Maritime & Trade Blog

Video: Trends in the global shipping industry - Seafarers, technology, and the Panama Canal

Shipping is now more technology driven, requiring seafarers who understand big data, advanced navigational systems, and loading of cargo via computer.

Richard Clayton

Interview Transcript

Trends in the global shipping industry - Seafarers, technology, and the Panama Canal

I think the first significant trend for shipping is the need to meet environmental regulations. And these have been coming in for five years at least, but they've been becoming more and more expensive. And during a time of low freight rates, when the revenue is not good, to be told that you need to invest in new pieces of kits to improve your environmental friendliness: that's a really tough ask.

I think the second significant trend is around seafarers and the fact that fewer people want to go to sea, because shipping is seen as a not very attractive form of employment. People want to stay on shore. People want to be around their friends and their family. But I think the thing to bear in mind about shipping is that it is technologically quite a "go ahead" industry.

Shipping is becoming much more technologically driven. And the seafarers that are now required, need to have a much higher level of education then they used to in the past. So we don't just want people to paint, or to chip away at flaky materials. We want people who understand big data, people who understand navigational systems, people who can understand loading of cargo via computer. Seafaring is now a much more interesting job - you've just got to get over the communications. And I think that satellite communications have made that much more interesting now. You can have your mobile phones; you can have your Internet connectivity wherever you are in the world. So I see that as a big plus, and I'm hoping that people will no longer regard seafaring as "out there" and far away from your home. It's just out of sight, not out of mind.

Now as regards: the Panama Canal. This is a critical piece of infrastructure because it is the only way to get between the Pacific and the Atlantic, or the Atlantic and the Pacific, short of going round the bottom of South America. So, to have a limitation of only 33 meters, means that the size of ship, and therefor the volume of cargo that you can carry, is really restricted by the needs of a hundred years ago. By pushing it to 50 meters wide and beyond you can carry much more cargo, and therefore you can have larger ships, and therefore the flow of trade from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the other way suddenly becomes a more attractive option. You can place your factories one side or other of that divide. You can start thinking about supplying China from Brazil in a way that you couldn't before, so it changes the way we think about the world. To me, this is one of the key pieces of investment for the maritime sector over the next 40 or 50 years.

Richard Clayton Chief Analyst, IHS Maritime & Trade