Two Decades of Leadership

29 March 2023

When Captain Bob Fay joined IRI in 2003, he was fresh off active service at sea. For 22 years Bob had served on a variety of break-bulk, roll-on/roll-off, and container ships, carrying cargo around the world, commanding his own vessel before the age of 30. After numerous military sealift deployments, and a successful career at sea, Bob was ready for a change.

His leadership at sea quickly translated to leadership shoreside, as Bob was hired as Vice President, Seafarers’ Documentation in 2003 and promoted to Senior Vice President, Maritime Operations in 2004. Responsible for seafarer certifications, manning and training requirements, and qualifications for officers and seafarers, Bob joined the Registry during a period of significant growth and development, at a time when the industry was starting to rapidly digitalize.

“We needed someone with a keen understanding of the industry, the role of the seafarer, and the ability to develop, grow, and support an expanding department,” said Bill Gallagher, President of IRI. “Bob was a natural fit, he brought decades of experience at sea, a keen understanding of our business, and a vision for the future.”

“Seafarers’ documentation was different twenty years ago,” remembered Bob. “We had to do everything by hand and send documents via mail. There were nights I stayed in the office, signing certifications for hours until my hand cramped. Of course, that feels like a distant memory now.”

Under Bob’s leadership, the Seafarers’ Identification, Certification, and Documentation (SICD) Department digitized and globalized, mirroring the decentralized structure and operations of IRI’s other departments. From a team of six in 2003, to a team of more than 100 worldwide today, the SICD team has increased significantly, including increasing production by 900% in that time.

“With each office we opened, we spent a significant amount of time ensuring we had the right people, technology, and tools in place to serve our clients,” Bob recalled.

Seafarer documentation services are primarily based in key manning and crewing hubs, including Fort Lauderdale, Hong Kong, London, Manila, Mumbai, Piraeus, and Reston. Seafarers’ Documentation Managers in each of these key offices provide regional support, in local time, and in the local language, with an intimate knowledge of the local market.

“We wanted to bring the service to the seafarers,” Bob noted. “In the case of a sick or injured seafarer, forcing a vessel to wait for a decision on a dispensation for an office to open halfway around the world costs time, money, and stress. Our clients don’t have to wait, they can get answers quickly, and keep their vessels moving.”

As one of the largest fleets in the world, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Registry complies with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and provides additional guidance for thousands of seafarers serving aboard RMI flagged vessels worldwide. In his role, Bob serves as a member of the RMI delegation to IMO, and participates in the Subcommittee on Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping (HTW) meetings.

“A comprehensive review of STCW is done every decade or so to ensure that standards are keeping up with the skills required on board. New technologies can result in new requirements, and thus new training standards,” noted Bob, who is participating in the current review of STCW at IMO.

“We see a lot of new and exciting developments on the horizon for shipping,” said Bob. “We need to be forward thinking, we can’t just update the old requirements. We must consider what the future may look like, and the skills and knowledge seafarers will need to safely operate the vessels of tomorrow.”

Bob points to exciting areas of innovation and development, such as autonomous shipping, non-standard fuels, and offshore wind, that need to be considered from a seafarer training and professional development standpoint.

“We can never forget that it is the human element of shipping that keeps the industry moving,” concluded Bob. “It is our responsibility to work as a team to ensure seafarers are equipped for the future.”