All posts by maritimeinsight

Turbulence ahead for shipping’s smart future

2017-02-28 10.57.40The view from 30,000 feet can provide an interesting perspective, even when the subject is the future of shipping.

I happened to be flying from Hamburg to London last week when storm Doris was doing her worst to disrupt travel and transport in the UK. Having already had my original homeward flight cancelled, I raced onboard and sat tight even though I knew what might be coming.

After an hour on the tarmac while Heathrow decided if they would let us take-off, we finally departed and I turned my attention to typing up some notes on – what else – digital disruption and the future of smart shipping.

As the flight drew on, the bumps and shocks grew worse, as did the queasiness of many passengers for whom being violently buffeted by high winds had not been part of their plans.

On final approach conditions worsened dramatically and much use was made of what we used to call sick bags but which are nowadays probably known as universal waste fluid solutions.

How apt, I thought, in an increasingly desperate attempt to take my mind off the buffeting. I am experiencing a physical manifestation of what is happening – and will continue to happen – to shipping.

The principle trouble with the future of shipping is that, to my mind the graphics department has got ahead of engineering’s ability to deliver. But there are more fundamental issues too.

Let’s begin at the sharp end of the challenges. A realistic re-valuation of shipping assets and re-ordering of business models will call for a very strong stomachs; it’s the reason why so little of either has happened.

The prospects for digitally disintermediated sectors – freight forwarding is under pressure but there are others – look fragile. We are told almost continually how much the industry needs to embrace its role in the wider supply chain but many will baulk at the changes this requires.

There was plenty to ponder but I wondered if in fact this wasn’t the storm but really just the tremors that precede the real action. My notes on disruption and shipping’s digital future are increasingly typically of the content I produce and some recent conversations make me think there may even be something of a backlash building against the futurologists.

I won’t speak for my clients but from a personal point of view, some of the ideas we hear proposed as part of shipping’s smart future will remain at the very outer edges of credibility.

I’m pretty tired of lazy reversions to arguments for autonomous ships that prefer snazzy graphics to actual use cases. Forget a milk run from the Elbe to the UK, when transiting the North Atlantic in winter, an owner as well as a shipper will want crew on board to keep an eye on the cargo and the ship. Problems that go unattended can very quickly have huge commercial and environmental consequences and crew costs are relatively minor compared to the potential costs of not being able to respond to problems.

Equally, when I hear speakers talk about the Uberisation and digital disruption I wonder whether those making the assertions really understand their context. We are hearing about this subject as if it is expected tomorrow and the over-excitable believe the industry can solve operational problems with better apps.

Yes, software will help make operations safer and play a powerful and transformative role in connecting demand with supply, but when it comes to fulfilment it’s still all about steel.

What is much harder is for companies to look at their internal structure, cost base and business model and decide whether it is sustainable. Just because the future is not going to be like the past doesn’t mean we have to throw everything away.

As for the return of wind power, well I don’t need to remind you what happened to the last company to try this one on. Navigating bad weather is difficult enough without having also to manage sails, so the usage window will likely be small.

Agree or disagree, the mistake is to buy the hype. Spending too much time thinking about wind power, autonomy or Uberisation risks wasting time that could be used on more pressing problems. There are plenty of technologies whose time – thanks to better bandwidth and cloud computing – has come but where to focus and refocus is as important as simply looking for the latest shiny and fashionable thing.

As my flight landed safely a round of applause broke out – only the second time I’ve witnessed such an outbreak of airline love – in three decades of business travel.

I won’t labour the fact that this was because a qualified and highly competent team of humans was in the cockpit making decisions and anticipating risk faster than a computer. You’re human, and I suspect had already worked out how the story would end.

Shippers flex their BICEPS over shipping’s GHG problem

This time last year, Great Circle published a blog pondering whether 2016 would be the start of shipping’s carbon age. Given that the industry had once again dodged the bullet of inclusion in the latest COP agreement there was, it seemed, an opportunity for the IMO to provide the kind of leadership that the industry wished to see.

