The Work of the ICS


Date: Wednesday 25th March

Venue: The Baltic Exchange, 38 St Mary Axe, London. EC3

Speaker: Bruce Ogilvy, President of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers

Subject: The Work of the ICS

The number of people striving to gain qualifications by taking examinations run by the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers is at record levels, Mr Ogilvy told the meeting. This was a development described by our IMIF chairman Jim Davis as highly encouraging.

Mr Ogilvy said: “Demand for our courses is growing: in the last year by 10%, which is quite surprising bearing in mind the lousy market.” Hitherto, in recessions “the first thing to be cut with the squeeze on operating costs is education and training – a very naïve policy. Now, in this cycle it seems to be the opposite. Demand has been so great that last November we decided to have a second sitting of examinations. Normally exams are once a year in April, with results coming out in July or early August.

“We have a total of 16 subjects, and we decided in November to run eight subjects – and we were amazed at the take-up. Our education and training committee is currently considering whether we should have 16 subjects twice a year.

“In April 2014, the main examination period, we had 2,600 students who took more than 6,000 examination papers, in 115 examination centres around the world. In the UK we have 11 centres.” Elsewhere, the exam centres were in such varied locations as Caracas, Douala, and Mogadishu…  In Australia and New Zealand the Institute has five examination centres; South Africa has six centres and supervises one in Namibia and one in Zimbabwe. The principle was that “we will have a centre even if there is only one student. In places where there are small numbers, we normally use the consulates.”

In November, 900 students took 1,500 papers in 33 centres.  “It is a massive logistics issue to get all the papers out at the same time, but the system is running well.

“These papers are set in the UK and distributed throughout the world, and all the candidates sit them in three-hour sessions on the same day. After the sittings, all the papers come back to the UK office and are distributed to the examiners and assessors.”

With most people now doing their communicating almost solely by electronic means, examiners have noticed that hand-writing standards are deteriorating. The Institute will have to decide whether to allow the students to submit their papers via laptops, iPads or similar devices which will be provided specially for the occasion. “We will have to do it sooner rather than later,” said Mr Ogilvy of the likely change, noting in reply to a question later that there would have to be safeguards against plagiarism and cheating.

Mr Ogilvy said: “The continual rise in numbers of students leads me to believe there is a diverse spread of students from many countries, which suggests that professional qualifications are even more important today. The students themselves want to be prepared for when the market turns.”

Greece for the first time had in 2014 overtaken London in having the most students and most exam papers taken.  Given high levels of unemployment, in many cases it was the individuals or their “mums and dads” who were paying for the courses. At the Institute’s stand at the Posidonia maritime exhibition in Athens in June 2014, there was a steady stream of people asking about getting into the industry – none of them had jobs.

In reply to a question, Mr Ogilvy said that the Institute was taking into account the huge growth of shipping activity in the Middle East and other centres outside London – its 115 exam centres included Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Mumbai, and the Gulf.

He added: “I want to make the ICS qualifications mandatory for anyone working ashore.” To those who doubted the practicality of that, he would ask: “Would you seek the services of a doctor, lawyer, accountant, or naval architect who was not qualified?”

The Institute had 17 distance-learning courses. He was asked whether he thought the exams would still be in the English language 20 years from now. He said that under the terms of the Royal Charter granted to the Institute, English had to be used, but there had been requests for translations into Cantonese. Materials had been provided in Sinhalese, for Sri Lankan students.

He admitted that the pass rate at around 40% was not high, because the tests were hard. “They are considered by certain practitioners to be of degree level.” Most of those who failed came back to take the papers again.

The Institute was formed in 1911, granted a Royal Charter in 1926, and in 1984 a further charter to allow overseas members to join, and to examine them for qualifications. Today the Institute has 26 branches and nearly 4,000 members.

Mr Ogilvy had said that of movie titles, the shipping industry might qualify for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. “Ugly—doesn’t the shipping industry know how to do ugly?” he said, reeling off a list of casualties, including the Amoco Cadiz, Exxon Valdez, the Sea Empress, MSC Napoli, Rena and Costa Concordia. “In the last few years we have had piracy – what we have had to put up with and pay for! We also have a serious threat from terrorism, although we have had only one big incident when the laden VLCC Limburg was rammed in the Gulf of Aden in 2002. An American warship [the USS Cole in 2000 in the same area] was also attacked.”

Moving from ‘ugly’ to ‘bad,’ he cited the Erika oil spill off the French coast in 1999. Elements such as unclear ownership and damage to the environment would be seized on by “our accusers” – ranging from the US Coast Guard, legislators, the European Commission, port state control, to “our stakeholders.”  Shipping was recovering its reputation, but “it needs an awful lot of work from everybody in the industry.”

In terms of subjection to health and safety regulation, some people said “it had gone completely over the top.” The number of provisions “just seems to go on and on.” Another ‘bad’ thing was the freight rates which were still disastrous in all sectors.

The ICS president said that the shipping industry had changed a lot from its ugly days when there were so many accidents. The industry had to be aware of the media, and managements were taking media training courses to prepare them “for what you think will never happen.”

Mr Ogilvy spent 30 years with Shell, all but two ashore, after his early years at sea for Houlder Brothers, where he qualified as a ship master. Later he joined Stelmar Tankers as managing director of its UK company when the group was launched by Stelios Haji-Ioannu. Today he is a non-executive director of Paragon Shipping. Mr Ogilvy served as chairman of the London branch of the Institute from 1999 to 2001 and as international chairman from 2005 to 2007.

Jim Davis backed Mr Ogilvy’s emphasis on the importance of professionalism, adding that in shipbroking “you need more qualities than at one time used to be acknowledged.” Our chairman said that the Institute had done much to introduce into the minds of people the idea that they were not just fixers of ships, or as Mr Ogilvy scornfully quoted, followers of the outdated cynical broker FFF formula – “find them, fix them and forget them.”  Brokers had a duty to present shipping in the appropriate way to the wider world.

Mr Davis said that we lived more than ever in a blame society, and to cope with this, there was no room for the amateurish attitude that prevailed in the past in some jobs in shipping, when qualifications and training were lacking.

Expressing thanks to Mr Ogilvy, Mr Davis – a former president of the Institute – concluded with a stirring call: “Let’s get more professionalism in our great industry.”