Martin Stopford, President of Clarkson Research, commenting that the trade growth was already slowing down prior to COVID-19, expects three scenarios for shipping’s evolution after the pandemic:

  • Mild scenario (1st scenario): In the best of cases sea trade will pick up again in 2023, growing by 3.2% annually and business will go back to normal.
  • Extended scenario (2nd scenario): Prolonged recession with world trade shrinking by one per cent between 2020 and 2024, followed by renewed growth at a rate of 2.2%.
  • Severe scenario (3rd scenario): Trade goes down. Sea trade declining by 17% by 2024, similar to what happened in the 1980s when trade collapsed.

Concerning future ship fuels, Mr Stopford expects three innovation waves. The first wave will see conventionally propelled but optimised vessels. This will be followed by gas and hybrid or electrically powered ships featuring low emissions, advanced digital control systems and batteries. In the third wave, fuel cells will allow ships to operate emission-free.

Stressing the green goals set by shipping stakeholders, Sadan Kaptanoglu, President of BIMCO, noted that the industry hasn’t yet accepted that turning green is not the cheapest way, but the most sustainable one. She commented that “We still need to reach the 2050 reduction target for emissions, and one or two years of low revenues will not change that.”

Seeing the pros arising from the pandemic, Cristina Aleixendri, COO at bound4blue, addressed wind propulsion and the opportunities, adding that “The coronavirus could be the driving force enabling us to achieve the decarbonisation goals even before 2050.”  

Following, the discussion focused on digitalization, with Knut Ørbeck-Nielssen, CEO of DNVGL commenting that the COVID-19 pandemic could be a “Renaissance for the industry”. Mr. Ørbeck-Nielssen also referred to the remote inspections and audits taking place across the industry, applauding the use of technology. Digitalization is the example that when there is a crisis there is an opportunity.

Overall, smart transport logistics keep supply chains going and play a vital role in the economy, especially during these challenging times.

Despite the advantages discussed, the guests applauded the seafarers and their hard work, with Mrs. Kaptanoglu paying tribute to these “hidden heroes” and calling on governments not to abandon ship owners and their crews at sea and on land, keeping in mind that seafarers are forced to take over their colleagues’ shifts as long as crew changes are impossible and there is no way for them to return to their home countries because of the risk of infection.

Concluding, shipyards and maritime suppliers, being amongst the most important pillars supporting the sector, are suffering from the pandemic as well. Dirk Lehmann, Managing Director of the Hamburg-based company Becker Marine Systems, and Vice Chair of SEA Europe, noted that "They depend on the support of the political decision-makers. Providing this support is the only way a steady supply of goods and technical progress can be ensured in Europe." 

All the attendees highlighted the new era that will follow the crisis, once the industry stabilizes again, commenting that the consequences of the pandemic are yet to be apparent.