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UK government maritime expertise further eroded as IMO representative ousted

The UK maritime sector has been waiting for policy guidance since last year, but the long delayed refresh of its Clean Maritime Plan is now unlikely to emerge until 2025

IMO stalwart Katy Ware removed as the UK’s permanent representative and maritime policy expert in international negotiations amid an exodus of maritime experience within the Department for Transport, and ministerial activity is on ice ahead of a general election

THE UK government has ousted one of its most experienced maritime experts and permanent representative to International Maritime Organization, Katy Ware.

The decision to remove Ware and subsume her role into Department for Transport operations, further erodes a rapidly dwindling pool of shipping expertise within the DfT, where maritime policy is now effectively on hold until after the general election later this year.

While the DfT has not formally announced the departure of Ware, colleagues within the Maritime Coastguard Agency where she acts as the director of UK maritime services, were informed of the move earlier this month.

Internal emails seen by Lloyd’s List, confirm that last week’s Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting will be Ware’s last involvement with the IMO and she will be leaving MCA by the end of the calendar year.

It is not yet clear who will be replacing Ware — a process that requires the UK government to formally announce changes to the IMO secretariat, which has not yet been informed of any changes.

The rationale for taking the UK’s IMO representation into the DfT is not clear, even to those working inside the department.

Ware’s 25 years of experience at the MCA and 13-year record as IMO “PRIMO”, as the role is known internally, has won her widespread international respect as one of the IMO’s most experienced influencers. Within the significantly slimmed down body of shipowners who remain engaged with the UK Shipping Register post-Brexit, Ware is considered to be a pivotal figure who has personally retained business and sustained credibility for the agency.

“After 10 years Katy and her team have brought UK representation to another place from where they found it, and you will all know the esteem in which Katy is held internationally,” said MCA chief executive Virginia McVea in an emailed announcement to Red Ensign Group members announcing Ware’s departure.

The PRIMO role will now be advertised, however it is expected to be subsumed into the international team within the DfT, overseen by the director general of aviation, maritime and security, Rannia Leontaridi.

Leontaridi already oversees representation within the IMO’s aviation equivalent body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

A DfT spokesperson told Lloyd’s List that the department “doesn’t comment on internal staff and structural changes”.

Ware declined to comment, directing enquiries to the DfT.

The decision to remove Ware from the role of PRIMO follows several high-profile maritime exits from the department in recent months that left maritime policy now largely overseen by officials whose expertise and experience lies in aviation.

Petra Wilkinson, the previous director of maritime left last month after 33 years at the DfT, largely in maritime.

Her deputy, Victoria Race, who oversaw maritime strategy and programmes within the DfT, followed shortly afterwards to head for a position within the rail team.

Gareth Long, an experienced senior policy adviser on maritime, also departed last month.

The moves all follow recent changes in the department structures grouping security and international policy across all transport modes.

The apparent exodus of maritime experience within the DfT’s civil service operations comes at a point where ministerial activity appears to have ground to a halt, as the government gears up for a general election later this year.

The current shipping minister, Lord Davies of Gower, has remained quiet on maritime policy matters since becoming the sixth shipping minister in the past three years in November 2023.

Speaking at the UK Chamber of Shipping’s annual dinner on February 5, Lord Davies pledged to publish the long-delayed refresh of the UK’s Clean Maritime Plan.

The same pledge was made by his predecessor Baroness Vere, who had initially planned to have the policy ready for London International Shipping Week in September 2023.

Senior UK shipping industry officials are now working under the assumption that the delays have now dragged on to the point that it is “highly unlikely” this government will publish a maritime policy in advance of the election.

“Even if it did come out now, it’s very likely going to be reviewed by the next government anyway. It could be LISW 2025 before we see this one come out now,” said one senior UK shipping industry official.

The delayed refresh of the Clean Maritime Plan is significant because it should have clarified UK government maritime policy which was last year described by a highly critical parliamentary Transport Select Committee as “muddled”.

The report stated that the UK government needed to distinguish between action and aspiration to cut through close to 200 recommendations underpinning its Maritime 2050 strategy.

The report also called for investment in new technology, cleaner fuels and workforce training — much of which is on hold while the industry awaits policy clarity from the government which has repeatedly delayed publication of its plans. 

“Industry is keen to get cracking, but the lack of direction from government right now make investment decisions a challenge,” said the UK shipping official.

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