Dear Members and Friends of the Society for Underwater Technology. While our Australian & Brazilian members bake in the summer heat it’s that time of year where we pale northerners scrape the ice off the car in the morning, but for most of the SUT family Christmas and other seasonal festivals are fast approaching and we look forward to time with family and friends.
Since I last wrote to you all I’ve covered a lot of miles visiting Branches, giving lectures, meeting members and learning ever-more about the richness and diversity of our Society. September finished with a brief visit to Houston where I attended the launch of the new Rice University Student Chapter, and also visited Texas A&M at College Station and the University of Houston. The quality of the students at these institutions impresses me hugely, and I was ably looked after by our SUT-US team – many of whom had suffered damage to their homes and property in the aftermath of Houston’s floods. John Allen once again acted as my guide around the universities, Dr Zenon Medina-Cetina showed the visionary leadership that is helping SUT rebound strongly in the USA, and Dr Fathi Ghorbel and his students at the new Rice Chapter will teach us all wonderful new things about robotics in coming years. I was impressed by Natalie Zielinski, who was working part-time for the branch but she’s since been snapped up by Sea-Bird Scientific in Seattle, starting on 2 January. SUT’s loss is a great gain for that excellent company and I’m sure we’ll continue to interact with Natalie well into the future.
As an aside, a childhood dream was accomplished in that the only available hire car (apart from a Hyundai for the same price…) at Houston airport following a late-night arrival was a 5.0 litre Ford Mustang GT – as my regular UK transport is a nice sensible, and economical Toyota Prius hybrid I thoroughly enjoyed the drive to College Station in such an iconic, if rather thirsty, machine.
October was a very busy month, starting with a very productive week at the Marine Alliance for Science & Technology Scotland (MASTS – see www.masts.ac.uk) annual science meeting in Glasgow’s Technology & Innovation Centre where SUT’s International Salvage and Decommissioning committee hosted a very well attended decommissioning and wreck removal workshop, bringing together experts from a broad range of stakeholders who learned a great deal from one another. Well done to Karen Seath, Moya Crawford, Donald Orr and their colleagues, and to David Paterson and the MASTS team. With such an active presence in Scotland, SUT has started to build a very strong relationship with MASTS, and we will be working together on a number of marine policy, technology and science areas in coming years. I’ve joined their international advisory board, and Tony Laing from Aberdeen is developing very good links with the MASTS staff. Whilst in Glasgow I also visited Strathclyde University, hosted by Professor Chengi Kuo, a long-standing friend of SUT. One of the points he raised that I take very seriously is why don’t we have ‘SUT -Scotland’ branding north of the border? I’m personally inclined to agree with him, and have opened the topic in discussion with our Aberdeen branch, who would need to give a re-naming their blessing. Prof Kuo isn’t the only person to raise this – Scottish Enterprise have also been asking me if SUT would consider renaming our Scottish operations in a way that broadens our appeal and potential membership.
The morning after I returned from Glasgow it was back on board a flight to Valletta, Malta, where I was one of the speakers at the annual meeting of the European Marine Science Educators Association. I spoke on how autonomous vehicles will one day enable us to explore the oceans beneath the ice of Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus – and thanks to links to NASA from our Houston members I had some beautiful images of the Titan Submarine 2047 concept – a vehicle to explore an ethane ocean. Inspirational stuff for the audience and for me alike. Our publications officer Emily Boddy had her abstract accepted for the Poster Session too so was able to attend and talk about the creation of our book for children, ‘Can a Lobster be an Archaeologist?’. The Malta visit greatly raised the profile of SUT with an international audience mostly from Europe but also the USA, Canada and Taiwan. The 2018 meeting will take place in October in Newcastle Upon Tyne UK, so plenty of scope to engage the educators with our Northern England branch.
After Malta it was a flight to Perth for my first visit to our very active Australian Branch. Chair Chris Saunders and branch manager Jennifer Maninin had put together a very good itinerary to help me get the know the local branch, and I was delighted to be met at the airport and introduced to the city by Ray Farrier. My wife Anne came along for the visit as it was our 30 wedding anniversary (not paid for by SUT I hasten to add!) and she was also made to feel very welcome by our Perth SUT family – and by the quokkas (a small version of the kangaroo) of Rottnest Island. I talked on the subject of combined surface and subsurface marine autonomous systems operations at the AUT Conference on 18 August, which also opened the doorway for ongoing discussions about future collaboration with the Royal Australian Navy. I was also able to renew acquaintance with Dr Nick D’Adamo of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Perth Office, and discuss how SUT in Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and China can contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14 on Oceans, and to the proposed international decade of ocean science.
On return to UK I had my first meeting with Dr Frank Lim who is the new chair of SUT China, based at the Petroleum University of Beijing, but with strong family ties to the UK where he has lived for many years. Under Frank’s leadership it should be possible for us to find ways to grow SUT in China and see a financial return to the Society.
Next up was attendance at the UK government’s Marine Science Coordination Committee ‘Marine Industry Liaison Group’ where SUT champions as best we can the needs of our members, usually in close cooperation with our friends in IMarEST. I used to sit on the ‘other side of the table’ when I worked for government, so good to be gamekeeper turned poacher, so to speak. One of the follow ups from this meeting has been increased interaction with the Marine Management Organisation (www.gov.uk/government/organisations/marine-management-organisation), & on 12 December I met with their Head of Strategic Marine Licensing to see how we can help alleviate the concerns of some of our members, such as diving contractors, by liaising with the MMO, offering industry placements for junior MMO marine planners, and contributing to a review of licensing in 2018. More on this in the New Year.