Shipping was arguably fortunate to be left out of an agreement with so much good intent and so few teeth but the positive by-product was that COP21 shifted the conversation towards both seeking to limit climate change and countries making climate contributions, rather than taking responsibility for causing the problem.

This meant that IMO might have been able to take action on the basis of a shift in attitudes among developing and developed countries and create the conditions for some progress towards a market-based mechanism of the kind that some member states and NGOs were calling for.

As it turned out, the IMO was principally able to achieve progress on its existing programme of emissions data collection, with the hope that the European Union would take the opportunity to align its own data collection system, MRV with the IMO’s when the time was right.

This may yet happen but the signs do not look encouraging. Indeed the decision by MEPs to support the inclusion of shipping in the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is a demonstration of how few friends the industry has in the Commission and European Parliament.

The decision is a perverse one too, given the failure of the EU ETS to deliver much by way of quantifiable results in other sectors, but it does reflect the fact that for European lawmakers, the authority of the IMO is there to be challenged.

The IMO has said previously that inclusion of shipping’s CO2 emissions in the EU ETS significantly risks undermining its efforts on a global level. IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim said last month that such a move “could easily be the first step on a slippery slope towards fragmentation of the regulatory regime that controls global shipping”.

The industry too has urged the European Union to drop its inclusion in the proposals adopted in mid-February, saying it risks distorting trade and international efforts to cut the sector’s emissions.

But at present, the draft reforms adopted by the EU Parliament for action post-2020 could result in shipping being included despite protests from the International Chamber of Shipping among others.

Trying to include thousands of small shipping companies, including thousands of companies not based in the EU, into a system designed for major EU power-generating companies, steel and cement producers will only complicate the reform needed, the ICS argued.

Environmental campaigners, meanwhile, welcomed the Parliament’s stance and will doubtless be celebrating something of a coup by managing to ally with those with the power to make the change – the shipowners’ customers.

In two letters, an association of shippers and cargo owners called on the Parliament, Council and Commission to include shipping in the EU ETS under a special fund.

This backed the Parliament’s own environment committee proposal to regulate the sector via a Maritime Climate Fund from 2023 “if IMO does not deliver a global measure to address shipping GHG emissions”.

The Clean Shipping Index, which represents 29 major global shippers, said that action by the industry alone would be insufficient and that first mover action at state or regional level has in the past helped trigger action at a wider international level.

In its letter, a shipper coalition wittily known as BICEPS and including AB InBev, AkzoNobel, DSM, Farm Frites, FrieslandCampina, Huntsman, IOI Loders Croklaan, Lamb Weston/Meijer, and Vion Food Group, said it was time to “boost actions at international level to reduce ship CO2” and issued a similar call for action if the IMO “does not deliver a global measure to address shipping GHG emissions”.

So far, so much doom and gloom and the industry is right to be worried. In other industries, when your customers tell you there is a problem, it’s often too late to act or manage the fall-out. BICEPS and the CSI are not the cargo sector in toto but they do represent some big and potentially embarrassing voices.

Perhaps though, we shouldn’t panic just yet about the ability of IMO to regulate international shipping. As noted above, at the last MEPC meeting, the committee succeeded in adopting mandatory requirements to collect the data that will enable the organisation to understand how to design a workable MBM.

It also approved a roadmap for reducing GHG emissions which foresees an initial reduction strategy to be adopted as early as next year. The roadmap contains a list of actions, including further GHG studies and intersessional work that aligns with the MEPC’s three-step approach to ship energy efficiency improvements.

This the IMO believes, creates a way forward to the adoption of a revised strategy to include further short, medium and long-term measures in 2023. The choice of dates by the NGOs and shippers thus becomes clearer – the potential mismatch is if the IMO delivers the strategy but not the reduction mechanism.

So it seems from only the very briefest of readings that the EU Parliament is being urged to do something that is scheduled to happen already. Or rather, that those who wish to see action are making sure they know where the big stick is in case they need to use it.

