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Tom Sawyer: Ideas and action from Milford Haven’s new port boss

Deputy Minister -Julie Morgan


HE started off his working career, at 18, as an assistant at the Buchan Ness Lighthouse in Boddam, Scotland. So, the Port of Milford Haven’s new Chief Executive’s first post was linked to the sea. But then, following his father’s footsteps, he then joined the RAF – so how did a man who spent 26 distinguished years serving on land and in the air become the boss of one of the UK’s busiest ports?

Tom Sawyer: Took control of the Port of Milford Haven at the end of April (Image Herald)

Tom Sawyer took control of the port at the end of April. He spent his many RAF years working on forces’ air-land integration. During our two-hour chat in his office, which has a huge window overlooking the waterway, he explained how his military service had taken him to such danger zones as Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, and Sierra Leone. We touched on how Russia had been doing this badly, leading to heavy losses in the Ukraine conflict. But we weren’t there to talk about the crisis in Ukraine, except to discuss if it would impact on port operations, so more on that later.

Mr Sawyer left the military in March 2011 and spent the next six and a half years working with QinetiQ. Whilst there in 2017, he led the initial business set up and strategy development of BQ Solutions, a Joint Venture in Qatar. Then, as the Business Development and Solutions Director, he was in the vanguard of the engagement into Qatar’s Ministry of Defence and its Armed Forces and played a central role in winning and delivering significant business that provided his clients with operational and commercial advantage.

This business experience, plus working for four and a half years in the firm he helped to create, combined with skills from his time in the military running air bases has stood him in good stead for his new role at the Port.

Mr Sawyer explained that an airport is a kind of port after all with “much of the same safety-critical and environmental considerations.”

Mr Sawyers’ promise when he joined the port just seven weeks ago was to: “build for the future and ensure the long-term relevance of the Port to the region and nation.”


Mr Sawyer is taking the reins at the Port of Milford Haven at a time of innovation and exciting plans for change.

And building for the future he certainly is already; I spoke to the Port’s new Chief just one day after he had been at The Houses of Parliament, as part of the Milford Haven Waterway Future Energy Cluster. The two local MPs, Simon Hart and Stephen Crabb were both there – as was the Business, Energy and Clean Growth Minister Greg Hands.

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Members of the Haven Waterway Future Energy Cluster – including Blue Gem Wind, Cambrian Offshore, DP Energy, Dragon LNG, ERM, Marine Energy Wales, RWE, Valero, Prosperity Energy, the Port of Milford Haven, South Wales Industrial Cluster, Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and Pembrokeshire County Council – are working collaboratively to promote the Milford Haven Waterway’s pivotal role in delivering the UK’s net zero ambitions, offering a whole energy cycle solution that will ‘unlock accelerated transition, whilst stimulating economic growth.

Mr Sawyer admits it’s a big plan, with Milford Haven having the potential to provide 20% of the UK Government’s low carbon hydrogen production target by 2030 as well as 10% of its floating offshore wind target.

“One of the things we have is a steady wind supply in Wales”

Heavy lift: The turbine under construction in Pembroke Dock (Image: Herald)

“We have tide and wind energy, and we need to adapt for these opportunities.”

We spoke about the £60 million Pembroke Dock Marine programme, which is designed to place Pembrokeshire at the heart of global zero carbon marine energy innovation while also helping tackle climate change.

The programme is expected to generate £73.5 million a year to the regional economy.

As well as having application across other blue economy industries, Pembroke Dock Marine will create the right conditions for the marine energy industry to flourish as the UK moves towards net zero decarbonisation targets.

Pembroke Dock Marine’s drive to maximise innovation and operational efficiencies will seek to drive down the cost of marine energy, while acting as a foundation programme that will support the growth of new initiatives in the region.


As shipping movements currently account for 75% of the Port’s revenue I asked if he thought there was a future for the continued operation of Valero oil refinery in the long term. The plant is over fifty years old now, and some staff there have said it is showing its age.

In a nod to the predicted continuation of oil refining operations in Milford Haven, Tom Sawyer said: “The long-term future of Valero is in being here.”

