Skip to main content
Solent Unviersity Southampton logo
Solent Unviersity Southampton logo

Matt O'Crowley

FdSc Nautical Science
Graduated 2013

Portrait image of Matt O'Crowley

Why did you choose Solent?

I came to Solent as a mature student in 2010, training as a deck officer cadet. Previously I’d been working in the small boat sector – I part-owned the world’s smallest commercially operated paddle steamer, PS Monarch – but that business was winding down in order for me to begin my studies. After running my own business for some years, I’d decided to take up an opportunity that I turned down when I was 16. The Warsash name, with its enviable tradition of excellence, made it the only choice for me.

What was your experience like as a cadet, and as a mature student?

Our cohort ranged from 16 to 40 in age, from a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds. Solent managed us and supported us to become a cohesive, friendly and challenging bunch. Looking back, it must have taken great skill and insight to get us to that point, and as a result my abiding memories are very much about the people and how we supported and challenged each other to succeed. And the staff really helped. Each member of the teaching staff brought personal experiences and nuances to the curriculum, which gave us a real head start on the competition and a fabulous overview of the industry that we were striding into. I’m still in touch with many of them, and can't thank them enough for giving me not only an excellent maritime education, but also the confidence to expand my knowledge of and impact within maritime as a whole.

What was it like studying at Solent?

There is no better place to learn about maritime than in a sea city such as Southampton. Seeing the shipping of the city gliding by every day reminds you why you are there. And Solent always provided everything you needed and more, in a comfortable and collegiate atmosphere. Mixing with other students, especially when you are doing something as interesting as a cadetship, brought me into marketing, business and other groups. Our conversations and debates are still in my mind as I take my company into international markets and medias. I learned so much from those on other courses – and often from the lecturers when I would bend their ears over a drink! Solent is a one-stop shop for everything you could need – any and every question was answered, and sometimes questions would be suggested that you didn’t even know to ask! I am a results-orientated person in business, and I appreciated the focus and motivation given to us by the University.

What’s your best memory from your time here?

I will never forget stepping out onto the fire range for the first time to pick up my breathing apparatus and walk into a burning metal box. What made it memorable was the fact that the local radio station started playing Eye of the Tiger as we stepped out of the changing room; cheesy but very cool!

There is no better place to learn about maritime than in a sea city such as Southampton. Seeing the shipping of the city gliding by every day reminds you why you are there.

What have you been up to since graduating?

Since completing my cadetship I’ve been involved in training and development around health and safety from the outset. Solent gave me further knowledge to explore the subject, and my studies have taken me from working onboard ship as a qualified officer to the Middle East and Africa as a safety superintendent, as well as working with offshore windfarms and important subsea survey work. My favourite story, which I bore everybody with, was a maritime accident investigation that I completed in West Africa. An $11 million overall loss – which involved blackouts, poor decision making, asset damage and many other things besides – was all caused by a set of faulty 12-volt batteries ordered by head office to save about $12 on each unit! It taught me how small decisions can amplify themselves into huge problems – and that is something that I can absolutely say that I learnt to respect from my time at Solent.

How have you found the maritime industry?

The industry is far bigger and more complicated than I could have imagined. There are some incredible people involved in it, from the coatings engineers and chemists, all the way to buyers who have to get goods into some of the most difficult parts of the world – it’s an incredible industry and one that could take a lifetime to fully learn. I have taken my maritime knowledge and applied it to manufacturing, working with a large global organisation as a divisional manager and on to consultancy and auditing work – which eventually led to the formation of my current company, Tanki.

Tell us a bit about your company, Tanki

My colleagues and I spend a fair bit of time in countries and places where loo roll cannot be flushed as the sewers are not up to the job. Once we found that one of the root causes was lamination glue, it was a quick jump to the marine environmental laws which prohibit the discharge of just one gram of plastic into the ocean. Considering that a single cruise ship can flush 150 tonnes over the course of a year, we decided that something must be done to close the gap in the market. Despite Covid, a diagnosis of HIV and poor economic conditions, I was able to pull all of my skills and knowledge together to create and manufacture the world’s first fully MARPOL compliant toilet paper within just 14 weeks. Unfortunately some shipping companies will buy the very cheapest loo roll – which nobody would choose to use at home – and force their seafarers into using it for half their lives on board ship. Designed not to block sewage treatment plants, Tanki is as kind to seafarers’ bottoms as it is the environment! It’s a genuine innovation for the maritime industry, and we are enjoying seeing it grow.

What’s your career highlight so far?

Winning the Maritime UK Innovation Award in 2020 – beating a nuclear power station of all things! All of this has resulted in lots of media attention from all around the world, the most exciting for me being a profile piece in Business Insider which is read by over 120 million people annually. Frankly, we are still shocked to have won – the competition was really tough, and we are very humbled that our loo roll could be held in such high esteem. Other people say that we have overcome a much-needed engineering challenge, but for us we have just had fun along the way while meeting and collaborating with some incredible people from the outset.