The experience of ECAs and MRV means the IMO will know that the EU is not bluffing. Trouble is, the EU is far from being the majority of shipping supply or demand. Trouble too that we appear to live in at a time when agreements and treaties are subject to change at the whim of the incoming politicians.

As a bureaucracy, the EU Commission is much less subject to those forces but, in a year of major European elections, its Parliament and MEPs will be forced to weigh and take notice of popular opinion like never before. For the IMO, other unelected, some would say unaccountable diplomats must also recognise that they are low on bullets – however big the target.

When good prices go bad

clownHow little is too little to pay for freight? It’s a question that has been exercising the minds of operators in the Multi-Purpose (MPP) vessel market as the financial health and stability of one player after another has been called into question.

In such market conditions the risk of schadenfreude or attempts to gain further market share must be resisted. This is a structural crisis that threatens to impact all players in the Ro-Ro and Break-Bulk sectors to some extent.

When it is your customers which have reportedly threatened to blacklist shipping companies offering freight at unrealistically low levels, alarm bells should be sounding. When OEMS perceive a risk to their cargo from the carrier entering bankruptcy mid-voyage, the signal that is being sent is clear: we are already at the point where freight is too cheap.

A period of cut-throat competition has left the MPP market close to implosion and we are likely to see a clearing out of operators that cannot continue to burn cash trading their assets at below break-even levels.

Typically of course the removal of an operator, whether through closure or merger does not result in removal of capacity. This suggests another, more fundamental question that needs to be addressed: will there be a point in the coming year when rates stop declining, start to stabilise and even begin to increase?

From the actions of shippers it seems clear that – despite satirical suggestions to the contrary – they do not want their freight for free. All-in delivery might be a good incentive at the point of consumption but the role of the logistics provider is not something that the shipper expects should be delivered at zero cost.

The challenge for the carriers seeking a better rate has been to deliver competitive differentiation in markets where there is a high degree of commoditisation. This is true for the automotive industry and parts of high and heavy cargo groups. It is less true in break-bulk but this has not been enough to prevent gouging of rates to unsustainably low levels.

So which tools can be used? Consolidation looks likely to continue in the container market – though this will reach natural limits defined by capacity and by regulatory constraints. The Lo-Lo sector is the more fragmented and therefore open to some consolidation, an opportunity that exists to a far lesser extent in the Ro-Ro sector.

This suggests that it will be harder for operators in the specialist sectors to achieve lasting rate increases. Scrapping is already having an effect on capacity so perhaps the long term solution does not lie in a ‘self-correcting’ market model where supply and demand will re-balance over time.

Where these specialist shipping sectors go in the longer term is a function of deeper changes that lie inside the companies themselves and in their relation to the customers they serve.

To survive the current crisis and to adapt themselves for the future, operators in these shipping sectors need to understand the paradigm shift they will need to make; embracing a model that makes them part of an industrial value chain that connects producer to end user.

There are already sectors where the shipping element is a ‘floating pipeline’ and closely integrated to the industrial process, rather than a zero sum game of ‘lowest bid wins’. If they are to come through this current crisis, shipping companies will have to make the determination for themselves whether such a transformation can be made; where they can reduce their costs, adapt their business model make a margin based on added value.

This may sound no less painful than the process of restructuring and protection that many are making or facing at present, but it does at least offer hope for the future, albeit one that shares few of the characteristics of the past.

Training

New skills, old problems: the crewing crisis in a competency context

The shipping industry has a worsening crewing crisis. But like other crises, it’s one that is bad, but not severe enough to stop ships trading or interrupt world trade.

The degree of the problem is well known. The BIMCO/ISF study estimates the current shortfall to be 16,500 officers, projected to grow to 92,000 by 2020 and to 147,000 by 2025. Other research estimates that the shortfall could be another 42,000 by 2020 and an additional 90,000 by 2025, depending on growth in the global economy.

