Backstage team

The PLA's new Asset Management process will allow the tracking and cost-effective maintenance of its assets.

PLA Marine ServicesNew boat lift - greater capacity and flexibility at Marine Services Denton Wharf base

A successful, thriving Port of London relies on its backstage support – and that includes civil and marine engineering, radar and communication services, diving, salvage, mooring maintenance, hydrographic surveys, underwater inspections, wharf services, boat lifting, load-out services, storage, driftwood and rubbish clearance, maintenance of aids to navigation and pollution response.

The ships, barges, tugs, cranes and cargo are the highly visible part of the port. What goes on behind the scenes isn’t always noticed, and yet this is what underpins everything else, along the full 95-mile stretch of the tidal Thames.

Current investment ranges from the construction of the new Northfleet radar tower to upgrading power supplies at Barrier Garden Pier so that, when alongside, PLA workboats can hook up to shore power and thereby reduce emissions. Crew accommodation and facilities have been upgraded at Royal Terrace Pier, and a major refurbishment programme has been started at Richmond Lock and Pier.

The new boat lift at Denton Wharf has proved very efficient, allowing better use of the yard, and one of the sheds has been altered, with larger doors, so that boats can be brought under cover for repairs.

The survey vessel Yantlet will be converted for traffic duty when a replacement hydrographic survey vessel arrives in the Spring; and a replacement pilot launch for Gravesend

is likely to be ordered for delivery early in 2019. The PLA subsidiary Estuary Services has also placed an order for a new pilot boat, which should be in service by March 2018.

Ongoing work includes repairing damage caused by trees to river banks, and installing extra moorings for the Tideway project.


The PLA took on four apprentices in 2017 and their training is under way. “This is the first time for many years that we have four apprentices at the same time,” says the PLA’s director of marine operations, Peter Steen. “We have two marine apprentices and two engineering apprentices – one electrical, one mechanical. Our marine and engineering team is going from strength to strength.

“We are also working with Port Skills and Safety to develop new Trailblazer Apprenticeship standards for marine roles, including pilots and port marine operations officers.”

Asset management

During 2017, the survey vessel Maplin was lifted out of the water and its hull was washed. Why was that important? Because once it was back in the water, the vessel’s fuel consumption dropped back and its performance improved. And that was no surprise.

The PLA has been moving forward with implementing an Asset Management system as part of a wider ERP (enterprise resource planning) development – and the results are already beginning to show. The essence is that in order to achieve the best possible efficiency and cost effectiveness, first you need to know precisely what you have. Then you can start measuring and analysing how it performs.

The PLA’s engineering directorate embarked on establishing an Asset Management process in 2016 and by the end of 2017, an initial asset register was complete.

“This will enable us to track the whole life of our assets,” says Peter Steen. “We will start with the two biggest areas we look after – buildings and vessels – and will gradually expand the system out in 2018 to cover absolutely all the assets, including radar towers and radars, light-houses and beacons on the river, and the river bed itself.

“We will enter all of that information into the system; this will produce work orders and schedules and enable us to track and analyse how much money we spend on each bit of kit or, in the case of surveying and dredging, a particular part of the river bed.”

The engineering team has worked closely with the PLA’s finance team as the drive continues to move away from paper towards a fully digital system. All inspections and condition surveys will feed back into the system: “This will generate an overall condition score for every asset, which will guide us on where we should be spending our money or prove in fact any patterns of failure,” says Peter Steen.

Engine monitoring systems are being fitted to all of the PLA’s vessels; these report back on fuel and oil consumption, rev count, running hours etc., so that an engine’s performance can be measured.

“This is already in use – it enabled us to pick up a drop in performance of the Maplin,” says Peter Steen. “We responded by taking the vessel out of the water and cleaning the hull, then putting the vessel straight back into efficient use.”