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Dubai Maritime Agenda seeks innovative solutions for the new normal

Dubai Maritime Agenda seeks innovative solutions for the new normal
Today’s challenging business environment for shipping is less a short-lived crisis than the new normal ran the underlying premise of the inaugural Dubai Maritime Agenda 2015 conference, which was attended by some 300 regional and international shipping executives in the UAE this week.

Organised by local regulatory body Dubai Maritime City Authority (DMCA), the event consisted of a series of interactive panel discussions into problems facing the shipping community, chaired by ex-BBC World presenter Nik Gowing.

Among the challenges identified were slowing world economic growth, tonnage overcapacity, mounting environmental/regulatory pressure, and the effects of continuing low oil prices on the energy sector, meaning that innovative solutions are now needed.

In his welcome address Sultan Bin Sulayem, chairman of Dubai Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation and president of DMCA, stressed how Dubai had “a clear vision for the maritime sector” which in difficult times required “innovation and creativity in order to find a solution.”

He gave the example of DP World’s having installed remotely controlled quay cranes and rail mounted gantry cranes at Terminal 3 of Jebel Ali, all run by a team of around 30 operators in a centralized control centre - which in future might be moved some 50km away to Port Rashid and connected by fibre-optic link, he

Opening keynote speaker Tor Svensen, group evp of DNV GL, pointed out that in an oversupplied market with low rates, one main driver for companies was to try and increase competitive advantage in areas such as critical mass. This could be done either by entering into vessel sharing arrangements or by consolidation through M&A activity – such as DNV had done by merging with GL - thereby freed up greater resources for R&D activity, he said.

In the future, “big data will drive productivity,” he added, and holds the potential to change the way shipping is carried out. “Today cargo is king, but maybe the

smartest and most innovative will be king going forward.”

Abu Dhabi Ports ceo Capt. Mohammed Juma Al Shmisi agreed, pointing out that “the maritime domain is a bit conservative but is quickly catching up.” He and other speakers raised the prospect of an Uber app of shipping, to improve vessel utilization, as well as shipowners using remote performance monitoring not only of their own fleets but of their competitors as well.

Precious Shipping md Khalid Hashim suggested more of an old fashioned solution – scrapping – was needed. In the dry bulk sector 21m dwt was scrapped in the first half of 2015, causing the Baltic Dry Index to rise from 509 points in February to 1,200 by mid year, “but there was no scrapping in the next three months so the market tanked.”

Meanwhile Askok Mahapatra, director of the Maritime Safety Division at the IMO, argued that shipping was the only industry that had taken action to cut its GHG emissions and could go into next month’s COP meeting on climate change “with its head held high”.

Questioned later by Seatrade Maritime News as to whether the industry might not still face outside attempts by political blocs and the environmental lobby to impose a blanket emissions reduction target, his response was “let them try”.

The next Dubai Maritime Agenda is set for 2017, with the DMCA planning to repeat its slightly different-format Dubai Maritime Summit during next year’s biennial Dubai Maritime Week to be held in Q4 2016.