Rowing Back

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

28 April 2017


With so much talk of changing technology and business models you might be forgiven for thinking that the future shipping industry is likely to be something very different from what it is today. But within shipping and life in general it seems that there is a growing pushback against change and a desire to revisit the past. In the consumer technology world, tablets such as the iPad which were once seen as causing the demise of desktop PCs have been dropping for three successive years while PCs and laptop sales are staying steady. And while never likely to outsell digital cameras, the Polaroid Instant camera, or at least modern variants of it are riding high. Vinyl records are experiencing a revival and this week it was said that in the UK sales of e-books and e-readers are declining as conventional paper books are rising. In our own industry, the winner of this year’s Young Entrepreneur Award is Norsepower’s CEO Tuomas Riski for his company’s modern revival of the Flettner rotor first employed on the Buckau in 1924. On the business management side of our industry, this week’s debate at Sea-Asia on the future of the private shipowner came out strongly in favour with 73% of the vote saying that there was a strong future. Only a year ago, just about every pundit was predicting the demise of private ownership in favour of big corporations. With a large pool of distressed tonnage covering almost all sectors, there is currently a huge opportunity for small start-ups to obtain tonnage at bargain prices. Some may even say that the re-balancing of fleet ownership with trade volumes instead of a growth at any cost strategy is something of a rowing back itself. Politically we can see a pushback beginning against globalisation. How far it will go is open to question. It may have peaked with Brexit and Trump’s election but a revival of coal and oil use is a fillip for shipping whichever way you look at it. Perhaps, a look backwards now and then is a good way of making sure we are not travelling in the wrong direction.