Harbour master of Portsmouth International Port set to retire after exhilarating journey as deputy takes over

Ben McInnes is taking over from Rupert Taylor, right, at Portsmouth International Port
Ben McInnes is taking over from Rupert Taylor, right, at Portsmouth International Port
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FROM dealing with life and death emergency situations to conflict resolutions between multi-national travel operators to helping with the commercial transformation of Portsmouth International Port, harbour master Rupert Taylor has enjoyed an exhilarating ride. 

Now, after 19 years in the role and nearly 30 years overseeing Portsmouth harbour, Rupert is set to call time on his career.

The Commodore Clipper berthing at the Portsmouth International Ferry Port following the fire on the car deck in the early hours in June 2010.'Picture:Steve Reid

The Commodore Clipper berthing at the Portsmouth International Ferry Port following the fire on the car deck in the early hours in June 2010.'Picture:Steve Reid

Ben McInnes will assume responsibility from next Tuesday (October 1) having honed his skills working as Rupert’s deputy for the last six years.

After joining as assistant harbour master in 1990 before being promoted to harbour master in 2000, Rupert says the port’s growth and increasing importance, both locally and nationally, has been one of the most satisfying aspects of his work. 

Today the port provides £190m to the local economy with 2,500 jobs - highlighting its significance despite having a relatively small management team of just 88 people. Nationally it brings in nearly £400m and provides just under 5,600 jobs overall.

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Retiring harbour master Rupert Taylor (right) who is being replaced by his deputy Ben McInnes

Retiring harbour master Rupert Taylor (right) who is being replaced by his deputy Ben McInnes

‘It’s been a very satisfying job and good to be part of the port for so many years. Our goal has always been for as many people to come to Portsmouth and I feel this is something we have been able to achieve by increasing these numbers,’ Rupert, 62, said.

‘The port has always punched above its weight and has moved forward which has allowed us to create jobs for those living locally. Today we have 2,500 jobs related to Portsmouth.’ 

The retiring harbour master says the role is all-consuming at times due to its multi-tasking nature where no two days are ever the same. 

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Responsibilities cover all statutory functions of managing the harbour, including port marine safety, environmental and conservation of the harbour, as well as health and safety ashore and afloat.

The job includes management of the pilotage service, ensuring commercial vessels entering the busy harbour have on-board assistance from the port’s team of pilots, who are all navigational experts possessing knowledge of the water’s depth, currents, and hazards. 

Rupert has also been instrumental in helping to develop the port’s cruise ambitions from scratch, building to the 50 calls expected this year.

‘It’s been exciting to be involved with so much change, and a delight to play a part in helping Portsmouth International Port go from strength to strength,’ he said.

‘We thought we should broaden our approach to the cruise market so in 2000 we started building up our presence in a very competitive market and now we have regular repeat customers.

‘Investment in new facilities over the years has made a big difference, and the future plans will help to ensure that the number of ships visiting the port can continue to increase.’

The growth of the port’s cruise industry presented increasing challenges for Rupert. ‘You are an arbitrator a lot of the time dealing with conflicting views so you have to remain independent,’ he said.

‘The rivalry between P&O and Brittany Ferries, for example, meant they were always competing for the same arrival times and trying to out-do each other.

‘We would have to step in and make common sense prevail. You would try to be fair to both parties. As time goes on they get to know your character which helps.’

From dealing with gigantic cruise ships, the diversity of the role is highlighted by having to manage boats at the other end of the spectrum. ‘We have rights to detain and sell tiny fishing boats if they don’t pay their fees. In the end they normally find the money,’ Rupert said. 

Rupert has also been in the deep end dealing with marine operations where things have gone badly wrong like when a fire broke out on board a Condor Ferries Commodore Clipper in June 2010. ‘There was a fire at the front of the boat which proved difficult to put out. It was a major incident and involved a multi-agency response,’ he said.

‘At the time you don’t know how things are going to turn out because we couldn’t get anyone on board to put out the fire. We also had concerns the boat could capsize.’

Sixty-two passengers had to wait in Portsmouth dock for nearly 12 hours while 50 firefighters put out several small fires and removed damaged trailers from the ferry.

Rupert added: ‘It can be a very full-on job and things happen just when you don’t want them to.’

The responsibility is soon to be transferred to Rupert’s successor Ben, born and bred in Portsmouth, who spent his childhood playing around on boats in Portsmouth Harbour.

Ben, 39, first went to sea from Portsmouth International Port as an assistant steward on the Pride of Bilbao, washing dishes and making bunks. 

He then set sail with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) on a 12-year career from cadet, to first officer, gaining master mariner certification in the process.

During his time in the RFA he took part in multiple operations, from counter narcotics and disaster relief operations in the Caribbean, through to conflict situations in Afghanistan and Libya. 

More recently, Ben has been working to achieve Class 1 Pilot status and learning the various elements of harbour management in order to pass the UKHMA harbour master certificate.

Ben is now relishing the opportunity to step into Rupert’s shoes. He said: ‘I felt very lucky to get the role of pilot and deputy harbour master at Portsmouth International Port. I am immensely proud to have been offered the harbour master position. I have a passion for the city, the harbour and of course the football club. 

‘I look forward to building on Rupert’s work, and helping to keep the harbour safe, clean, successful and prosperous, as we look to expand the business for the future.

‘It is the right time for me to step up and take on responsibility and put my mark on things after being deputy for six years.’

Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, which owns and operates Portsmouth International Port, said: ‘Helping to manage one of the busiest waterways in Europe for three decades is a huge responsibility. 

‘On behalf of Portsmouth, I'd like to thank Rupert for his service to the port and the city. Here's to a well-deserved and happy retirement.’

Port director Mike Sellers added: ‘During his time at Portsmouth, Rupert has gone above and beyond to help promote the port, helping to secure our existing cruise calls alongside carrying out his statutory role with the utmost professionalism at all times. We all wish him well in his retirement.

‘I’m looking forward to working with Ben in his new role, which I have every confidence he will excel at. He takes on the position at a very exciting time for us as construction will soon commence on extending our cruise berth.’