We can all recount landmark days at work – most readily for reasons of personal success but sometimes because of a global event reshaping life as we know it while it’s being broadcast across news channels. For Mark Darley, LR’s North Asia President, being summoned to inspect a ship at the centre of an international news story was an event that had a marked influence on his career.
In October 2002, the 2000-built tanker Limburg carrying a cargo of crude oil from Iran and bound for Malaysia entered the Gulf of Aden to pick up another load of oil. While she was some distance offshore of Yemen, suicide bombers rammed a dinghy laden with explosives into the starboard side of the vessel and she caught fire. One crew member died in the blast and 12 were injured. The terrorist organisation Al Qaeda later claimed responsibility for the attack.
A few days later, the fired damaged vessel was towed to Drydocks World in Dubai and Darley was part of the team that would determine her fate. “Here I was, one of the first people onboard the vessel that I had been watching on the news, and we had to decide whether she should be saved or scrapped. For me, it was hugely impactful, especially when the master shared footage of the immediate aftermath of the attack,” he tells Horizons.
At the time, freight rates were between $180,000-$200,000 per day, so the shipowner was determined to fix her. The repair job involved “walking down ships with a pot of paint and deciding what could be kept or discarded. We had to keep to the construction blocks. Admittedly it was a bit of patchwork but once we had decided what had to be done – we could get the job done relatively quickly,” Darley explains. Renamed the Maritime Jewel, the tanker returned to service in August 2003.
The son of an engineer, Darley saw naval architecture as the perfect way to combine his love of sailing with a desire to go into mechanical engineering. “It seemed like the perfect fit. I wanted to study hard but do something I’d enjoy,” he says, and his introduction to LR came via an alumnus address at the University of Strathclyde and a number of internships and summer holiday jobs followed.
An LR man since graduation, the past two decades has seen Darley move from six countries across four different continents, enabling him to get a huge amount of experience, build strong relationships and understand the connections that underpin maritime. He readily admits that he never expected to have a job that would take him so far but believes his global exposure has given him the “ability to understand what our clients are thinking”.
“LR has changed and so has our industry. Our role as a maritime advisor has had to evolve – and we need to understand the position of the yards, the owners and the charterers, especially when they are looking to differentiate themselves from their competitors or take on new projects.”
The North Asia brief which Darley assumed 18 months ago is heavily centred on ship construction and when he left his position leading LR’s Americas marine and offshore division “everyone told me I had an easy job as we were coming off a low in new construction. Everyone was expecting the market would rebound. This has simply not materialised, and the market is yet to come back.”
Data published by Clarksons in mid- November shows that 708 contracts for new vessels have been ordered in 2019 to date, a year-on-year decline of 40% on an annualised basis, and Darley believes this is due to the industry’s focus on the entry into force of the global sulphur cap on January 1, 2020.
“When I talk to the owners, it is clear that their technical teams have been consumed with understanding the impact of IMO 2020. They simply haven’t had the time to evaluate the future fuel options or consider new investments as this involves looking at new specifications and engaging with the yards,” he tells Horizons.
But this has had a positive impact as it is driving the shipyards to accelerate their technology departments. “Business has been depressed but collaboration is really taking off and the yards are trying to differentiate themselves so that the are ready when the market takes off,” he explains.
There is no questioning Darley’s drive or his desire to move things forward. With a peloton bike in the garage as an additional outlet for his energy, the married father of two young daughters believes there are times when LR could be more custome centric as well as more vocal within the industry.
Knowledge and ability are abundant within LR, he says. We have spent the last four or so years making the internal changes necessary to gives us the opportunity to lead the external digital journey. The maritime world must accelerate its adoption of technology. There will be disruption, but this will make the industry better and it will allow us all to be part of the reshaped future.
“How LR delivers it services and what the industry expects of classification is going to change,” he stresses. “The industry can be slow or reluctant to change but if we don’t disrupt, someone else will disrupt us.”
Pointing to LR’s track record of firsts, he believes the organisation is well placed to lead the digitalisation drive. For Darley, who looks after the biggest piece of LR’s marine and offshore business in terms of revenue and people, leadership involves consistency and planning. Maritime relies on strong relationships and people need to know what to expect, he says, referring to customers, partners as well as colleagues.
“As someone who grew up in LR, understanding this legacy helps you as a leader because it enables you to relate to your colleagues and bring people on side. There is a common purpose within LR and it is a bit like a family – yes, we have our tiffs, but we always come together. Everything is driven by the need to help.”
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