Grangemouth’s Captain Bob ensures ships’ safe passage

Chief harbour master Bob Baker
Chief harbour master Bob Baker

When you see a ship floating down the Forth or Tay, the name Captain Bob Baker may not spring to mind.

It should, however, because in his role as chief harbour master at Forth Ports in Grangemouth he is responsible for the safety of every single vessel, be it oil tanker or one-man canoe, which enters the two rivers.

It’s a big job as his jurisdiction covers 260 square miles of navigable water including the major ports of Grangemouth, Leith, Dundee and Rosyth.

It’s safe to say the 53-year-old has the sea in his blood and his experience and expertise was recently recognised when he was elected president of the UK Harbour Masters Association, a prestigious position he will hold for the next two years.

Ten years ago he moved north to Grangemouth and became Forth Port’s Chief Harbour Master, responsible for the company’s entire Scottish operation, overseeing personnel in the port’s navigation centre and ensuring things run smoothly and - above all - safely at the busy port.

He said: “The ship’s captain is always responsible for the vessel, but we are responsible for the navigation of the river. We compare it to air traffic control, only in slow motion.

“It’s all about planning ahead and scheduling for arrivals and departures and monitoring the vessels while they are in our rivers - making sure they do not meet where they shouldn’t meet.

“Our main function at the end of the day is to ensure the safety of ship movements.”

Personnel use radio and radar to contact and constantly monitor ships in their area - vessels with colourful names like ‘Sgt Pepper’ and ‘Island Enforcer’.

In the decade Bob has been in charge there have been no major incidents and no need to use the facility’s Marine Emergency Room, except for the annual safety exercise.

“You are sometimes dealing with massive ships which can weigh up to 320,000 tonnes. We’ve had a few bumps and scrapes, which we will always get with ships of this size, but nothing major.

“We have quality people working here who take pride in their safety record.”

Born in Malta to an Army family, Bob was on the move for most of his formative years with stops in Singapore and the south of England along the way.

At the age of 16, he joined the Merchant Navy and spent the next 15 years travelling around the world, eventually spending time in Africa, supervising aid cargos for two years.

After he was married and started a family he knew his wandering days had to come to an end and he settled at the Port of Tilbury in Essex with their marine group - which would eventually be taken over by Forth Ports - becoming Harbour Master there in 1990.

“I went to sea when I was a teenager with no great thought process about what I wanted to do in the future. When I got married and had a family I just used the experience I had built up to become a harbour master.

“All my working life has been linked to the marine industry.”