The maritime traditions of this venerable shipping centre will last a while longer.

The maritime traditions of this venerable shipping centre will last a while longer.

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Talk at Global Liner Shipping in Hamburg this week centred on threats, but even in the shadow of Rickmers’ troubles there was hope

HAMBURG is going through something of a rough time at the moment.

A shipping economy based on two large container lines, several banks nursing failing KG investments, and an array of large and small tramp containership owners is not necessarily a healthy one these days.

This was reflected in the sentiment of some of the discussions and presentations that took place at the Global Liner Shipping conference held in Hamburg this week.

Perhaps one of the most damning indictments of box shipping was that from Morgan Stanley vice-president Annelies Vermeulen, who pointed out that container lines had burned through $5bn in earnings before interest and tax since the financial crisis as they fought for market share ahead of profitability.

Maersk Line’s Europe chief executive Karsten Kildahl admitted that container shipping had been unprofitable for several years and warned that further consolidation was likely if box line balance sheets were not repaired.

Nevertheless, he held of out hope of a recovery as the rates improvements that had been seen in the first quarter of this year fed into carriers’ revenues.

But discipline would be required, both in pricing and not managing capacity. As MSI’s James Frew noted, shipyard capacity remained the elephant in the room that could lead owners to overinvest in tonnage again.

One of those who definitely won’t be ordering new ships anytime soon is the Offen Group, whose chief operating officer Hermann Klein ruled out boxship orders amid the continued overcapacity threat.

And if SeaInteligence Consulting’s Lars Jensen is correct — and he often is — carriers do have a chance of thriving again, as long as they focus on long-term strategy.

Outside the conference, the news was of Rickmers Group’s struggles with its bondholders and restructuring plan, casting a long shadow over Hamburg. But as the conference closed, the yachts streaming across Alster Lake gave the impression the maritime traditions of this venerable shipping centre will last a while longer.



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