Is 2018 to be Welcomed or Worried About?

Columbia Marlow
Columbia Marlow

By MarEx 2018-01-09 16:00:58

By Mark O’Neil

Is 2018 to be welcomed or worried about? It is more of a question of anticipating, understanding and dealing with the challenges that may face the shipping industry over the next 12 months and beyond rather than worrying that one year may be better or worse than another. 

Worry does not lead to solutions. In fact, it distracts from the process of finding the appropriate solution. And as an industry, it is about learning from your experiences and improving the service deliverables you provide. But this learning and enhancement process must be continuous if the industry is to remain ahead of the curve.

The shipping industry has had to focus on evolving in order to meet the new norm, where it became clear a few years ago that we would never return to the halcyon days of pre-2008. All players in the shipping industry – including ourselves as ship managers – must be aware of trends and the process of evolution and to ensure these are accommodated into business plans and models going forward. Ship managers are embracing digitalization to enhance transparency, allow enhanced planning, performance and preventative maintenance and therefore maximize up-time.

Managers need to allow owners to focus on the commercial operation of the vessels and assist in that operation by rendering the vessels more attractive to would-be charterers by enhanced operational serviceability, IT sophistication and compatibility and performance efficiency.

The role played by our seafarers can never be underestimated and at Columbia Marlow, we continue to ensure they are trained to the highest levels to meet the demands placed on them. But guaranteeing they are equipped and competent to do the job is one thing. Shipping as an industry needs to work hard to ensure it is seen as an industry of the future where the best and brightest can plan their careers – both at sea and ashore. 

This reliance on digitalisation and automation, in whatever form, will also open up new opportunities for the young and talented to enter what is an exciting industry in which to work.

A big development in the future will be the emergence of large players coming into the business — the logistics companies, the online purchasing companies, the Amazons, the Alibabas — who will look to put in place vertical structures. These players will want to own the terminals, haulage and warehousing on both sides of the voyage in addition to the ships.

Yes, they may want to own the steel, but they will need someone to operate it. Our challenge will be how we fit into that process and continue to remain relevant and compelling. We will always require that process to be managed. Whether that is ashore, with people operating and maintaining that remotely operated vessel, or whether there is a small number of people still required on board. That’s the challenge, and that is not going to be that far off, in my view.

Mark O’Neil is Chief Executive Officer of Columbia Marlow.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.