The second, related factor in this assessment is that the competence standards of existing crew are acknowledged by the P&I community and others to be lower than before, despite a fall in the number of major claims.

When training software provider Seagull undertook competence evaluation testing of 242 companies against STCW standard tests, it concluded that the average competence of those who replied was about 60%. STCW has no pass mark but Seagull thinks that 75% should be the expected score.

At the recent IHS Markit Risk Forum, North of England P&I Club Deputy Director, Loss Prevention, Colin Gillespie argued that the 60% level was not the problem, but rather, what happens at the bottom end of the curve. Without the problem of a supply shortage, crew scoring 30-40% wouldn’t be employed but right now, owners have to be satisfied with crew that simply have a ticket.

Of course STCW like other IMO regulations is designed to deliver a minimum acceptable standard of competence and in that sense, he said, the countries that provide most crew are all around the 60% competence level. Any move to demand a higher standard would potentially worsen the shortage of supply.

“Where would your red line be?” he asked. “Below what level would you not employ – it’s up to the company. But if one seafarer in 12 scores less than 40% in these tests, we have to ask, should they even be in the industry? The trouble is they have a ticket and we need them.”

While P&I is primarily concerned with safety, he pointed out that there was a market effect at play too. The crew shortage is adding to owners’ cost pressures because seafarers can argue for better pay – but the bigger issue is the effect on standards.

To read the full post click here.

How hard will OPEC’s production cuts hit tanker markets in 2017?

LogoAfter a year of political and policy upheaval, both oil and tanker markets are undergoing a process of rebalancing, writes Tim Smith, Senior Analyst, Maritime Strategies International

 

The fourth quarter of 2016 capped what has been a mixed 12 months for the tanker markets. The agreement by OPEC members and non-OPEC alike to reduce production in an attempt to reduce oversupply will be a core determinant of conditions in 2017. The latest MSI Quarterly Tanker Market analysis* finds that despite the cuts having a negative near-term impact, there are reasons to be positive on prospects for the longer-term.

Despite some seasonal upside in the final period of the year, 2016 has undoubtedly been a year of negative dynamics across the tanker industry. This has been the case both in terms of the annual change in freight rates, which has been universally negative against 2015, and asset prices, on which the twin gravitational forces of lower newbuild prices and lower earnings have acted forcefully.

Compared to other shipping sectors, the last couple of years in the tanker market have seen a distinct lack of trend. Markets have move up rapidly and then retreated at almost the same speed. Volatility and uncertainty over the shifting landscape of the oil market have been reflected and amplified in the tanker freight market.

Oil markets are now returning to more ‘normal’ conditions, with OPEC having put in place restrictive output policies, which should act to support crude prices and accelerate stock draws already evident in Q4.

Oversupply of productive capacity in the oil market has been mirrored by excess tonnage capacity in the tanker market. Both are now rebalancing and although fleet growth is expected to remain high in 2017, low earnings and the ratification of ballast water treatment regulations support MSI’s expectations that tanker scrapping will move sharply higher in 2017.

This will help construct a market recovery in 2018 and beyond, built on much lower fleet growth rates than being seen currently, both in the large crude and product tanker sectors.

Relative restraint in Middle East crude production during 2017 has been and remains an implicit element of the MSI Base Case. OPEC’s decision to cut output remains fraught with uncertainty on how the group will manage to maintain discipline and encourage non-OPEC participants to join in. Moreover, the cut is not especially big.

Chart 1 below shows that periods of actual decline in OPEC crude production in the last 15 years have always been accompanied by a decline in crude tanker freight rates.

Looking at the last three major reductions in OPEC production which began in 2000, 2008 and 2012 from peak to trough, the outcome is more important than the intent, as will be the case for the latest efforts to support prices.

In these three instances the relative declines over the highlighted periods were 20%, 13% and 7% from monthly average peak to trough. The agreement OPEC has reached is to cut output by 1.2 Mn b/d from October levels which according to IEA data was 33.6 Mn b/d.

