelessness. Other times, it was simply a case of a complainant wanting the housing allocation system to work faster.
Mr Hook praised the Housing Department for its work and said the service it provides had improved greatly over the years.
New housing legislation means that although the Ombudsman retains a role in this sphere, members of the public now have other means of recourse to have their grievances addressed. These include two tribunals set to hear housing appeals and cases involving anti-social behaviour.
Mr Hook feels proud that he and his staff have contributed to a process of continued improvement in the administration of public services, not just on housing issues but across many areas of public administration.
“The Ombudsman has definitely had a positive impact on the way public administration operates in Gibraltar,” he said.
His obvious passion for the job was clearly illustrated last January. After five years in the post Mr Hook requested, and was granted, a further three-year extension to his contract.
Helping others in the community provides a high level of job satisfaction for Mr Hook and his team, though sometimes the work can be frustrating and emotionally draining, and take its toll.
“There is no doubt that Gibraltar is a prosperous community with many services that are not available in other communities,” he said.
“But the Ombudsman’s office, by its nature, provides a complaints’ mechanism and that means that we see these extreme cases that the normal citizen does not see.”
“It isn’t that these cases are rife, because Gibraltar is a very caring community. It’s just that they come to us.”
Under Gibraltar law, the Ombudsman and his team have very wide powers of investigation. Mr Hook said experience had shown him that public bodies tend to cooperate fully with any investigation and welcome constructive criticism.
His decisions and recommendations are not legally enforceable, but Mr Hook said officials have always responded well to feedback from his office.
Ultimately, it’s about highlighting issues in a proactive, positive way based on the findings of an impartial and thorough investigation in which all sides of argument are heard.
“The secret is simply to conduct a thorough, objective investigation,” he said.
Mr Hook and his team keep in close contact with Ombudsmen in other countries, providing input and tracking developments that might be relevant to Gibraltar.
But he said the current framework here compares very favourably to that in place in other jurisdictions.
He highlights two issues that he feels may nevertheless warrant a closer look in the future.
One relates to that fact that, under the present legislation, the Ombudsman cannot initiate his own investigations and can only react to a complaint filed by a member of the public.
The ability to initiate an ‘Own Motion Investigation’ would on occasion bolster the work carried out by his office and is something that regulators may want to consider, he said.
Another area that he feels may merit closer attention is the possibility of creating the post of Financial Services Ombudsman, similar to the office that already exists in other jurisdictions including the UK.
Mr Hook finds that on occasion, complainants come to him seeking help with grievances involving insurance claims, banking anomalies and the like. His remit, however, means that he is unable to provide assistance in those cases.
Mr Hook believes that the importance of the finance centre to Gibraltar’s economy suggests there may be scope for a Financial Services Ombudsman who deals specifically with that sector.
“It’s a possibility, though it would need very careful thought and planning,” he said.
“Ultimately, it’s like a seal of guarantee that shows the industry is open to being scrutinised, and I think it would be welcomed.
The recycling bug has finally reached the Rock as environmental awareness continues to gain ground, both in the public and private domains.
After years lagging behind other European communities, the Gibraltar Government last spring announced the start of a recycling program that has received strong support from across all sectors of society.
And whereas the government initiative targets glass and cans, the private sector has stepped in to fill the gap with tailored recycling schemes geared to offices and businesses.
Within days of the distinctly-coloured recycling bins appearing throughout Gibraltar last May, households across the Rock began to separate their waste.
Helped by long-running campaigns in schools and by non-governmental organisations such as the Environmental Safety Group, the recycling program quickly took off.
The green bins are for glass bottles, drinking glasses, tumblers and jars, while the yellow bins for metal lids, bottle tops, drink cans, steel food tins, household aerosols and clean aluminium foil.
Regular trips to the bins have now become part of routine household chores for many families across the Rock.
As part of a wider contract with the Gibraltar Government, local company, Master Services, exports the glass and cans to a recycling plant in Spain.
The program encountered an initial glitch due to an administrative problem with the documentation of the vehicle carrying the waste, but this has now been ironed out.
Even before the start of the government-funded recycling scheme, one private company had established a similar business focused on corporate needs.
Clarke Recycling Services [CRS] works with companies in Gibraltar to recycle their waste in a hassle-free way.
Against a background of increased environmental awareness, a growing number of businesses and organisations are looking for ethical, cost-effective ways to dispose of their waste.
