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Book review: The business of shipping - ninth edition

Many things have changed since 1973, when the 1st edition of “The Business of Shipping” was published by the Cornell Maritime Press (now part of Schiffer Publishing). The 9th edition of this commercial classic was launched in July 2018,10 years after the previous edition, authored by Ira Breskin- a one-time transportation reporter who is now a teacher at the highly regarded SUNY Fort Schuyler- the New York maritime academy.

This volume is not meant to be exciting; it’s no comparison for The Shipping Man, by Matt McCleery, or The Bourlatos Fortune, by Nicolas Gage. Instead, its function is to educate professionals who are working inside shipping companies, or, perhaps more importantly, on the fringes. For example, the book is required reading for U. based professionals who are seeking to gain advanced certifications and designations in the ranks of maritime insurance professionals and it is required reading for Associates at some of the top maritime law firms.

In my reading of this book, I started at the back, where the author does offer a small glimpse of “the future”. But unlike the better-known Maritime Economics, by Martin Stopford, who is quoted by Mr. Breskin, and the subsequent series of lectures on hot topics of digitalization and automation, the focus here is very much on the quotidian and even mundane present. This is precisely what is needed by those in ancillary businesses - the aforementioned fringes - a solid reference book with easy to understand explanations of shipping operations, chartering practice, the IMO (and all those abbreviations) and even Forward Freight Agreements.

The book excels in presenting basic calculations of shipping economics, perhaps because of its prominence in Breskin’s courses to maritime cadets at SUNY, but also at the USMMA at Kings Point, and the Webb Institute, just to the east of these two other schools.

Read more book reviews: Into the Raging Sea

In this world of media frenzy, where maritime commentators offer their advice, freely available, on Linked-In, Twitter, and through a number of newly available media outlets, in business for years, not centuries, there is sometimes too much content out there, which is exactly why context is needed. The book succeeds in offering this context, a schema, if you will, for putting various topics into appropriate slots; readers may then very well dig way down into the weeds, exploring minutia, or online blogs, after having skimmed the surface through this volume and seen where a particular topic fits into the bigger picture.

With its US emphasis, there are detailed discussions of maritime security and the newly emerging “Subchapter M”- rules for smaller vessels like tugs in harbour and coastal trades. There are also good discussions of environmental rules and regulations, including the dreaded Vessel General Permit (VGP), one bit of extra deadweight put in place by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA).

The challenge in writing a book like this is that its previous editions, Breskin’s starting point, have been dragged down by the hubris of too much maritime history; the hull has not been scraped free of these barnacles. This is particularly apparent in the chapters on liner shipping, which could dwell more on alliances and supply chain matters, and less on the conference system and the organisation of traffic departments. In all fairness, the pace of change adds challenges. Some of the liner dunnage has been jettisoned in the extensive re-writing effort, which took nearly two years, but there will be room for more pruning as the business continues its rapid evolution.