CHart 1

 

 

 

 

 

*Includes VLCC, Suezmax, Aframax spot benchmarks

Chart 1: OPEC Crude Production and the Crude Tanker Market.

This provides a framework to look at OPEC’s production cut in context. Included in Chart 1 are the annual average OPEC production levels over the last three years (2016 is January- October) with the implied target level of 32.5 Mn b/d. The drop between 2016’s annual average and 2017’s, assuming this is maintained across the year – and the initial proposal is for the first six months – is just 1.4%.

Should this succeed the profile will be more dynamic – taking a similar peak-to trough approach MSI estimates a drop of 3%, perhaps stretching to 5%. This will be joined by non-OPEC producers, led by Russia, aiming to reduce combined production by 600,000 b/d.

It is difficult to put a positive slant on these actions, reinforcing our expectations for weaker tanker earnings levels in 2017 versus 2016. Even so, MSI cautions on becoming too bearish, given the relatively light cut by OPEC, prospects for crude coming out of the US and potential improvement in the refining sector, should the oil glut be alleviated.

/…more

 

This latter process has been protracted and downside risks of high fleet growth, a relapse in Chinese demand and broader macroeconomic malaise resulting from e.g. intensified protectionist measures are still present, and could still push 2017 substantially lower than the MSI Base Case.

The tanker market, like the oil market, is in a clearing phase, removing over-supply and rebalancing. That process could take another year or so before returning to a position where sustained gains can be made, but we remain positive on the long-term outlook.

The MSI analysis concludes that one-year time charter rates are close to a floor in terms of Q4 levels, with much of the downward dynamic having already occurred in 2016. 2017 will be low but will see more restrained downward movements.

Over the course of this year MSI has steadily downgraded forecast newbuilding prices, while keeping the same general evolution of the forward curve. In Q4 revisions to the near-term have been relatively limited, as we approach a price floor below which we believe few shipyards are willing/able to venture with forward cover (estimated time to complete current orderbook) at Asian yards of 1.6 years.

On the cost side of the shipbuilding equation, other trends have generally acted to undermine newbuilding prices, with steel plate driven lower this year by massive oversupply in capacity which has disconnected price evolution from the trend in broader semi-finished steel products.

The currency markets, while always volatile, have been in turmoil, with events conspiring to send most key currencies in the opposite direction to expectations. In Asia the trends have been significant with implications for shipbuilders across the region. Asian currency turmoil reflects to some extent the impact on Asian emerging markets of Trump’s US election victory.

As a result, second-hand prices will struggle with the combined weight of both falling newbuilding prices and the continued deterioration in vessel earnings during 2017.

Ends

About Maritime Strategies International
Since its inception in 1986, Maritime Strategies International (MSI) has established itself as one of the shipping industry’s foremost independent research and consultancy firms. Our success is built on a strong focus on maritime economics and econometric modelling. We provide a comprehensive range of advisory services, including forward valuations market forecasts, reports and commercial consultancy services for all shipping sectors. MSI asset price forecasts are used by ship finance providers holding 40% of all shipping bank debt and we provide analytical and methodological support to give the context and credence to our results. For more information please see www.msiltd.com

* The MSI TSPS Tanker Report was produced using MSI’s proprietary forecasting models and expert technical analysis. The quarterly report is available on request and MSI experts are available for interview. For further information please contact Neville Smith, Mariner Communications Tel: +44 7909 960 182.

 

ECDIS From Problem to Solution

ECDIS: from problem to solution?

In a series of blogs last autumn, GNS asked why ECDIS still appears to be causing serving navigators so many operational problems, so long after the technology was introduced. The answers are numerous, ranging beyond training and familiarisation to operator interaction with hardware and software.

We were keen to include the views of an OEM, and Northrop Grumman Sperry Marine declared itself willing to answer some challenging questions: why do navigators struggle with the ECDIS interface, can standardisation be improved, what about S-Mode and what will the future look like?

