Women in shipping - Katy Ware, director of maritime safety and standards, UK Maritime & Coastguard Agency

Katy Ware

Katy Ware. Credit: Maritime and Coastguard Agency

Katy Ware originally planned on starting her career in maritime by joining the UK Royal Navy as an engineer but changed course at the last minute. “I was all set to attend the Dartmouth Officers College, then Newcastle University, but I got cold feet. Putting women on ships was quite controversial at the time.”

Ware did go on to attend Newcastle University from 1992–95 to study marine technology, but sponsored by Lloyds Register (LR) instead. She later joined LR on a graduate training scheme, “probably the best training scheme in the world at the time”, and intended to become an active ship surveyor. However, this clashed with her employer’s plans for Ware. “Their intention was to put me behind a desk but I didn’t want that. I joined the MCA [Maritime & Coastguard Agency] who were more than happy to put me in a boiler suit and get on ships.”

Ware joined the MCA in 1999 as a flag state surveyor and port state control officer, based in its Southampton office. She said that, while the safety issues they saw were varied that “from a port state control perspective, the amount of ‘bad ships’ has reduced drastically”.

She has a lot of praise for the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, stating that some vessels she inspected in the early days of her career had “appalling living conditions and we found that crew had not been paid. We had very little teeth to deal with that, but now we are able to repatriate crew and ensure payment of wages owed to crew,” she said.

In 2006, Ware took a two-year secondment with the UK Department of Transport where she worked on environmental issues. The move, she said, was prompted by the fact that despite being surrounded by “an awful lot of talented technical minds who had been at sea” at the MCA, there was a lack of understanding about government policy.

After the secondment, Ware was promoted to principal for marine technology for the MCA and was the lead policy official for matters relating to life-saving appliances and fire safety.  Ware said that lifeboat safety and drills were, and continue to be, a concern for her. “Crew are not confident with these things and a lot of accidents are still happening when we are drilling these boats.” She added the solution lies in part to improving the quality of onboard drills to boost crew competence and confidence. 

In order to capitalise on Ware’s expertise, the UK Government appointed Ware as permanent representative of the UK to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2011. She still retains this status along with her current role as director for maritime safety and standards at the MCA, which she took on in April 2016. She said she “fell in love” with negotiations at the IMO, and likens it to getting a ship out of drydock.

In her role at MCA, Ware is responsible for UK survey and inspection operations as well as UK safety, environmental, and navigational regulatory regimes. She leads a work force of over 300 staff, including operational surveyors and port state control officers, technical policy officials, legal and economic advisors and administrative support staff.

Before taking on the job, Ware admitted she was contemplating a career change until she saw that standards and staff satisfaction had dramatically fallen in the directorate. “I asked myself how on earth we had got here. This was not the MCA I joined that gave me this amazing career and life, so I decided to throw my hat in the ring”.

For the past two years she has been working to overhaul the MCA survey and inspection regime, changing the working models of surveyors, modernising its IT infrastructure, bringing on new staff to meet port state control targets, and improve responsiveness to flag state requests and boost morale with a “hearts and minds” campaign.

Not one to rest on her laurels she is now turning her eye to how the MCA headquarters functions to review how it makes policies and decisions. “We need to be much more collaborative with industry, quicker and responsive,” she concluded.