They say that a certain profession is the oldest in the world, but I wonder whether shipping has that distinction.  Almost for as long as humans existed on this earth, there was an urge to trade, to transport goods to where they were needed and where people congregated.

Shipping foodstuff became a necessity almost from the beginning as towns and cities grew in areas where the soil was not fertile and where land suitable for planting was not within close proximity.

Different skillsets developed differently, in different cultures and thus some of the goods produced in certain areas were more desirable than others, depending on where they were made, whether they were more durable, more aesthetically pleasing, more affordable.  Thus, the competition was born, but also the need to transport those goods to markets.

The world developed, cultures became more sophisticated, people became more knowledgeable, more demanding, people wanted choice, they expected goods of a greater variety and of higher quality to be available.

In the modern era, instant communication made people more aware of what was on offer elsewhere, and they wanted to have the same.   Shipping became not so much a driving force, but rather a servant of world trade, a facilitator, a means to transport goods all over the globe, an equalizing medium.  People in a way forced shipping and unknowingly expected shipping to transport all that they required.

Shipping obliged, shipping was only too happy to play a role, such an unbelievably important role, in many ways, a life and death situation role.

The cliché “without shipping, half the world would freeze, and the other half would starve”, became quite evident.  People were no longer just expecting, just demanding, they were in fact dependant on shipping for their very existence.

So shipping is not only the driving force, it is itself driven, by the need to maintain peoples’ wellbeing, their quality of life, and more

Shipping allowed for wealth to spread, for cultures to be better understood, and for people to unite and to come closer together.  This was always the case for all mariners as they crisscrossed the globe, but this has now permeated all strata of society to an extent that few people realize.  It has affected people’s lives, it has benefited the underdeveloped areas of the world to no end, but it has also improved the understanding and awareness of the more civilized world citizens.

The Shipping Industry has played in the past and still continues today with an even greater emphasis, to play a hugely vital role.  Without a viable international shipping industry, efficiently transporting 90% of world trade in a cost-effective way, the maintenance of modern living standards would simply not be possible.

In a more rational world, given shipping’s economic importance, and in view of its unique international system of governance, the industry should really be treated with the same respect that is due to a sovereign nation.

The value of shipping’s contribution to society cannot be questioned – shipping has facilitated the relocation of much of the world’s industrial production to Asia, which in turn has driven up global living standards.

Very few, have stopped to think, how shipping does indeed play such a huge role.  Very few give credit to the type of service that this incredible and so unbelievably efficient industry provides.

Shipping carries the world’s trade without a hitch delivering the goods that people need, safely and on time, 99.9% of the time.  Some 60,000 ocean-going vessels cover some 500 billion ton-miles a day, every day, 365 days a year, across different cultures, different time zones, different legal systems, different languages, different customs, different weather patterns, and yet they do this so efficiently.

Today more than ever, it is no longer possible to do without shipping. We are so interdependent, so inextricably linked the world over, that we need shipping to transport goods to markets and to people like never before, and what is more, to continue to do it as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.   This task shipping undertakes gladly, but politicians never give it credit for the efficiency with which it operates, much less seeks to consult the industry in a meaningful way, on future regulations before positions become entrenched.

Governments do not realize how important it is to pay particular attention to shipping, and how the continued efficient and cost-effective operation of this industry hugely impacts everything they do, from the transportation of oil to run their industries, to the raw materials to run their factories and the finished goods to supply their shops.

Because the international industry does such a superb job, they just never give it a second thought; they do it at their peril.  As the heading of this paper suggests, shipping is the driving force of world trade, but at the same time, it is the facilitator of world trade, the provider of the services that the global consumer requires, the industry that makes possible for wealth to spread and for standards of living to rise right across our entire planet.  This is more than serious, and governments are oblivious to the dangers to all of the above if they fail to include shipping in all their plans and discussions for the future development of their industrial base and their economies generally.

Various fora have discussed the “future of shipping” and if there is one aspect that needs particular emphasis, is that all governments around the world should seriously consider giving shipping a seat at the table.  It would be incredibly naïve to overlook the importance of this industry to the future of the world.  Development does not only mean, riches, flourishing economies, and higher living standards, all extremely important, but it also means in what way we will approach the environmental issues with the intention of improving our impact on the environment.

One might well ask, what is the connection between trade and our environmental impact.  The easy answer of course would be to make ships more fuel-efficient.  However, it is not as simple as that.

Unfortunately, this is the direction in which we are being pushed at the moment, because of the “at-a-glance” misconception that building the so-called eco ships will benefit the environment.  Regrettably, this is not quite correct.

Of course, more economical vessels in themselves and in isolation will benefit the environment, of course, we want them, the Shipping Industry has never stopped improving the efficiency of ships throughout their history, but we must not be pushed into building such ships whilst their sister ships of a slightly older generation are still perfectly good vessels.  The reason is that, in order to build a new vessel, the impact on the environment, at least as far as the CO2 emissions are concerned, far outweighs in negative terms, the difference in fuel savings between the older vessels and the newer vessels.  This means that it is not environmentally justifiable to talk down the slightly older vessels, to ditch them, to blacklist them, which is being done as we speak by a number of charterers, and others.  This is the wrong way to go.   The existing vessels must be allowed to run their course to the end of their economic life, as it always used to be the case.   In any case, their life is being shortened somewhat anyway, because of other considerations as we move into the future.