In terms of how to make the ECDIS interface better for users, Simon Cooke, Technical Manager, says the Sperry position is “that it is essential to have navigators involved in the ECDIS design to ensure that manufacturers are meeting their needs.”

In addition to manufacturers’ own efforts, there have been collective developments through CIRM and together with the IMO and IEC – attempting to respond to the lack of standardisation and the strain this can put on Type Specific training.

What no OEM can control is the length of time it takes for shipowners, having invested in ECDIS, to update their equipment. Cooke says the user interface improvements manufacturers have made take time to be seen in the field.

This will change somewhat as the IHO’s S-52 presentation library rolls out across the fleet before the mandatory adoption date by the end of August this year. The new standard will require vessel operators to update their ECDIS systems in a way they haven’t had to in the past.

What it won’t be is S-Mode – the ‘re-set’ switch that the Nautical Institute and others have been advocating. Cooke says Sperry is not convinced that another mode to switch into is the best way of addressing system complexity.

Instead, he says, an ‘always-on’ S-Mode that standardises default control settings, terminology, abbreviations and save and recall functionality might be a better alternative to address the human factor issues without the risk of constraining innovation.

“Thinking about what is being proposed in future around eNavigation, we agree changes will be needed. But do the navigators really think that menu hierarchies defined by committees is the best way of addressing their problems? I think they might have concerns with that approach,” he adds with some understatement.

Read the full post here.

Don’t judge the future by the values of the past

Trying to persuade an industry in crisis to invest in new technology is a hard sell. It’s harder still when that industry is shipping and the crisis has begun to move outside predictable cyclical models.

Eight years into what was supposed to be a five year downcycle, the industry is uncomfortably confronting a changed world order. The fact that there has been so little disruption and dislocation to date is surprising, but reflects the size of cash piles the industry had to burn.

And while it seems unlikely that the kind of bubble seen in the years to 2008 will be repeated, for some sectors the risk is that a return to healthy, sustained growth fails to appear at all.

Structural shifts in production and consumption suggest demand peaks for coal, oil and iron ore are in sight. Whether globalisation remains the predominant economic force will determine whether demand for container shipping is sustained.

Looked at from this downside scenario, the need for Smart Shipping is imperative and its drivers clear. Its chances of successfully taking hold industry-wide are harder to judge.

At the start of this year the chief executive of one of the industry’s biggest lenders pointed out that in no other industry would debtors be allowed to stave off restructuring or foreclosure for so long. The availability of money for conventional newbuildings let alone research into future transport systems is available only to a few.

Neither can we overlook the leading edge/lagging majority model that defines the industry. That is unlikely to change and makes discussion of a global industry almost irrelevant.

Of course it is hoped that regulation will level that playing field, but we know that it does not. The argument that smart shipping demands smarter regulation has been growing ever louder, though without much progress. The least we should hope for is an end to unintended consequences at a time when the money to pay for them is nearly impossible to come by.

Given the lack of a homogenous industry, the concept of smart shipping must necessarily mean different things to different people.

To some, smart shipping is the sort that does not comply and does not get caught, or does the bare minimum and still makes a profit. To others it is the embrace of energy efficiency, asset optimisation, meta-compliance and sustainable performance. To the majority in the middle, its inefficiencies and opacity are a margin opportunity that does not support the sharing traits of the digital economy.

Proponents of Smart Shipping need to recognise these differences and segment their approach. Despite this somewhat gloomy analysis, there is a huge amount of innovation going on in shipping. Its inherent inefficiencies mean it will continue to attract entrepreneurs, inventors and disruptors.

In a conventional funding vacuum characterised by massive fleet oversupply, excess shipyard capacity, qualified crew shortages and potentially a structural decline in cargo volumes I would argue that more than ever, that innovation needs to come from the ground-up, encouraged by the far-sighted.

Shipping needs to accept change and that change is going to come from unexpected sources, many of them outside the industry. Embracing a start-up culture is not the traditional maritime model, but I would argue that it is essential to long term survival.

