The eastern scenario
Presenting scenarios as a way to try to determine the future direction of shipping has become a popular strategy for many European organisations in recent years but most of the ideas presented are naturally seen from a European perspective. There are however different views on what the future might be and one man who has consistently presented such a view from the east is Seabury director of maritime Michel Looten who this week repeated his predictions at the TPM Conference in Shenzen, China. Looten believes that intra Asian trade is the growing market with China growing its trade routes there at a faster rate than the traditional routes to Europe and the US. Worryingly for European operators he sees this development as possible spelling an end to both hub and spoke operating strategies and to mega carriers calling at just a few selected ports. Smaller vessels will prosper in such an environment he believes. The changing trade pattern may well have a big influence in future liner trade operations but there are wider implications. If Looten is correct in his predictions then future growth in the world fleet will be concentrated in South East Asia and to a certain extent it is possible to see that this is already happening. That will mean that as western fleets shrink, the influence of European owners and shipping organisations will decline alongside. Given that international regulation of shipping is decided at the IMO where all nations have a more or less equal voice, it will be interesting to see if the future direction of legislation is driven not by European nations (or the EU as it has been most recently) but by countries on the other side of the world that may well have a different agenda to follow. It may take some time for the countries of the east to flex their muscles but it should not come as a surprise if they do.