Will cryptocurrencies have a role in shipping?

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

13 February 2018


In early 2018, the rapid rise in the value of Bitcoin was headline news with some fearing a bubble and predicting it would all end in tears while others saw it as a get rich quick opportunity. Since then, the value of Bitcoin has indeed fallen back considerably and some banks and national governments have announced restrictions on dealing in it.

People will naturally have different views on cryptocurrencies and the mystery that surrounds them. While there will be some who see them having a future in maritime trade, others will be much more reluctant and prefer conventional fiat currencies backed by stable issuing governments.

Of course, even fiat currencies have had their problems over time with some being devalued by rampant inflation and others being held at artificial levels that suit the policies of the controlling government. Even so, it is generally accepted that they are less liable to speculative fluctuations than a cryptocurrency that few understand the mechanics of.

There is no better example of the problems involved with dealing in cryptocurrencies than the roller coaster that Bitcoin has experienced over the last year. One year ago, a Bitcoin was valued at just below $1,000; by mid-November 2017 it had risen to around $6,000 the rocketed until by 17th December it stood at $19,500. It the slumped over two weeks dropping back to $12,600 before jumping again to $17,000 on 6 January 2018. However, one month later it had fallen right back to below $6,000. Attempting to budget for such fluctuations would make using Bitcoin for the shipping industry’s day to day purposes something that only a brave man would consider.

With the 300Cubits project launched in January by two Hong Kong businessmen, shipping seems to have acquired its very own crypto currency. The TEU tokens that the company has developed are aimed at solving the related question of no-shows by shippers and overbooking by container line operators that are claimed to be costing some $23Bn annually.

Rather than shippers having to pay deposits or lines compensating when space is not available for booked cargoes, each party will have to deposit TEU tokens when bookings are made and if one side defaults the other will take possession of the pot.

The founders say they will distribute a quantity of free tokens to shippers and lines to set the ball rolling after which tokens will have to be purchased. They will also give themselves a large portion of the initial distribution and will earn a percentage of each deal done using the tokens.

Sceptics might argue that more disciplined practices by the lines allowing credit only to reliable shippers and pursuing penalties against no shows while refraining from overbooking might be a better solution and not see money being siphoned from the industry.