PartyGaming, one of Gibraltar’s main internet gaming companies, is one such business.
“PartyGaming is committed to participating in recycling programmes and also preventing the production of waste,” said Velda Parry, at the company’s health and safety team.
“We encourage staff to think about the environmental consequences before they print documents and, where possible, we recycle materials such as paper, computer equipment and printer consumables.”
Jacqueline Clarke, a former finance centre worker, saw that there was a gap in the market to help companies achieve such goals.
Having witnessed the potential demand at first hand, she took the plunge and set up CRS, establishing links with recycling plants in Spain.
The business model is relatively simple. CRS provides customers with eco-friendly white bins made from recycled cardboard. The bins are fuss-free and fit neatly into any office environment.
The contents of the bins are then regularly collected by CRS staff and taken into Spain for recycling. The frequency of collections – and the pricing of the product – depends on the needs of each individual business and on how much waste it generates.
CRS is licensed to handle many types of waste including ink cartridges, batteries, computer equipment, plastics and light bulbs.
But it mostly specialises in handling the inevitable by-product of any large office, even those that try to reduce the amount they generate: paper and cardboard.
Just over a year into the business and CRS is expanding fast, not least because many companies require recycling services to meet internal environmental sustainability targets, or as part of an established environmental credential scheme such as the ISO 14.000 environmental management standard.
At another basic level, recycling represents good PR that can even help companies gain a competitive edge over their rivals. CRS helps promote companies and organisations that have taken proactive steps toward establishing an environmentally friendly workplace.
“All our clients are concerned about the impact that irresponsible handling of their waste could have on the environment and the economy,” Miss Clarke said. “We want to help them reuse what they can and we will recycle the rest.”
Its clients range from gaming companies such as PartyGaming and 32 Red, to service providers as varied as insurance company Argus and shipping agents Maritima del Estrecho. Even the office of the governor has signed up, as has Bayside School.
Some businesses have also found that the service provided by CRS is popular not just with staff but with their own clients.
“College Clinic has wanted for some time to contribute to protecting our environment and now with the service provided by Clarke Recycling Services, we are able to do this through paper recycling,” said Doctor Joanna Shelley.
“As a clinic accessed by large numbers of people, the facility to dispose of batteries is also very popular with members of the public.
CRS says this is an affordable service, though the price will ultimately depend on the nature of the company requiring the service.
“These are tailor-made solutions so it very much depends on the business and how much waste a client produces,” Miss Clarke said.
“Some people will need collections several times a week, while others will only need a visit from us once a fortnight.”
A senior British Airways’ executive said the airline’s new daily service between Gibraltar and London Gatwick was performing well despite the impact of rising fuel costs and global economic turmoil.
The airline launched the service earlier this year following the takeover of former franchise partner GB Airways by low cost carrier easyJet.
The buyout means there are now three airlines – Monarch is the third – serving the Rock on routes to the UK. That translates into increased competition, but the signs are that there is sufficient demand to keep all three carriers interested.
BA has a policy of not disclosing specific occupancy levels for individual routes, but Jordi Porcel, the company’s Madrid-based director for Gibraltar, Spain and Portugal, emphasised that the Gibraltar-Gatwick service was “performing very, very well.”
“The only thing I can say is that occupancy levels on the route are extremely high, both in terms of the accumulated figure from the start of the operation and during the summer, when the planes have been practically full for every flight during July and August,” he told B2B.
“It’s also worth noting that there is a balance in passenger numbers in both directions on the service, which is important.”
The local market and business travellers provide BA with a year-round client base that peaks during the summer months with the influx of holiday makers heading from the UK to destinations on the Costa del Sol. Although BA serves Malaga with three daily flights to the UK, the airline has found that for passengers heading to destinations at the southern end of the Costa, Gibraltar continues to be the preferred point of entry and departure.
“The evolution of the Gibraltar service since its launch earlier this year would, on the face of it, suggest that there may be the need to expand capacity on the route in the near future,” he said.
“But we have to put this into the context of the current economic climate and the high price of fuel, and these are decisions that we are constantly reviewing.”
Mr Porcel said the current economic climate – in particular the high cost of fuel – would condition the airline’s strategy of developing its existing services or establishing routes across its entire global network, including, of course, the Rock.
Willie Walsh, BA’s Chief Executive, has warned the group is “in the worst trading environment the industry has ever faced.”
