Seatrade Maritime is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Industry collaboration needs listening: What do shippers have to say?

MicrosoftTeams-image (6).png
There can be no maritime trade without cargo to ship. As such, the industry must bear in mind the needs of the shippers – including the cargo owners – they intend to serve.

When looking at maritime trade, we observe a complex value chain that places the port as the pivotal element for cargo coming in and out. As the sector evolves, whether in search for greener supply chains to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, or pursuing digitalisation to enhance data collaboration, there is a simple fact that remains still: There can be no maritime trade without cargo to ship. As such, the industry must bear in mind the needs of the shippers – including the cargo owners – they intend to serve.

The Global Shippers’ Forum (GSF), founded in 2011, is the global trade body that speaks up for and advises both shippers in the conduct of international trade. Whether talking about manufacturers, producers, retailers, wholesalers, or traders of goods, the GSF supports in the essential role they perform in national economies, and works with them to guarantee an efficient, safe, and sustainable transport of cargo, while promoting and defending the interests of shippers in world trade.

In this regard, James Hookham, Director of the GSF since 2018, highlighted some key areas in which the GSF is currently supporting cargo owners: Sustainable Profit, Digitalisation, and Safety & security, among others. But what does this mean?

It is no secret that industries face growing pressure to decarbonise their production and operational processes. For shippers, this means understanding – and quantifying – the CO2 emissions released across each stage of their value chains, designing tangible decarbonisation strategies with concrete deadlines, and reporting on these so that stakeholders can assess whether their pledges to achieve net-zero by 2050 are on track. This becomes particularly relevant for the shipping and aviation sectors, which are some of the hardest to decarbonise. While some of the biggest shippers are committing to invest in sustainable fuels, which could in turn allow them to credit their carbon footprint within the targets, what fuel is the right to invest in remains as a question yet to be answered.

Furthermore, some industry experts do not seem to agree on one specific green fuel and instead advocate for a multifuel landscape, which in turn presents a new dilemma, addressed by Professor Lynn Loo, CEO of the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation at TOC Asia in 2022: Will there be bunkering and storage infrastructure for the right type of fuel? Whether looking at ports or airports, how to reassure shippers – and others supply chain stakeholders – looking to invest in planes or vessels running on a specific green fuel of their ROI? James highlights the importance of clarity and collaboration to convince ESG boards across the sector that decarbonisation of their supply chains can – and should – be profitable.

The clarity, however, should not be limited to sustainability; it is paramount for the digital transformation of the industry. In James’ opinion, digitalisation – understood as using digital technologies to alter and improve existing processes – can help shippers optimize their transactions and the management of their value chains to prevent potential peaks in demand. Whether caused by the pandemic or the present geopolitical situation, shippers are faced with levels of unpredictability like never before. 

James stresses the need for shippers to use digital platforms and data collaboration to become more resilient against another potential shock; nonetheless, he also acknowledges a significant barrier: Data governance.

By trusting a hypothetical digital platform with sensitive commercial information, who would be accountable for this?

What cybersecurity measures would need to be undertaken to prevent a potential data breach and what would be the standards to follow?

What would be the rights of shippers using such a platform and what due diligence would need to be implemented? 

These are only some of the questions that need answering before an articulated digital transformation can take place across the industry.

On the subject to safety and security, it is simple. No one wants any accidents happening to the people handling the cargo, or to the cargo itself. Yet, again, the issues of clarity and standards come back to the surface. From the packaging of specific types of cargo to its handling upon arrival to the port, standardized best practices need to be observed. Beyond the scope of what happens at the terminal, container handling must also factor in the risks of invasive species that may have been transported with the cargo and gone unnoticed. Hence, the GSF in tandem with ICHCA and TT Club have been working on the Cargo Integrity Group, which advocates for standardized best practices for cargo handling.

Amongst such a plethora of topics to cover, the need for shippers to engage with their supply chain partners – ideally in a less formal and more relaxed environment – holds a great deal of possibilities. As such, James will be elaborating on these and other issues at the next edition of TOC Europe, taking place in Rotterdam, the Netherlands from 13th to 15th June at the Ahoy. This will be an open conversation where shippers will make their voices heard. We keep bringing collaboration as something we need in the industry, let us start by listening. I look forward to hearing what James and other shippers will have to say. See you there.

James Hookham will be speaking in the session “Listening to Cargo Owners - A Round Table Discussion” at TOC Europe, which takes place from 13-15 June at the Ahoy Rotterdam.  Join him and discover even more – Register now for free entrance via the event website here