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China setting the scene for possible post-virus recovery

Chinese shipyards are staging a sharp recovery and many are operating close to normal. This was the message from shipping guru Martin Stopford, speaking after a virtual press conference yesterday held by SMM organisers, Hamburg Messe.

The traditional pre-SMM Hamburg event was staged virtually on Zoom and enabled prominent shipping experts to express their views on the industry outlook. SMM, originally due to be held during the second week of September, has now been postponed until February 2-5 next year.

DNV GL Maritime’s ceo Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen believes that the pandemic has turbocharged the sector’s digitalisation journey, “advancing it by half a decade”. Classification societies have been hard-hit by the virus but have responded by giving shipping clients more options, he said. DNV GL has used a force majeure clause to enable surveys to be postponed, whilst its remote diagnostics system – Direct Access to Technical Experts (DATE) set up in 2018 – now provides more options for ship operators with vessels under DNV GL class.

Cristina Aleixendri, chief operating officer of bound4blue, developer of the smart sail system Wingsail, said that the coronavirus could be the “driving force” that enables the industry to achieve decarbonisation goals even before 2050. Sadan Kaptanoglu, president of Bimco and a staunch advocate of green shipping, said that the industry should not let the crisis derail its sustainability drive. “We still need to reach the 2050 reduction target for emissions, and one or two years of low revenues will not change that.”

Dirk Lehmann, Becker Marine Systems’ md and vice chairman of Sea Europe, a European shipyard and equipment supplier association, called on governments to make far-reaching concessions and provide support for shipbuilders and marine suppliers. These companies were essential for the steady supply of goods and the technical progress necessary to reach decarbonisation targets, he said. However, many new technologies come at a cost and the fundamental question of who pays for the upfront investment is still a major issue.

Stopford, though cautious, was the most upbeat of the four. Globalisation has lost some of its momentum, he conceded, but regional manufacturing and demand for short-sea shipping are likely to increase, providing a convenient setting to try out many of the new technologies currently under development.

Following his recent analysis giving three possible scenarios resulting from Covid-19, Stopford told Seatrade that latest news on shipyard activity from his Chinese network is encouraging. From a gloomy outlook several weeks ago in which there was a possibility that seaborne trade could be seriously affected for many years, Stopford now believes that an industry recovery is possible more quickly. 

Meanwhile, Bernd Aufderheide, president and ceo of Hamburg Messe und Congress GmbH, affirmed that the vast majority of exhibitors support the new February 2021 dates. “We have been receiving plenty of positive feedback,” he said. “Together, we will overcome this crisis and host an SMM that will live up to the high standards everyone expects.”

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