Faced with this economic uncertainty, BA recently took the decision to reduce capacity on a number of its existing routes, seeking fuel efficiency and putting on hold plans for several new services including links between London and Valencia, in Spain, and Porto, in Portugal.
“Right now, we are not considering any changes to the Gibraltar service,” Mr Porcel said.
“We are seeking a balance between the number and frequency of fights and the fact that each service is more expensive to operate now than it was before, so we are opting to be very cautious at a time when we are reducing our global capacity by around 6% for the forthcoming winter schedule.”
“We are not looking at Gibraltar in isolation, but at the entirety of our global network.” When it comes to pricing, there are two key factors that impact on how much the passenger ultimately has to pay for a flight.
On the one hand is the price of the basic service. On the other is the fuel surcharge added on to that price, the latter being subject to seasonal fluctuations depending on the price of oil.
The underlying reality of air travel in the present climate – and one reflected by Mr Walsh earlier this summer – is that flying is no longer going to be cheap. The rising cost of fuel is a factor that affects all airlines and which, ultimately, will be reflected in the price of any air ticket.
Mr Porcel said that BA’s strategy was to remain competitive when compared to rival carriers, both in terms of pricing and in terms of the value-added services it offers to customers.
“But logically, the higher operating costs will have to be reflected in the final price paid by the passenger,” he said.
The nature of a short-haul flight means that at a basic level, the service offered by all the carriers is essentially the same. Cabin layouts are similar, as is customer experience. How then does BA differentiate its product, particularly in a market that, following the buyout of GB Airways by easyJet, has become more competitive? Where once there were just two airlines serving the Gibraltar-London route, now there are three companies fighting for the lion’s share of the market.
At a basic level, there is one key difference. BA is the only company serving Gibraltar that offers passengers a full in-flight service, providing complimentary food and drink. It is also the only carrier offering a two-cabin service, with Club Europe passengers – mainly business people and wealthy travellers – enjoying a more sophisticated product that comes at a premium.
“But we’re not only talking about the hard, on-board product, though this remains important and we believe that our service goes further than what is offered by our competitors in Gibraltar,” Mr Porcel said. “We are talking about a much broader range of services that we offer.”
BA flights, Mr Porcel said, could be purchased both online and via traditional travel agents. The company’s web page offers customers numerous add-ons in a way that is completely transparent in terms of pricing and accessibility. Also crucial was the seamless access that BA offered to a global network operated both directly and in conjunction with its partners within the OneWorld alliance. Through a single point of contact, passengers could tap into a vast range of services to myriad destinations worldwide.
“In simple terms, your alliance partners can carry your passengers to those destinations which you aren’t flying to,” he said. “It’s a very important distinction.”
“All those services that we offer are included in the price paid by the passenger, whereas many of our competing companies charge separately for this, from things like boarding a plane to additional baggage.”
“We accept that on many occasions, we may not be the cheapest, but we are n nonetheless tremendously competitive when you consider what is included in the final price paid by the client.”
“The transparency of our pricing is also important, because the passenger knows at every moment what is included in the fare, and what his rights are.”
Mr Porcel said the company’s long-term plans for Gibraltar would largely depend on the evolution of oil prices in the coming years.
But he was excited about the change underway at Gibraltar Airport and the scope to develop new business on the back of this.
The planned expansion at Gibraltar airport following the Cordoba Agreement is “more than welcome,” Mr Porcel said. “It’s going to be a huge change at every level, and the only thing that will come about as a result of this, is an improvement in customer experience and the chance of attracting new operators, that is evident,” he said.
“As for Gibraltar itself, it will boost its influence in southern Iberia, not as a rival to other airports, but as a complement.”
Rather than assessing this from the point of view of two or more airports competing for the same passengers, airlines like BA consider the global picture and how a wider range of services to several regional destinations can help them offer a broader choice and greater flexibility to customers.
“That’s how we see it,” Mr Porcel added. “We are always looking at how airports complement each other, both in terms of pricing and services.”
He said that relations with the authorities in Gibraltar were very good and that there was an understanding on the Rock of the need to balance practical issues such as landing fees – recently reduced by the Gibraltar Government – against the wider economic context that the airlines were operating in, and the need to invest in infrastructure to improve what was on offer.
“That is a balance that authorities in Gibraltar now understand,” he added.