Posted on Monday 28 May 2018 by John Mulgrew
With more than 40 years' experience under his belt in the industry, Brexit is the new challenge facing Roger Armson.
The South Yorkshire man is head of operations for P&O's Irish Sea links, and general manager of Larne Harbour.
P&O Ferries now employs around 4,000 workers, and operates two main Irish Sea routes, connection Larne to Cairnryan in Scotland, and Dublin to Liverpool.
He says, while he hasn't seen any direct impact on the business yet, that any intervention on traffic, customers and the border, could have a “detrimental” hit on the whole supply chain.
“I suppose, at the moment we are not seeing any direct impact. Our view is that post-Brexit traffic will still flow, and we will still be there to handle it,” he said.
“As to what will happen with the border, we obviously want trade and traffic across the Irish Sea to be as free and simple as it is today... that's what we are lobbying for.
“Our process is very simple. We are simply the bit that moves back and forth between the Irish Sea. Our ships are very simple, they have a door in one end and one at the other.
“Anybody who is intervening with the traffic, customers, immigration or whatever, will have a detrimental effect on the whole supply chain.
“Our customers are in a very competitive environment.”
On its Larne route alone, P&O carried 210,533 lorries and trailers on its ships during the last year – up 1.3% on 2016.
Asked what's helped lift overall business, he said one of the main advantages for Larne is the new A8 road to Belfast, which speeds up connection between the port and the city.
“The first word I would use is connected. The road, that is an important element of the success,” he said.
“It's made a big difference – 95% of our ships arrive (and depart) within 10 minutes of their scheduled time.
“The other thing is frequency. We operate the highest frequency of sailings across the Irish Sea.”
As for its passenger business, P&O carries around 400,000 tourists and families each year, with 150,000 vehicles.
“The Northern Ireland economy is generally picking up, bit-by-bit, from what we can see,” Roger said.
Speaking about expanding and growing the business, and port, further still, he said changes and expansion are “incremental”.
“We have made significant investments in Larne and Cairnryan. It's about making everything on a month-to-month basis, and working with our customers to achieve this.
“Making sure our operations on the ground are as slick as they can be. I've been in the shipping business for 41 years, and you have to look at it on a daily basis.”
“The other side is the non-ferry traffic. Last year, non-ferry business included wind farms, waste going to Scandinavia, generators and ships coming in to do layovers.
“Now that we are connected (with the road to Belfast) that has opened up the market to other sorts of cargo.
“You can't have a port that's not connected. We are now connected to the all-Ireland road and rail network.”
Roger's been working in the nautical world for 41 years, starting his career as a navigating cadet.
He then moved on to become a navigating officer, aged 20, and has continued working in the marine industry ever since.
In that time, his various roles have taken him across the globe, to West Africa and the Middle East, before coming to work in Northern Ireland in 2000.