Explaining that he could not speak for the management of Valero, he did say: “The refinery makes money, is thriving, and is operating at full speed.”

Valero Oil Refinery, Milford Haven (Image: PA)

Pointing across to the window he said: “There is barely a day when there is an empty berth on the jetty over there.”

“There will be oil tankers coming in and out of this harbour for the next twenty or thirty years. Hydrogen and electric vehicles cannot replace fossil fuels overnight.”

“In addition, there are other products such as bitumen which cannot be replaced by a hydrogen alternative.”


I asked Mr Sawyer about how he saw his new role, and to define objectives. He said: “I see myself as the current custodian of this trust port. My aim is that when I do eventually hand over this office to the next chief executive, that I do so with the Port in a better state than when I took it on.”

“75% of what we do is move ships, and we must continue to do that in a safe, resilient, reliable way and provide the right services for our stakeholders.”

New boss: I am the current custodian of this trust port (Image MHPA)

In relation to stakeholders and the wider community, he added: “The Port does have social obligations”

“I look out of my window every day and see a multi-million-pound industry, but at the same time I am aware that around 30% of children in Pembrokeshire are living in poverty.”

“That’s something we need to look at and work collaboratively with our stakeholders and partners on”, he said.

The new Port boss promises that he is committed to the local community, stating the Port’s role as a Trust Port to “contribute to the future prosperity, quality of life and wellbeing of the people of Pembrokeshire”.

He explained the importance of the Port to the locality in economic terms, explaining that the Port supports 200 jobs directly – mostly employing local people – and that the energy sector around the Port provides, according to early recent economic analysis by Cardiff Business School – around 3,500 jobs in the communities immediately surrounding the Waterway.

Mr Sawyer added that he wanted to promote the Port’s Community Fund and the Green Energy Fund.

He said: “We have funding in place to support worthwhile causes in the local community. I feel that we need to promote our Community Fund more as last year it was not fully subscribed.”

There will be more information in The Herald in the coming weeks about these two funds.


The Milford Waterfront development is something that Mr Sawyer says would continue. He praised the business partnership with The Celtic Collection in running the new 100-bedroom hotel on the marina.

He said: “In regard to the development of the area further, I am keen that this is done in such a way that it should benefit the town centre and not distract from it.”

Miflord Haven Docks Masterplan (Image: MHPA)

Mr Sawyer said that access between Milford Haven’s Charles Street and the Waterfront could be improved to facilitate this.

He said that he wanted there to be “more to do” at Milford Waterfront, and he said he did not want there to be only “places to eat and drink” but a range of activities to make the area more of an attraction – an example cited was a new canoe and kayaking businesses which was due to open soon near the old Cosalt building.


We spoke about the November 2018 flood in Lower Priory and Havens Head.

There had been controversy at the time, with Stephen Crabb MP calling on the Port to take responsibility for the flooding. That never happened.

Mr Sawyer said: “There is a corporate recognition within the Port that communications between the various agencies and with residents were poor, and that things could have been handled better.

“There was no liability for the flood apportioned to the Port, but we should have been more forthcoming and supportive earlier on.

The Priory Inn, Lower Priory, Milford Haven on November 9 , 2018 (Pic: Herald)

“We do understand that we have a role in collective community responsibility.

Mr Sawyer added: “The Port of Milford Haven commissioned its own analysis, in which we found that no activity would have made any difference in preventing the flood, given the tidal nature of the docks.

“We have invested significantly on improvements – such as new covers for culverts – and these modifications will make it safer for our team to deliver a new ‘good housekeeping’ plan, ensuring that rubbish can be kept clear of the culverts.” The Port is also working collaboratively with PCC to look at longer term improvements.


Mr Sawyer explained that the Port, which handles 20% of the UK’s seaborne trade, had to conduct more checks now to ensure compliance with sanctions against Russia. He said: “We have a due diligence process and are conducting checks and balances on embargoed items.

“We have a new system of multiple checks on cargoes and produce a daily assurance list to ensure that all cargo meets the threshold (of being legal),”

He added that despite sanctions, which the Port would monitor carefully, it was unlikely that there would be a turndown in business.