Time for a new bottle
It is an old saying that a partially filled glass is seen as half full by optimists and half empty by pessimists, but as on old drinking friend once said “Who cares about the glass as long as there is another bottle”? And that seems to be where shipping is right now. Yesterday, Reuters reported that Saudi Arabia’s Aramco has signed an MoU with Hyundai Heavy and an engineering concern to establish a shipbuilding and repair complex in the kingdom that could eventually employ half a million people. The project is part of a move to end the reliance on oil. To many this would seem like madness at a time when there is massive overcapacity in shipping and when already established yards in Asia are struggling to survive. But at some point new ships will be needed and existing ones always need repair facilities. With robotic welding and automation in shipbuilding there may be no need in future for a low wage labour force and ships could be built anywhere at similar cost. At the same time, events in Europe look to be putting the future of the EU in jeopardy. The UK government is committed to offering an in/out referendum before the end of 2017 and which some believe could even take place in less than six months time. Coming on top of the public dissatisfaction across the 28 member states on many other matters some are already beginning to discuss the possible break-up of the EU in the not too distant future. Given that so much of the regulation that has been imposed on shipping in recent years has its roots in EU directives and political projects, the demise of the EU may mean an end to such pressures. Trade too is changing and the advent of 3D printing may mean a future where goods and components are made when and where they are needed rather than mass produced and shipped halfway around the globe. There is definitely a hint of coming changes and maybe it is time to call for a new bottle and refill everyone’s glasses afresh.