Celebrating 30 years on the Manchester Ship Canal

On 6th March 2019 Carmet Tug Company Ltd celebrated 30 years as the sole towage providers on the Manchester Ship Canal. The Manchester Ship Canal is a 36-mile-long waterway in the North West of England linking Manchester to the Irish Sea and has seen Carmet Tugs and their exceptional crews work around the clock for all these years. Carmet’s moto, which has existed for as long as they have is ‘it’s not about the boats we offer, it’s about the crews that operate them’, and it all started with Ian Metcalfe 30 years ago…

I sat down with Brett Metcalfe, Ian’s son and Carmet’s Managing Director to talk about how this contract came about and why it is so successful to this day.

How did Carmet get the Manchester Ship Canal contract 30 years ago?
“The seed was sewn in the Harbour Master’s Conference that Dad (Ian Metcalfe) attended. The Harbour Master of the Manchester Ship Canal, Ken Stacey, approached Dad and asked if he would provide towage services on the canal. A conversation later took place at home with myself and Dad and we both said ‘no way, it’s not going to happen’. We didn’t feel that this contract was achievable. But a couple of months later Ken was back again… determined to get Carmet out on the ship canal. Ken asked if we’d responded to his offer and come up with a price yet. Following this Dad and I spent a lot of time juggling figures and a price was given, but we still weren’t sure. Ken then said that Carmet should take a percentage of the earnings from the tugs. So, we studied the accounts over recent years and it was at that moment that we decided Carmet tugs and their crews would be working on the Manchester Ship Canal. Little did we know this would still be the case 30 years later”.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?
“Yes, at the beginning of the contract… Starting the job without any ex MSCC personnel made it difficult. We had to shut down offshore operations to utilise the crew on the Manchester Ship Canal tugs. Gradually we integrated successful applicants from previous tug boat staff. We’ve also struggled with keeping aging vessels operating to a high standard, which is what Carmet’s reputation is built upon. This issue is still ongoing today but with the help of an amazing engineering super intendent we are able to continue our work on the ship canal to a level of quality we are proud of”.

Why do you think this contract has lasted so long?
“Carmet was approached at the beginning because we were known as a company who were non-union, meaning managers were approachable without the need for mediation, and this is still how we run now, which is rare. We had and still have a strong family ethos – ‘every employee joins the family’. Because of this we offer an exceptional service for every client that works with us. The tug boats are also kept in great condition and it’s important that we build strong relationships between the tug skippers and pilots that work alongside us”.

What makes you different to similar companies?
“The crew.”

What are Carmet’s future plans?
“We need to rejuvenate the tug boats. We’re currently in talks with Peel Ports about adding another 15 years life onto our tugs but this is going to cost a lot of money. We need to replace old equipment with new – pumps, compressors, electrical wiring, pipework, as well giving the engines and generators a major overhaul. There is also external work repair and replacements needed for the steel and fendering. We will continue to expand and build our reputation as the family company with exceptional crew.”

By Danielle O’Neill, Administration & Marketing Assistant, Carmet Tug Company ltd