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CMA 2015 - a scrum 'celebrating the best, improving and the rest'

CMA 2015 - a scrum 'celebrating the best, improving and the rest'
The now completed Connecticut Maritime Association (CMA) event was famously compared to a giant “scrum”- when it gets busy, as was the case for its entire three days, it is difficult to navigate from one side of the venue to the other. Though given a theme - “Tradition - Celebrating the Best, Improving the Rest”, at any point in time, many diverse programme threads would have been occurring.

This year, the conference, which began in the early 1990s, came at a time of an improved tanker market, lower oil prices, and new sets of regulations, compared to last year. Not surprisingly, this backdrop played into the choice of presentation topics with an emerging meme, “Big Data” now creeping into the agenda for the first time.

While a tanker market panel saw caution regarding a renewed surge in tanker storage fixtures, most commentators viewed the lowered oil prices as a new reality for the marketplace. Supply met demand head-on during a lengthy seminar titled “Global Commodity Review: presentations by commodity analysts, owners, traders and chief economists,” moderated by Marsoft’s Arlie Sterling. The session’s keynote speaker, Ed Coll, from Pangaea Logistics, who offered hints and tips on buying versus chartering; he noted the owners of all stripes get caught out, usually, by overbuilt markets and noted the growth of a “virtual cottage industry” of managers that have sprung up to service financial owners in recent years.

As a salve, he suggested that participants maintain balanced portfolios of owned and chartered tonnage, and aim for under-served non-commoditized niches in the market. At Pangaea, vessels are not purchased, he said, in the absence of a set cargo commitment. He also noted that opportunistic vessel purchases may achieve better economics than entering into a five year charter.

The panel engaged in a lively debate on the wisdom of consolidation and building big companies- arriving at a conclusion that bulk markets would always tend to price-taking, even with larger companies having world-wide relationships with major cargo interests) However, operating economies, ie lower costs might result from larger scale.

Another topic concerned the motives and psychology of financial investors coming into the markets- many of whom have been disappointed - particularly in drybulk. The Baltic Exchange’s Jeremy Penn told the full auditorium that “We don’t need a $250,000 per day market for a capesize bulker -equating to a BDI of circa 11,000 plus,” adding that, “Hopefully investors from outside shipping will look a little more carefully before jumping in the next time around.”

The conference’s “tradition” theme played out vividly in a different panel, in the main room, on Generational Shifts- expertly moderated by CMA stalwart Dagfinn Lunde- now the Chairman of Executive Ship Management. A breath of fresh air came from the last-minute inclusion of panelist Salvatore d’Amico, who livened up the discussion simply because of his newness to the conference circuit.

d’Amico, representing the fourth generation in the family’s Rome-based company, conveyed a non-scripted passion throughout the session- whether describing his own pathways into the business, or the sincere caring for the lives and welfare of employees. At an event where unmanned ships were mentioned - in a separate room, at a different session, with little enthusiasm- it was quite refreshing to hear d’Amico express an equivalency between “the company” (and its employees) and “the family”.

And, looking forward to remote monitoring and creation of actionable data archives, a discussion, off to the side, with representatives from Inmarsat revealed that its Global Xpress - to be rolled out later this year will greatly enhance the feasibility of monitoring vessels from afar, telemedicine and all manner of data streaming, including video monitoring, to support vendor efforts.