Williams Shipping is an old company that still operates and dates back to 1894 when its founder, George Williams, acquired an ex-Royal Navy pinnace and converted it into a sailing barge at Hythe, on Southampton Water in the UK. More than 100 years later, Williams Shipping still a marine base in Southampton Docks provides a wide range of services within the port.
It has also expanded its portfolio to incorporate a diverse range of logistic solutions that Philip Williams, marine director and fifth generation descendent of the founder, discusses in greater depth: “The marine side of the business is divided into port services and vessel chartering. We offer port services in Southampton and Milford Haven, whilst our vessel charter division offers clients barges, workboats such as tugs, multipurpose vessels (MPVs), road transportable crane vessels and other specialist vessels along with crew to operate them. The other divisions of our business include road transport, warehousing and the supply and hire of cabins and containers. In addition a growing part of the business is the supply of lubricants and chemicals to the marine industry.
At the core of Williams Shipping’s vessel fleet are 14 flat top barges with varying capacities from 400 deadweight tonnes (DWT) to 1750 DWT. The versatility of the vessel type is popular amongst a wide range of clients and in particular civil engineers where they are used not only for transportation but as floating storage solutions and crane platforms. In addition to this the company owns six MPVs and seven tugs, providing flexibility in handling client requests.
During the last year, four vessels have been added to this fleet, the most recent of which was the Wilcarry 504, a Russian-built flat top barge measuring 30 by 11 metres and identical to the Wilcarry 503 and Wilcarry 501 already in the fleet. Previous to that was the addition of the Wilcarry 1750, a larger 45 by 25 metre flat top barge with stability to be used with a 250 tonne crawler crane. The Wilsupply was added to the fleet in March 2011 and is a multicat-style MPV fitted with a 68 tonne hydraulic crane supplied by ACB Hydraulics and an anchor-handling winch manufactured and supplied by North Sea Winches. It has carried out cargo delivery and survey work on Southampton Water and is currently surveying on the Thames. The fourth vessel is Wiljive, a 15 by six metre road-transportable MPV built by Meercat Workboats that features a 23 tonne crane. Its niche capabilities make it ideal for work on inland waterways.
Williams Shipping’s other business is port services both in its home port of Southampton as well as in Milford Haven, and along the south coast of Wales. Philip illustrates the company’s work in this area by giving a brief overview of its operations in Southampton: “The port is extremely busy with a huge amount of shipping coming in and out of Southampton Water. In particular there is a large amount of cruise traffic. Next month, for example, there is one day when seven cruise ships will be visiting the Port on one day. The Associated British Ports (ABP) is continuing to develop and expand the capacity of its existing container terminal and the port generally this is good news for all of us in the Port community. We work very closely with Associated British Ports and have always had a very good relationship with them.
“Williams Shipping is happy with its market position at present. Increasing traffic at Southampton alongside steady business at Milford Haven keep us busy with our port services. On the vessel charter side the marine sector is pretty healthy at the moment. This is partly because of the development of offshore windfarms,” Philip says. “We do have a number of our smaller workboats assisiting with the tidal sections of some of the windfarm installations at the moment and have had larger vessels working on some of the preliminary survey work for new sites.
One specific wind farm project the company has been and is still working on is London Array, where its work on phase one ended last year and its involvement with phase two has just begun. Here Williams Shipping is working on the inshore tidal section, supporting construction and infrastructural activities.
Williams Shipping has a very definite idea of where it wants to be in the future, and this will involve developing the aspects of business it has already become known for. Philip concludes with his insight into the next five years of the company: “We want to develop our flat top barge chartering business. It is far more complex than it used to be and clients want a whole package of services to accompany the vessels such as assistance with stability and loading calculations as well as the provision of ancilliary equipment such as cranes, cabins or mooring systems. The other key area we will be looking at is improving the personnel in both our barge and port services departments. We will be working very hard to recruit young people, provide them with proper training programmes and bring them up to the standard where we need them to be. Todays work environment puts a huge emphasis on training and that is something we need to embrace, helping to develop our future workforce.”