By Alex Binkley

Previous Presidents of the Canadian Ship-owners Association came from the shipping industry or government. Robert Lewis-Manning, the new President, brings both backgrounds to the job.

A 24-year-veteran of the Royal Canadian Navy, Mr. Lewis-Manning has captained warships and wrestled with policy issues behind a desk. In an interview, he calls it “knowing port and starboard.”

He brings to the post an understanding of how ships operate and how government policies are crafted at a time when Canadian shipping is undergoing sweeping changes through the addition of new vessels to the fleet, but also government environmental and economic policies that could impose unprecedented demands on the industry.

He joined CSA in 2010 as Vice-President of Operations, fresh from commanding the frigate HMCS Vancouver, and was thrown into complex negotiations over regulations on ballast treatment, air emissions and other environmental issues the marine community faces.

“There’s so much going on in our industry that it’s hard for us and government regulators to keep up with it all,” he says. “We need to get better at collaboration.

“Industry has to understand the pressure on government regulators and be ready to compensate for it,” he points out. In other words, present solutions to governments and be able to anticipate where policy development is headed.

A prime example of the tangled knots confronting the marine sector are ballast regulations. They are especially complex on the Great Lakes because they are intended to protect the fresh water resource that is crucial to cities and industries and the environment of Eastern North America.

While the industry has to focus on its footprint on the environment, it has to make sure government implements pollution control measures that are doable, he continues. “Right now, the direction that regulations are taking is ahead of the available technology to implement them.”

There’s a raging debate within the International Maritime Organization and other forums about the best ways to eliminate aquatic nuisance species from ballast tanks. “Canada has been at the forefront of the issue because of the sensitivity of the Great Lakes and our experience with invasive species,” he adds.

Canada and the United States also have to work co-operatively when it comes to regulations for the Great Lakes, he says. “We need a bi-national approach and governments need to have industry on side.”

Governments also have to understand that even with new freighters coming to the Lakes during the next few years, “the technology doesn’t exist to treat ballast tanks in an efficient fashion on large ships.”

There also needs to be greater recognition that the ballast tank inspection program run by Canada and the United States in Montreal for ships entering the Great Lakes has stopped the introduction of new species, he notes.

The Green Marine program has brought a healthy industry focus on environmental issues in dealings with government, while making shipping lines more aware of the potential of science and technology to improve their operations and bottom lines.

Environmental concerns aren’t the only matters needing attention. Shipping, like many other sectors, faces the challenge of finding skilled workers to renew the current aging workforce, he says. “Skill shortage is a challenge on par with the ballast issues.

“There’s no magic solution; we can’t just recruit more young people,” he notes. The transportation industry has built a safety culture and that knowledge will be at risk as employees retire. “We’re going to lose a lot of experience.”

Another challenge is raising awareness of the interdependence of the main players in the transportation sector, he explains. He has begun meeting key figures from the other modes to help understand their challenges, but also to talk about ways they can work co-operatively.

Ports, shipping lines, railways, airlines and truckers have to work together to ensure the supply chain for importers and exporters is working well, if the country is take advantage of new trade opportunities, he says. “We need to move outside of our traditional positions.”

Mr. Lewis-Manning, who called Victoria home until CSA came calling, has worked in Europe and Afghanistan in NATO operations. He led the implementation of the Marine Security Operations Centre in Vancouver. Navigating the turbulent policy process in Ottawa should prove a good test of his skills and experience.