This is as true for the shipowners, operators and lines as it is for the vendors and developers. There are plenty of examples where start-up thinking can make a difference in terms of new technologies and business models.

The idea that having got itself into the current crisis, shipping has all the tools it needs to get out of it is plainly wrong. Instead, it needs to recognise that the future of shipping isn’t going to look like the past, but not necessarily for the reasons we thought.

It’s not about the ship

In taking the stage at the recent DigitalShip Two conference in Singapore, Anwar Siddiqui of Saudi shipping company Bahri made a brave admission. This keynote speaker had just two years in shipping – in addition 20 years devising data and technology solutions in the software domain.

It must have been an interesting two years for Siddiqui, who acts as Advisor to the CEO and is in charge of one of the largest big data projects run by a single company. The early results, he suggests, point to a future in which shipping moves past the current focus on big data from the vessel to a much more holistic data-driven business model.

Proposing that shipping’s future will no longer be about picking up cargo at point A and discharging it at point B, he listed the industries – telephony, mapping, information search, road and air transport, media and money, that had either been transformed by the digital economy or are in the process of doing so.

“Shipping has changed but ships generating data is not new. We generate terabytes of data at Bahri but it’s really not about getting the data, it’s about the insights to be mined and the decisions to be made,” he said. “We are students of data science, we have to computationally decide how to use and present the data to decision-makers, which could be the charterer, voyage manager, master or crew. All of them can be aided by data science.”

The amount of data points available daily in shipping could be between 110 and 120 million but how much cannot really be known. And because it is not humanly possible to know them all, it could be half that number or more, he said.

 

Click to read the full post here.

Reclaiming the shipping media

In this guest blog, Richard Clayton, Chief Maritime Correspondent of IHS Markit argues that, however much the media has changed, it remains a people business.

Whatever is happening to the maritime media? It has become almost impossible to get readers to pay good money for hard-grafted stories, let alone for the bane of an editor’s life: press release re-writes. In the fourth of my breakfast briefings at the end of September, I tackled this issue with an audience that included several students, some public relations folk, cyber security experts, a couple of chief executives, and others.

It seems to me that maritime readers fall into one of three camps: some need a steady stream of information about what competitors are doing, how the markets are developing and what’s likely to change in their world. Then there’s a second group who are more technology-focused; they seek new ideas or new ways of using the kit we already have, and need to understand the strengths and limitations of what’s available and what’s coming along.

Then there are the visionaries who ignore daily news and short-term thinking; there are turned on by trends and shifts that won’t be fully understood until months, and perhaps years, ahead. This third group is not driven by quarterly financial results; like a Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, they think the unthinkable.

Only the first of these groups are interested in traditional news-driven media, so publishers who stubbornly stick to the tried and tested regime on daily outputs can expect to see not only fewer takers but also a declining revenue stream as more and more news is available, free, on the web.

To make matters worse, in-house or external communications teams have become adept at writing company messages at a particular audience. All too often, these messages are grabbed, topped and tailed, and posted as news in magazines and newspapers, online bulletins, and on TV and radio programmes. We are all besieged by an avalanche of information on a dozen different platforms. It’s harder to think beyond the immediate snippet; if we miss that one, another will come along in a few moments, incorporating the morsel you missed.

Further, like so many other sectors of our world, shipping’s media has become attacked by the belief that not only have our readers the attention span of a gnat but they are impressed by the virtue of being first with the news. Speed has taken over from accuracy as the chief attribute of a story. I have no complaint that readers are unwilling to pay for items that are (a) unverified, (b) incomplete, and (c) badly written.

However, it’s important to know that the media does more than report news. Journalists are, to quote Financial Times contributing editor John Lloyd, engaged in the daily effort to “convey complexity, nuance, doubt, and contested facts in ways that inform but do not preach, assert but leave space for revision.” Coverage of a new engine or coating, or an acquisition of a business or a partnership agreement, must therefore come with context and consequence: what lies behind this news and how might it change the current position? That shifts the onus onto journalists to upgrade information to knowledge. It means resisting the temptation to be first with the snippet of news. It means adding analysis and insight that isn’t available anywhere else. Without doubt this lifts the media to a higher level, but is it enough to make companies pay for it?

