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Seatrade at 50

Tony Nash, Derek Dickins and Themis Vokos taken in the very early days of Seatrade
A look back over the half-century history of Seatrade and this its flagship magazine, first launched by company founder Themis Vokos 50 years ago.

The vision of Seatrade founder Themistocles Vokos was to create a news medium that would focus on the business of maritime transport, appealing as much to the owners of cargo and the financial and trading communities as to traditional shipping – an ‘Economist’ for the sea transportation industry.

At a time when ideas about the globalisation of trade were starting to be recognised, the new magazine was intended to cover the patterns of global seaborne trade, as much as the operational and technical sides of the industry. Seatrade’s first editor Robert Hawkins was hired from the Financial Times and a network of correspondents was set up covering Australia, South America and the Middle East, as well as the more established shipping centres in Europe, the US and Asia. Anthony ‘Tony’ Nash was recruited as sales director from Fairplay magazine and Derek Dickins as marketing director from his job with the British Shipbuilding Council.

The original name chosen for the magazine was ‘Seatrade International’ but the word ‘International’ was quickly dropped as being superfluous and was never missed. The ability to adjust, take on new challenges and view the world as one, before the term ‘global village’ became fashionable, was at the heart of Seatrade’s philosophy.

With a capital of 1,000 pounds sterling and support from savings and family, the launch of Seatrade in 1970 was not easy. An injection of funds from Themis Vokos’ longstanding friend and schoolmate, Nicky Pappadakis, later to become chairman of Intercargo, gave Seatrade the resources to establish itself.

Dynamic markets

smrcover.jpgThe market into which the new magazine was launched in 1970 was an exciting one. ‘Oil: the bubble that won’t burst’  (pictured above)was the caption for the inaugural cover story, reflecting the optimism of shipowners as they embarked upon massive building programmes for bigger and more sophisticated tankers, including VLCCs and ULCCs. The first ‘oil shock’ and the collapse of crude prices in 1973 had serious consequences for the supply/demand balance of the tanker market, which played out in dramatic fashion for the rest of the decade.

At the same time, a great revolution in the transport of general cargo was underway, with the headlong drive to containerisation led by Malcolm McLean. Seatrade covered the consequences of these major stories for shipping companies, shippers and the ports in great detail and the method of measuring the capacity of containerships using the twenty-foot equivalent unit (teu) was in fact devised by Seatrade writer Richard Gibney.

Global expansion

From its base in the UK, Seatrade broke new ground by opening offices early in its career in New York, from where it could observe the development of intermodal transport, and then in Hong Kong in 1974. This was a golden era for Hong Kong shipping, when some of its great names, Sir Y.K. Pao, C.Y Tung and Wah Kwong’s T.Y. Chao were expanding their fleets to meet the transport requirements of the Japanese trading houses. A decade later, the Hong Kong office would provide a stepping-stone for Seatrade into mainland China.

In the early 1980s, Themis Vokos moved the Group’s headquarters to Hong Kong and embarked on a number of initiatives with the Peoples Republic of China and other Asian countries. One of the major stories of that decade was the gradual emergence of China, and Seatrade’s early entry to the China market was through its Hong Kong contacts and at the invitation of the dominant player in Chinese shipping of the time, Cosco.

A new quarterly journal, Maritime China, was launched and was well- placed to chart China’s early progress in shipping, shipbuilding and port infrastructure. This provided the foundation for the remarkable growth story which followed. Numerous Chinese language magazines, business conferences, educational programmes and the acquisition of the Marintec Exhibition in Shanghai followed.

Shipping networks

Sea transport in the early days of the company was, by the standards of today, a deeply fragmented industry. From the beginning, Seatrade’s strategy was to engage with the community it served, not just as an editorial voice, but also as a platform for the exchange of ideas and as a network for establishing and developing contacts across the world. 

Its first step in this direction was the organisation of the Seatrade Money & Ships Conference at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel, in March 1973, run in parallel with a sister event, ‘Energy, Money & Ships’, on the same two days at the New York Hilton. Altogether more than 1,100 industry professionals attended these two events, in what were the first two commercial business conferences for shipping ever held. The strong emphasis placed on ship finance was another industry first.

