Opposing views at Malta conference

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche
ShipInsight

08 March 2017


Several interesting views were expressed at the Transas Global Conference being held in Malta yesterday. Discussing the future of shipping and comparing the industry to aviation, several speakers expressed viewpoints and while most agreed that shipping was going through a period of change, there was almost no consensus as to what the extent of change may be or the time span over which it may occur. A core subject of the first day was what impact would the likes of Amazon and Alibaba have if they decided to become owners or operators of ships. While some felt this was a very likely possibility there are others less sure. As a retailer Amazon may be a major player but sales values do not necessarily mean trade volumes. Amazon’s highly publicised desire to control its shipping activities apparently amounted to only around 150 containers being booked from China to the US in the three months from October 2016. That sort of volume may make it profitable for them to book containers directly with shipping lines rather than through freight forwarders (although employing even one or two staff to do the work may not result in much of a saving overall) but it hardly warrants the purchase and cost of operating even a Panamax size box ship. As one speaker said, Ikea has shown no interest in controlling its own shipments and it probably ships more volume than Amazon. Another topic much discussed was training and the human element where parallels were drawn with aviation. In fact some of the speakers were from an aviation background. Their insight was enlightening. Harry Nelson a former test pilot for over 70 different aeroplane types and now Operational Adviser to Product Safety at Airbus made the point that automating just for safety is the wrong approach, reiterating a point often made that the human element in avoiding problems is never measured while the contribution of human error to incidents is highly publicised. There was a fascinating divergence of opinion on the role of iMO with some saying it moved too slowly in recognising the role of technology while a dissenting opinion said that in some areas regulation is made too quickly and technology and training cannot keep pace with the demands of regulators. Away from the conference a recent development also looked at aviation’s role in freight. Considering that shipping is often seen as lagging when compared to aviation the publication of a white paper last week by the Shippers’ Advisory Committee of TIACA (The International Air Cargo Association) could be seen as a point scored by shipping. The white paper voices concerns of shippers in air cargo and says change is needed, and all sectors of the air cargo supply chain must work together to drive adoption of new technology and a greater transparency. Apparently air cargo is seen as too complicated, too expensive and too slow. The aim is to accelerate the entire air cargo supply chain through cooperation and exchange of data and to create a more efficient and transparent supply chain, raising its attractiveness for shippers. That criticism sounds very familiar…