I think not. We’re missing something here, something that people will pay for.

Sunday Times investigative journalist Jonathan Calvert believes journalism is much more than trawling through databases and searching the net in the hope of finding a story. It’s about people.

“Ninety-nine per cent of journalism is a human resource thing,” Calvert writes. “It’s about contacts, finding the right people who might know things, hoping people might give you things. It’s not impossible [to find a story on the internet] but you are rarely going to get something that’s really great from that. The best stuff comes from your fellow human beings.”

The shipping business is driven by people, so the shipping media must reflect that emphasis. Data, information, and knowledge can only be as useful as the people who gather it, analyse it, and add value to it. More than that, while there is obvious value in training analysts to be better analysts, media businesses should educate the industry in what analytics and insight are available.

And that’s usually best done away from newspapers and digital media, through briefings and seminars that showcase what a media business with a broad portfolio can do and how it can help shipping businesses to take better decisions. We shouldn’t assume that managers and operators know what they need; they believe what they have bought is as good as it gets, however that’s not always the case. Those briefings and seminars should be built around networking because, whatever else has changed, people still talk to people.

However much the platforms evolve – from hard-copy newspapers and magazines through to tablets, smart phones, and whatever comes next – the key to good media lies in journalists listening, asking incisive questions, building a network of contacts, and being persistent. And that’s worth paying for.

 

Project Forward joins forces with Shell for next phase

deltamarin-project-forward-visualisation-2-1024x554Innovative plan for globally-trading LNG-powered bulk carrier and tanker design will work with energy major to investigate LNG supply options and requirements

Athens, Greece, September 26, 2016. Project Forward and Shell have come together to discuss and investigate the options of supplying the LNG-fueled vessels and assess the bunker requirements for globally-trading bulk carriers, tankers and container vessels.

Led by Arista Shipping, an experienced bulk carrier owner and operator and including the resources of ABS, Deltamarin, GTT and Wärtsilä, Project Forward has developed a technically feasible and commercially viable design for ocean going, deep sea vessels powered by LNG Fuel, equally suitable for bulk carriers and tankers.

The widespread adoption of LNG in the marine sector is principally hindered by obstacles related to the bunkering infrastructure. Even though the LNG is available at many ports, the barges and infrastructure needed to undertake the bunkering operations are not available.

“Merchant shipping is under increased pressure of tight emissions regulations from a range of sources and this will continue in future,” says Arista Shipping Principal Alexander P Panagopulos. “LNG as a Marine Fuel, is a cost-competitive and cleaner burning fuel for shipping. It can help ship owners and operators to reduce sulphur emissions, particulates and nitrogen oxides, and reduce well-to-wheel greenhouse gas emissions.”

As a pioneer and a leader in the LNG industry, Shell is already taking large steps in preparing LNG bunkering infrastructure at different ports around the globe that will accelerate the widespread adoption of LNG as a marine fuel.

The design of Project Forward ensures a very long sailing range on LNG, which can easily be adjusted to fit specific needs of each owner or trade pattern. As a result it could be sufficient for LNG-fueled vessels to bunker LNG at major ports, where Arista Shipping feels the establishment of bunkering locations needs to be accelerated in order to cover the needs of an emerging and rapidly expanding demand.

Together, the project partners, all of which are highly experienced with LNG vessel operations and LNG as marine fuel, are working towards one common goal; making the launch of a first bulk carrier vessel with the innovative Project Forward design feasible within the next two years.

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For further information and interview opportunities, please contact: Neville Smith, neville.smith@marinercommunications.co.uk, cell: +44 7909 960 182.

 

 

Visualisation of Project Forward LNG-fueled bulk carrier, image credit: Deltamarin.
High resolution version available on request.