Michael Kingston, 39, from Goleen in West Cork, a partner in the UK-based DWF law firm, paid an emotional tribute to his father, Tim, as he accepted one of the top awards in the prestigious Lloyd’s List Global Awards.
It was the first time he has mentioned the circumstances of his father’s death in connection with his pioneering legal work improving regulatory standards in the global shipping industry.
“After a disaster like Whiddy, you can either turn inwards and fall apart, or turn all the negative energy into something positive and drive forward,” said Michael. “I think my father would have been proud as pie with this award.
“It is often said that it takes a disaster to promote regulation and another one to implement improvements. We can learn from the lessons of history — we must always employ best practice in our industry and not wait for regulation to arrive when it is too late and we must help our governments and international regulators to get it right.”
Michael had celebrated his fourth birthday the day before tragedy struck on January 8, 1979, in Bantry Bay.
His father was among seven local men who died in the Whiddy disaster.
Michael, who studied history and politics in UCD, embarked on his legal studies in BPP law school in London after reading the tribunal report into the Whiddy disaster in UCD.
He has almost 13 years’ experience in the maritime legal world, and joined DWF two years ago.
He is a leading figure in the firm’s marine and energy sector, and comments regularly on cutting-edge marine issues, including international pollution, regulatory reviews, and renewable energy.
He was heavily involved in examining regulatory reviews, and health and safety issues, following the 2010 Macondo oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank, with the loss of 11 lives.
A sea-floor oil gusher spewed almost 5m barrels of oil into the sea over the next 87 days until it was capped.
It is considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.
He was involved in regulatory reviews after the Costa Concordia tragedy.
But his work since 2012 as legal advisor on the Draft Polar Code to govern global shipping operations in the Arctic and Antarctic played a key role in him landing the global award.
As part of his work on that mammoth project, he was invited last August by the US Navy and Nasa to work with them on a project which uses satellites to reduce risk and improve safer navigation in Polar waters.
The Lloyd’s List judging panel said Michael stood out as someone who had contributed important work to an increasingly important area of regulation for shipping. His work on risk, opportunity, and best practice in the polar regions has helped force these issues to the forefront of the industry and governmental agenda, they said.
“His activity around the international safety regulations in the Arctic has helped produce an ice regime being considered for the Polar Code that will define maritime activity in this environmentally sensitive region,” the judges said.
Michael also dedicated the award to the indigenous communities of the Arctic and to all seafarers who lost their lives in tragic circumstances, and their families.
“Particularly, I think of my father Tim Kingston and those who he died with in Bantry Bay in 1979 now almost 36 years ago, in an incident where ‘safety case’ and ‘best practice’ were non-existent,” he said.
“This award shows that we can all make a positive contribution, no matter what hills we have to climb, and that very importantly when there are great people around you with a positive approach, together we can indeed make a difference.”
Michael will travel to Russia next week to moderate negotiations between the captains of Russian and Baltic-based ocean-going tankers.