Ian Gooch has squeezed his fair share of crisis management into his 15 years as chief executive of the London P&I Club.

The former criminal lawyer took the top job in 2009 as the financial crisis shook global markets — and the meltdowns kept on coming.

The introduction of stricter oversight demanded by regulators was followed by the turmoil of Brexit and the opening of a subsidiary office in Cyprus to look after the European Union side of the business.

After a period of weak shipping and investment markets, along came Covid-19 and a spike in claims that made serious demands on the resources of one of the smaller protection and indemnity clubs.

The club made a supplementary call to its members in 2021 that put it on a stronger footing. Then came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the new demands on insurers’ compliance departments to monitor trades and ship movements.

Small wonder that Gooch feels it is time to hand over the reins. He will remain to help the transition to new leadership under James Bean, who will join towards the end of the year after leaving rival club NorthStandard.

James Bean will take over as CEO from Ian Gooch later this year. Photo: London P&I Club

“So it’s been a fairly rich story over the last 15 years,” Gooch told TradeWinds. “Sanctions has been an absolute change in the way in which we operate. Cyber is something we have to give much more attention to now.

“And there’s a whole range of things that have really moved on or come into the mainstream since 2009. And that’s on top of the day-to-day business of maintaining service support levels to members.”

Gooch departs after an improved set of results that he believes will support efforts to keep London as an independent club.

The club had the worst combined ratio of the International Group of P&I Clubs’ 12 members with 128% in 2022/2023. A figure above 100% indicates an underwriting loss.

Free reserves, a sign of underlying strength, fell from $164m to $114m last year. But results published on Monday showed an underwriting and investment profit, with free reserves back to $150m.

Broker Tysers, in the latest edition of its P&I market report, compared the clubs to cars. While market leader Gard was likened to a “fast and classy” McLaren, it suggested that the London might be running out of gas.

It is not a characterisation that Gooch accepts.

“We don’t think it’s borne out by what’s really going on in our underlying business,” he said.

Part of that was an acceptance from members of a pricing structure that needed to be “sensible and realistic”, which had not always been the case.

The club contracted in recent years as it ended relationships with shipowners that did not accept that structure.

But the NorthStandard merger — in which Bean was closely involved — led to speculation of further tie-ups among the International Group membership. Improving financial conditions and a recognition of the personal service to shipowners that smaller clubs can provide has dampened down the chatter.

“We did have a good look at it,” said Gooch. “I think in some ways, the NorthStandard initiative was helpful in driving us to take a good look at ourselves and our role in the market and gave us a bit more confidence.

“The shipowning community is a very big one. And within that community … there may be smaller or small to medium-size owners whose preference is for a really close relationship with their P&I provider, almost an extended part of their team.

“We’re not suggesting the London club would appeal to every constituency, but there’s a chunk of the market where we believe our product is highly appreciated and valued.”

The club was also hit by bad luck with a series of major claims, including the sinking of the 2,756-teu X Press Pearl (built 2021) in May 2021, resulting in thousands of tonnes of plastic pellets being spilt and washing up on 30 km (19 miles) of Sri Lankan coastlines.

Smoke rises from a fire on board the MV X-Press Pearl as it sinks while being towed into deep sea off Colombo Harbour in Sri Lanka in June 2021. Photo: Scanpix

Gooch now steps back after 15 years as a CEO and 21 years as a director of A Bilbrough & Co, which manages the club.

“Having somebody in situ for 15 years brings strength — there are many virtues to it. But it’s an industry that continues to evolve at pace,” he said.

“James [Bean] comes from a mutual background, he knows the mutual system … he comes in from the outside and inevitably brings some outside perspective, knowledge and ideas. So I think it’s a really exciting time for the club to have him coming in.”