This policy of engagement with the industry continued and accelerated in future years, as Seatrade expanded its range of conferences in Europe, North America, in Asian centres like Tokyo and Hong Kong and in the Middle East. Alongside the need for industry professionals to meet face to face in business conferences there was a parallel appetite for direct contact between users and suppliers.

Independent of Seatrade, the Vokos family had been founding partners of the Posidonia exhibition in Greece, in the 1960s. As well as contributing to the international sales for the rapidly growing Posidonia, Seatrade itself embarked on a programme of maritime exhibitions in other markets. Seatrade’s pioneering and global approach also saw the staging of conferences and exhibitions in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Cairo, Kuwait and Monrovia during that period.

Cruise allure

Another major milestone in Seatrade’s development was its move into the cruise sector. Cruise tourism as an industry has as many differences from commercial shipping as similarities. Nevertheless, many – indeed most – of the leading brands in the modern cruise sector have their origins in shipping rather than leisure.

The Seatrade Cruise Convention, an idea conceived by Chris Hayman, started in New York in 1985, and quickly moved to Miami, as a full-scale conference and exhibition. With an annual complement of around two million passengers worldwide, the cruise industry was at the start of a spectacular growth trajectory which saw it transform itself in coming years, with bigger and more sophisticated ships and a programme of globalisation, both of its source markets and its deployment.

Seatrade matched this global expansion with a series of new events in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Its new publication, Seatrade Cruise Review, told the business story behind this phenomenon, to which was added the online news service Seatrade Cruise News at a later date.

Positive messaging

awards1st.jpgIn the 1970s and 1980s the cruise industry enjoyed a positive public perception. But for the cargo side of the business, image was an issue in the 1980s. Following the Amoco Cadiz incident in 1978 and with the Exxon Valdez to come in 1989, the industry was under pressure from regulators and the media. Industry leaders, whilst accepting that much needed to be done also complained that there was no corresponding acknowledgement of the vital role of shipping in world trade. 

It was with the purpose of recognising the industry’s efforts to address its challenges on safety, the protection of the environment and support for its workforce that the Seatrade Awards were set up in 1989. With the support of the IMO secretary-general at the time, C.P. Srivastava, an independent panel of judges was assembled from the leadership of the industry’s foremost international bodies, including the International Chamber of Shipping, Intertanko, BIMCO and IACS. 

The Seatrade Awards, presented at a gala dinner in London’s Guildhall, have continued without interruption until this year when COVID-19 intervened. Alongside the industry awards some of the outstanding industry figures of the post-war years have been recognised from legendary Greek owner George P. Livanos to Jacques Saadé and Gianluigi Aponte. Over the years, the Seatrade Awards programme has supported two major charities, The Mission to Seafarers and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Training initiative

The increasing diversity and complexity of the shipping industry was the stimulus for Seatrade’s move into education and training, through the Cambridge-based Seatrade Academy, set up by Themis Vokos with the creation of an advisory board that included C.P. Srivastava, C.M. Lemos,  Erling Naess, Fernando Frota, G.P Livanos and others. A series of intensive courses, mostly residential, provided a new generation of shipping professionals with expert guidance on themes ranging from finance and marine insurance to chartering and regulation. The Anatomy of Shipping Course continues still, now under the auspices of the Cambridge Academy of Transport, led by John Doviak.

As the company expanded into new areas of business and new geographies, the scale of the operation grew with it. In the mid-1990s, a group of exhibitions, including Marintec China, Sea Japan and the Seatrade Cruise Convention in Miami were sold to United Newspapers, later UBM, although Seatrade retained an important role in both events including content and sales, starting a long relationship between the two organisations.

Seatrade’s core management team, now under the leadership of Chris Hayman, began a search for new opportunities in a rapidly expanding marketplace for shipping, cruise and, later on, offshore marine. Andrew Callaghan, sales director, Vanessa Stephens, events director and Mary Bond, director of publishing, were key members of this team, with Bob Jaques taking over as editor of Seatrade magazine.