This means that all players in the industry, especially charterers, must not discriminate against these slightly older vessels, and the same applies to governments and to other international bodies.  In any case, the market has a way of accommodating this as all shipping people know and understand.

Such an attitude will also be enormously helpful and important in inducing shipping companies to improve the efficiency of existing ships, thereby further benefiting the environment, i.e. saving on the incredibly large CO2 footprint of new ships, by not building them, and at the same time improving the efficiency of existing vessels, which are also more numerous and thus have a much larger effect.

This is both to the benefit of the environment as well as to the economy.

One can see from the above example, why the future of shipping is more complicated than people realize, more complicated than the layman thinks, than governments and authorities imagine, whilst at the same time it is further proof of how important it is for all those in power to give shipping a seat at the table, but also why they should consult it on a continuous basis, and why they must listen to the voice of reason.  Unfortunately, politics unnecessarily complicate issues for the shipping industry but presumably not for politicians who believe that certain policies are attractive to voters.  This however is an erroneous approach, that usually comes back to haunt them in many ways, whether it will be the economy or the price of goods on the shelves, both of which are against the interests of the people.

The future of shipping, the servant of world trade, the driving force but also the facilitator is so important, so crucial to the development of nations and of people around the globe, that it cannot be dealt with by kneejerk reactions of individual governments or international bodies.

The eco ship example is of course not the only one.  There are numerous issues which the authorities and politicians deal with and make decisions against the advice of the shipping industry.  Issues such as the sulfur content in fuel, which is another very complicated topic. Just think that lowering the sulfur in the fuel, has meant an increase in the presence of cat fines in the fuel, which in turn has led to a huge increase in damages to ships’ engines.  This in turn has led to many delays in the shipment of the goods, it has impacted the seaworthiness of vessels and it has endangered the lives of seafarers. It has increased repairs, it has increased the use of spares, which itself has meant an increase in the CO2 emissions of the manufacturers, of those spares, and so on.

The point here is, that whilst the industry does support the reduction of sulfur in the fuel, this should not be done without due consideration to the consequences, which would have resulted in a somewhat different regulation.

One hopefully can readily see, therefore, that any and all issues regarding shipping cannot be taken in isolation, should not be discussed by governments without proper consultation with the shipping industry, they should not be decided upon unless all consequences as pointed out by the shipping industry experts have been taken into consideration.

Another side effect of the reduction of sulfur in fuel is the fact that the more sulfur the fuel contains, the more the exhaust assists in preventing the rays of the sun from warming the earth’s atmosphere, thereby providing a cooling effect, which is so beneficial to the global warming issue.  Yet another aspect of a very complicated equation that should not be lightly dismissed or overlooked during discussions for new regulations that have to do with the future of the shipping industry.

Closer to home, and as regards short sea shipping, the more expensive lower sulfur fuel makes it uneconomical to use ships and thus cargoes are shifted onto rail and road transport, both of which modes of transportation are less efficient than shipping.  Another complication and another effect which is lost during frantic discussions at the international bodies, that are so influenced by environmentalists, who in turn influence public opinion, unfortunately, without presenting properly and clearly all the facts.

The list is almost endless, the prejudiced view against the breakup and recycling of ships, Ballast Water Management issues, Wreck removal, The Maritime Lien Convention, and many many others.

All of these play a role in how shipping operates, how efficient it is, how costly, how safe, and how environmentally friendly.

The impact on the future designs of vessels, which in turn impact on everything we have talked about on many occasions.  It is a chain and thus any and all of these issues have an influence.

Piracy has been such a thorn on the shipping industry’s side, and yet when pirates became successful only a few years ago, many governments and many navies were arguing that it is not their business.  How absurd.  What an unacceptable stance to take.  How were the seafarers supposed to protect themselves, other than their company employing security guards, which is what happened in the end?

The shipping industry of course mobilized immediately and did finally convince governments that it is their job, it is their responsibility, to protect shipping and keep the sea lanes open and safe, and thus navies began to help in earnest.  However, it took ages for governments to be convinced to do more than simply send a few warships to Somalia and the Indian Ocean.  It was a constant struggle.  As a result, it cost shipping some $7 billion dollars a year, although, as one can imagine, this cost could not be borne by shipping alone.  It fell on the consumer in increased transportation costs and in the increased cost of the goods, all because of government inaction.  Lives of seafarers were lost, which is absolutely unacceptable.  Ships were diverted, and cargoes were delayed to reach their destination.

In concluding, therefore, one can readily see how the driving force and the servant of world trade are affected by every and all issues, and why all governments individually and collectively must be more inclusive in their discussions and deliberations, why they must give shipping a seat at the top table, and why any decision, any regulation concerning shipping does impact and will impact its future, and the future of the world.