INTERVIEW: My first year in Ardmore Shipping by Dr Kirsi Tikka

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It would be great if you could provide us with a brief background of your time in the maritime industry – what specifically drew you to join Ardmore Shipping?

I  have worked in shipping for more than 30 years. I recently retired from the American Bureau of Shipping after 18 years in various positions in Europe and the US. My most recent role at ABS was as Executive Vice President, Senior Maritime Advisor. Prior to joining ABS, I was Professor of Naval Architecture at Webb Institute in New York. I have also worked for Chevron Shipping in San Francisco and Wärtsilä Shipyards in Finland. I am a naval architect by training, with a Doctorate in Naval Architecture and Offshore Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley and a Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture from the University of Technology in Helsinki.

Throughout my career I have been involved in environmental aspects of shipping from the introduction of double hull tankers to the recent focus on decarbonization of the shipping industry. It is important to me that I am associated with companies that run a quality operations and represent sustainable environmental stewardship. Ardmore Shipping is such a company.

By September, you will have been part of the Ardmore Shipping Board of Directors for one year, what have been your key learnings and highlights?

The year has proved that Ardmore Shipping is the great company I thought it to be. Its one team culture is truly reflected in the company, with the Board, management, staff and ships’ crews sharing the same values and goals while at the same time staying open to being challenged. Personally, it has been a rewarding experience to look at the industry from the board perspective.

I was fortunate to join the Board pre-COVID-19 and participate in meetings in person, which allowed me to get to know the other Directors. I was also able to visit the office in Cork, get to know the staff, and learn more about the company in person, which was definitely a highlight. Another highlight was Ardmore’s declaration of its CO2 emissions and the positive reaction it generated.

What makes Ardmore Shipping different to other shipping companies?

Ardmore is one of the few truly independent tanker companies. It owns and operates a modern, high-quality and fuel-efficient fleet of product and chemical tankers. The company is recognized for its industry-leading corporate governance, prudent capital allocation, and quality commercial and technical operations.

Ardmore maintains good relationships with commercial and technical partners, and it is actively involved in discussing and promoting solutions to industry challenges.

How well placed do you think Ardmore is to take on the challenges facing the industry in the coming years?

Ardmore is well positioned for the future.

Ardmore’s core strategy is to continue to develop a modern, high-quality fleet of product and chemical tankers, build key long-term commercial relationships and maintain its cost advantage in assets, operations and overhead, while creating synergies and economies of scale as the company grows.

Operating during the pandemic has tested many companies’ ability to carry out operations remotely. Ardmore has demonstrated that its systems are robust and agile for adapting to changing circumstances. This is important, even after the pandemic eases, as the industry will need to comply with new environmental regulations and adapt to increasing digital technology.

When it comes to meeting shipping’s goals around sustainability, environmental responsibility and decarbonisation, what do you believe are the key steps to take?

Sustainability and environmental responsibility go hand in hand. The societal pressure and call for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is building and international shipping is not immune to this pressure. To remain sustainable, the industry will need to reduce its carbon footprint.

In the short-term, action is needed to maintain the reductions already achieved as a result of energy efficiency improvements and slow steaming, and to improve towards the IMO 2030 target.

At the same time, accelerated development of zero-carbon fuels and designs is needed. Global technology collaboration beyond shipping is needed to address this challenge. The development and infrastructure will require a large financial investment, and it is difficult to see the source of investment without assigning cost to carbon. This will be a difficult conversation that all stakeholders will need to have.

Regulations are needed to provide the foundation for a level playing field, and regulatory certainty is needed to encourage, not penalize, early adopters. Even with the urgency of the issues, it is critical the process results in reasoned, well thought-out regulations that promote the right behaviour and safety.

What changes do you believe the maritime industry needs to make to encourage more people to seek careers in maritime?

Unfortunately, the shipping industry is invisible to most of society. When shipping does make the news, the focus tends to be on negative events.  Past efforts to raise the industry’s profile have not been very successful. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of robust and financially sustainable shipping as a critical link in the supply chain. However, the ships’ crews have not been treated as essential workers who need visa and travel restriction exemptions. The lack of understanding of their contribution is symptomatic of the invisibility of shipping.

Decarbonisation of shipping offers an opportunity to improve the image of the industry and make the industry desirable to younger generations. In addition, we need more public outreach and media coverage highlighting success stories and diverse career opportunities provided by shipping.

At the same time, shipping needs to take advantage of 100% of the talent pool by attracting more women to the industry. The maritime industry has offered employment for men both in developing and developed countries for centuries and it is important to offer the same opportunities for women.

What are your aspirations for the future of the shipping industry?

I look forward to watching shipping become a sustainable and safe zero-carbon industry. I hope that this is driven by a global collaboration of diverse stakeholders, including the energy sector, cargo owners, ship owners, financial institutions, and governments, to develop zero carbon solutions financed by introducing a cost to carbon. I would like to see diversity increase to the benefit of the industry. Lastly, I hope public understanding and appreciation of the industry grows.

What changes do you think we will see in the industry a decade from now?

This will be a decade of transition and it is difficult to predict all of the changes that will take place, but we can be sure the industry will face many challenges to meet its carbon reduction targets by the end of the decade. Uncertainty about future regulations and available technology has clouded the industry’s future outlook for some time, and the global coronavirus outbreak has introduced a new level of uncertainty. It has accelerated the introduction of digital solutions. Both decarbonization and digitization of shipping will evolve during this decade.

Specifically, a decade from now, I believe that we will have new fuels, new propulsion technology, new designs, cost of carbon, and increased integration of data and technology.

Regardless of the changes, I am confident that Ardmore will still be a sustainable, best-in-class shipping company.