Panamanian success

The world’s most famous short cut, the Panama Canal, reached a defining moment in 1997, the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Panama Canal treaties, as the countdown began in earnest towards the transfer of the waterway to Panamanian control. The Panamanian Government decided to mark the occasion by bringing the Canal’s users and stakeholders together from around the world for the Universal Congress of the Panama Canal to discuss the future of the waterway and the implications of the transfer.

Seatrade was invited to provide organisation for the conference programme and the exhibition, and the president of the organising committee, Fernando Manfredo and Chris Hayman completed a world tour to seek ideas for the content. The seamless transfer of the Canal on December 31, 1999 was a major success for the Republic of Panama, confounding the initial scepticism of some observers.

Eastern promise

seasia1open.jpgAlthough the financial crisis of 2008 put a full stop to it, the early years of the new century were a boom period for the shipping industry, as Asian demand for raw materials provided a bonanza for bulk shipping, whilst exports of Chinese and other Asian manufactured goods underpinned the liner sector. With the centre of gravity of the industry now moving inexorably eastwards, three major new venues beckoned. 

Singapore’s development as a multi-dimensional global maritime centre was now well underway and, from a newly established office there, Seatrade was able to report on this at first hand. As the march forward in communications technology continued, that reporting soon moved online, culminating in what is now Seatrade Maritime News.

With support from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore and in partnership with Singapore Maritime Foundation, plans were started for the creation of a major maritime meeting place, Sea Asia, which would take place once every two years during Singapore Maritime Week. As a major exhibition and as a shop window for innovative technologies, the new event set out in its conference programme to provide a platform for the ‘Asian voice in world shipping’. The second edition of Sea Asia in 2009 was voted ‘Exhibition of the Year’ at the annual awards ceremony organised by the Singapore Tourism Board.

Another major move was to establish a permanent base in Dubai. 

Seatrade’s introduction to this dynamic regional centre was through its cruise industry connections, as DP World set out to promote the Emirate as the hub for a new winter cruise itinerary in the Middle East Gulf. But the pace of growth in the GCC as a regional transport hub and its strength as a centre for ship owning and operations, bunkering and ship repair was giving it global status. The establishment of Seatrade Maritime Middle East in Dubai, for the commercial shipping industry, was followed by a move into the offshore marine in neighbouring Abu Dhabi for the workboat sector.

Seatrade’s engagement with the region was further extended when Saudi Arabia’s key role in energy and transport was highlighted in the first Saudi Maritime Congress in 2014, under the patronage of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Transport and Ports Authority and in strategic partnership with Bahri.

A major driver of expansion of sea transport in the region is the Indian sub-continent. In partnership with TradeWinds, the India Shipping Summit in Mumbai provided an annual forum to follow the development of India’s maritime economy in the twenty first century. The same partnership was behind the establishment of the Turkish Shipping Summit in Istanbul, responding to the rapid growth of Turkey’s maritime sector.

To the future

Digitalisation, decarbonisation, consolidation and corporatisation are some of the key themes that influence the shape of the maritime industry today. In this changing environment, Seatrade chairman Chris Hayman started looking in 2012 for a long-term solution that would ensure the continuity of the Seatrade brand. In 2014 he reached an agreement to sell the Seatrade business to UBM. With many long term Seatrade employees remaining with the business, the character of Seatrade’s approach to the industry, providing a universal platform for all stakeholders integrated into new media forms, was broadly retained. Now, following the merger last year with Informa, it forms a proud part of a broader Informa Maritime portfolio that includes the Marintec, Sea Japan and INMEX events, as well as Lloyd’s List within a separate Division.

‘Congratulations to Seatrade for its 50th anniversary and the great role it has played in helping to develop the industries it serves,’ comments Informa Maritime president Andy Williams. ‘From its founding owner in Themis Vokos through to today, under chairman Chris Hayman as part of the global Informa Group, Seatrade and its people have always been closely connected to the international maritime industry – here’s to the next 50 years and what innovations they may bring.’

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