As we moved into November our good friends from Reed Exhibitions covered SUT’s expenses to fly me to Qingdao, China, to attend Oceanology International China and Chair two of the conference sessions, one on marine autonomous systems and another on survey & navigation. I was able to engage with the city’s political leadership too, and meet with SUT’s long term Qingdao collaborator Mr Yunxing Hao to discuss how SUT might be able to plant deeper roots into the Chinese marine sector in the future. Sadly, I was not able to take up Mr Hao’s offer to speak at another Qingdao meeting in December – too many other things to be done, and to make these international trips it really does help our coffers if a host is able to contribute to the costs, as Reed had done.
Our Aberdeen Branch ran a successful Subsea Awareness Course in the second week of November, which was very welcome news as we’ve fallen a long way short of our aspirations for running these courses. We’re putting together a two-day version of the course that should appeal to a wide range of non-traditional customers such as government agencies, legal and insurance companies. I attended the annual pub quiz of the London and Southern England branch on the 7 November, a very enjoyable evening. I was invited to give a keynote talk at the ‘COMPASS’ project launch hosted by the AgriFood & Biosciences Institute of Northern Ireland on the 14 November, in the context of how private sector suppliers of ocean data can be of huge value to public sector science programmes. Again, my hosts covered the travel costs. After Belfast I flew over to Newcastle to attend the North-East England branch’s AGM, where it was a pleasure to award Dr Jerry Baker a token of thanks for his unstinting service to SUT and the establishment of the NE England branch. The branch is in excellent health, and safe hands under the guidance of Michael Williams and his colleagues, with a rising student membership in a region where marine renewables are growing fast. After Newcastle the following week started in Southampton, where I called at my old workplace the National Oceanography Centre as part of SUT’s ‘BRIDGES’ deep ocean glider Horizon 2020 contract commitment, then down to Falmouth to discuss SUT engagement with the National Maritime Museum Cornwall on a new deep-ocean exploration exhibit – more news on that one as we firm up the plans.
November finished back in Scotland, with SUT attendance, display stand, and a speaking slot for me, at the Decom North Sea conference in Saint Andrews. During the week we launched our ‘strategic partnership’ announcement with Decom North Sea, an agreement to work together on matters of common interest. One local press article misinterpreted it as an announcement of some sort of merger, but fortunately we were able to correct that very quickly!
The last day of November was particularly fascinating, starting off with a visit to Pinewood Studies by our Diving and Manned Submersibles Committee hosted by Dave Shaw. We saw the amazing facilities that have been constructed over the last 30 years to deliver the world’s best underwater sound stage facilities. It’s a multi-million dollar business that has contributed to the glamour of James Bond, the magic of Harry Potter, and the thrills of Star Wars. Makes me proud that we have such expertise within our SUT membership. I had to leave early to get down to Exeter as we were holding our first meeting of the new South West chapter of the London & Southern England Branch at the Met Office. Brian Green and the Met Office’s Caroline Acton & Ed Steele had worked to deliver a first-rate evening, and I’m confident that the new group with thrive.
With all that travelling in November it wasn’t possible to accept an invitation to attend ADIPEC in Abu Dhabi in November as well, but I hope to be able to work with Adrian Phillips and others from SUT to grow our presence in the Middle East in coming years – absence there is a big gap in our global presence.
With the arrival of December a chance to catch up on paperwork, spend more time with my staff, and of course my first Annual General Meeting as CEO, which feels quite daunting but turned out to be an enjoyable evening in the pleasant surroundings of Trinity House. It was a pleasure to see new Fellow David Saul and Honorary Fellow Professor Ralph Rayner receive their certificates, and for Pinewood’s Dave Shaw to receive the Houlder Cup. Sonardyne’s founder John Partridge received the President’s Award from outgoing President Dr David Kirkley, and it was accepted on behalf of John by our incoming President, Ralph Rayner. I attempted to video-stream parts of the AGM onto social media such as Gary Momber’s excellent presentation on exploration of ship wrecks, but it didn’t quite work – will rehearse properly next time! Before the main AGM we held the London and Southern England Branch AGM, presenting retiring Chair Brian Jones with a framed and engraved print and welcoming (in his absence) Richard Binks to the helm. Two days later it was Aberdeen’s turn for an AGM and I was given a hearty welcome, and somehow didn’t get lynched after my after-dinner speech on ‘SUT a decade from now’. It was an honour to present Fellow Certificates to Paul Benstead, who has done so much for his Branch, and to Tony Laing who has done sterling work helping build SUT’s relationship with MASTS, Decom North Sea, NSRI and Scottish Enterprise (who have joined as corporate members, shortly after the Met Office did). My final Scottish visit of 2017 was also spent visiting Decom North Sea HQ and taking part in a meeting with my fellow CEOs of Subsea UK and IMCA to look at how we work in a joined-up manner where appropriate. I’ll be back for the Business Breakfast in Aberdeen on 25 January.
So, a busy few weeks, and I very much look forward to working with you all, and attracting new members, developing new ideas, finding ways to grow our income during 2018. I’m working with members based in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to launch our first Canada Branch, and will return to Houston in the first Quarter of 2018 to attend the launch of the SUT-US Underwater Robotics Committee. We’re also exploring with our African members if it might be possible to re-launch the Lagos branch, subject to satisfactory and transparent governance arrangements.
Lots to look forward to as we grow our Society, make new alliances, and drive forward better ocean science, education, technology, engineering and policy. Thank you all for your contribution, a special thanks to my hard-working HQ team of Cheryl, Emily, Emma, Jacqui and Jane, and once again, Merry Christmas!