Dr. Paul Read,
Managing Director Gelen Marine

A vessel can be a place of work, a home and a place of rest, all at the same time, and a ship must be built to balance all these aspects.

The automotive industry, for example, works with internal supervision systems and external certification systems, but lacks professionals such as the ones your company offers. Why is the presence of companies such as yours so important in the shipbuilding industry? Is it due to the large number of diverse companies that participate in the same project and the need to supervise them? To the technical complexity? Or is it due to the clash of interests between shipowners, shipyards, suppliers, banks, etc.?

The shipbuilding industry as most other industries, works with internal supervisory and quality assurance systems and external certification systems.  However, ships in general are tailor made, they are not built on spec to be sold at a later date to an unknown buyer who accepts them as-built. Each ship is commissioned by a ship owner for a specific trade or contract, requiring specific requirements and constraints to be included in the ship design (this happens regardless the type of ship). As such, each stage of the design and construction must be supervised to ensure the ship owner receives a ship that matches his requirements and is fit for the purpose intended. Furthermore, ship construction is a complex combination of systems, machinery, structure and outfitting that requires a staged steady acceptance by the ship owner of each aspect of the construction as it proceeds, such that the ship owner has no recourse to the shipyard on delivery for non-acceptance of the ship. The ship owner is therefore required by the shipyard to technically review, examine, inspect and accept every aspect of the design and construction in consort with the shipyard internal quality assurance systems. Unless the ship owner constructs ships on a continual basis, they do not have the personnel technically qualified to be able to make these inspections in-house and must revert to a company such as ours to carry them out.

Each stage of the design and construction must be supervised to ensure the ship owner receives a ship that matches his requirements

Another aspect that makes the shipbuilding industry different from other industries is the customized production versus the large chain production. Are the projects you work on so different from each other? What do they have in common? Do you always have to start from scratch?

The difference is the emphasis on the product buyer.  A car is the buyer’s personal property for their personal use. A ship is a workhorse, carrying a cargo of raw materials, containers, cars, animals or of people to make a profit for the ship owning company it belongs to.  Yachts are the only similar comparison, but unless they are small, they are always personalised for exterior styling and interior design by each owner and therefore again each one is significantly different.  Residential ships are a peculiar hybrid of yacht and cruise ship, where the residents part own the vessel in which they live and still have some perceived influence on its design, but where a ship owner has overall design control and still has a keen eye on profitability.

A ship’s complexity varies with ship type from cargo ships to research ships to residential and cruise ships and each has specific regulations, requirements, and constraints on their trades. Each project is unique and can be considered almost a prototype, unless they are part of a series of sister ships, but even here we generally find significant differences from ship to ship.

Whilst lessons can always be learned from previous designs and applied to subsequent designs, the need to adapt to each ship owner’s needs and the ever-changing regulatory environment, necessitates that each design in general starts from scratch.

In a recent interview, you talked about the different aspects related to the habitability on a large cruise ship; when reading it, one didn’t get the impression that a naval architect and engineer was speaking, it seemed more like an urban planner talking about the development of a city, someone in a City Council that must think about energy supplies, traffic regulations, the arrangement of bunkering places… How has the concept of habitability on board of a vessel changed in the last years? Is it no longer enough to navigate and reach a safe port? How important is energy efficiency and sustainability today? In addition to making their companies more cost efficient, is the sector aware of the worldwide environmental problem?

Up to a certain extent yes, each vessel could be considered a mini-city and whilst a person is onboard, a ship is their place of work, place of recreation and their home.  People live and work on board and we ensure that they are provided with all their living and working needs and services, in order for them to carry out a normal life onboard.

On every type of ship, even on a cargo ship we must generate the energy we will use, produce the water we will drink, allow to store, process and cook the food we will eat and deal with the waste we will produce.

Each project is unique and can be considered almost a prototype.

Overarching in providing all these needs and services is the need for sustainability and energy efficiency. Efficient energy generation and use has always been a primary consideration in ship design, as it relates directly to operational costs for a ship owner and as such to their profitability on any trade. Sustainability has been less important historically, but over the past decade has become increasingly more important as the shipbuilding industry attempts to limit its impact on the environment, with high goals to reduce their impact to near zero across the globe over the next few decades. An example to note is the idea of large sailing ships that have been resurrected from the past and are being reimagined for the modern era and current seagoing trades.

In relation to the above, how important will artificial intelligence be in the future onboard of a ship? What is the reality now?

AI is with us now, incorporated into many everyday systems from mobile phones to fridges. The future use of AI therefore in the complex systems that make up a ship is unquestionable. Systems are already being developed utilising AI for such systems as, navigation situational awareness, accommodation air-conditioning and passenger

In our industry, sustainability and artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly important.

management systems, amongst other things. Undoubtably the integration of AI across multiple ships systems will increase, particularly for hotel and passenger facing systems on residential and cruise ships, where the passenger experience can be enhanced, and the ship’s energy efficiency improved at the same time.

Without intending to give lessons to anyone, the international shipbuilding industry has become an example of a global industry. The vessel is built in one place, components are manufactured in another, the welders come from another country, the buyer is from much further away. What are the barriers for the shipbuilding industry today?

Shipyards particularly in Europe are moving their emphasis from the historical structure of managing the construction directly, to managing and supervising specialised subcontractors who use the shipyards facilities, which has been and remains a distinct difference and can be challenging for most yards.  In some yards we can now find ourselves supervising the shipyard supervisors, where shipyard personnel are generally a small percentage of the combined sub-contractor personnel

What is your most important professional characteristic? Why do you think you are valued in your sector, why do they hire you?

Our clients in the sector know that Gelen Marine and its professional dedicated team made up of highly competent supervisors, each specialising in a specific field but sharing multidisciplined skills can and have delivered the most complex and challenging projects within budget and in accordance with the contractual specification. The Gelen Marine team potentiate each other’s capacities, this results in cost savings for our clients and the assurance of the delivery of a completely functional and ready to operate vessel.