The fourth Maritime Standard Ship Finance and Trade Conference, held at Abu Dhabi’s Sheraton Hotel and Resort, was in many ways very different from the preceding three events in this increasingly popular series. While in other years the sense of challenge and adversity was dominant, this year speakers at the one-day conference were generally much more optimistic and upbeat about market prospects, although a number of potential hazards on the road to full recovery were also much in evidence.
Conference chairman, Clive Woodbridge, editor of The Maritime Standard, said, “This time speakers generally focussed on how shipping companies and port operators in the region might take full advantage of more promising market fundamentals. There was in particular clear agreement that stakeholders need to work more closely together to ensure that these emerging opportunities can be capitalised on, and also that greater flexibility in terms of financing options will be required, with for example crowdfunding type solutions coming into the equation.”
Keynote speaker, H.E. Ahmed Shareef Alkhoori, Director General, Federal Transport -Land & Maritime, set the scene, underlining some of the positive changes being planned for the country’s maritime laws, and the proactive role the UAE is now taking in its role as an IMO Council member.
The conference was hosted by Abu Dhabi Ports and so it was fitting that chief executive, Capt. Mohamed Juma Al Shamisi, gave the second keynote presentation. He called for a new era of collaboration between the financial sector and those active in shipping and ports, suggesting that, “By investing in ports, shipping and logistics, we can ensure the region has the ecosystem to attract the biggest names in the business and help them establish, or grow, their presence in the region. But, we need the support of the financial industry to do so.”
For a long time, he suggested, financial institutions have lacked the depth of knowledge needed to fully understand the fundamentals of the ports and shipping sector, which has affected their confidence to support development. “This, in turn, limits our ability to seize opportunities and to grow,” Captain Shamisi added. “If our industry is to truly realise its potential in this region then this must change, which is why I am calling on financial institutions, whether based here or elsewhere in the world, to open their eyes and their minds to all that our industry has to offer.”
The main session then assessed how infrastructure and asset investment can unlock trade potential. Speakers, who provided examples of how this was working in practice in different parts of the region, included Capt. Abdulkareem Al Masabi, CEO, ADNOC Logistics & Services; Ross Thompson, Chief Commercial and Strategy Officer – Ports; Abu Dhabi Ports; Michael Jorgensen, CFO, Oman Shipping Company; Dr Priyath Wickrama, Chairman, Bestar Consultancy; and Saliya Wickramasuriya from Hambantota International Port Group.
Conference delegates were then treated to a special ‘up close’ question and answer interview session with Bibop Gresta, Chairman, Hyperloop and Sanjay Mehta, Chairman, S One Capital. “The chance to hear about this technology and how it will affect both freight and passenger transport in the region greatly appreciated and generated a lot of audience involvement,” says Clive. “This is going to be innovative, disruptive technology and it is fitting that it will be in Abu Dhabi that people get the first glimpse into its potential.”
After lunch, the topic moved to the future of ship finance and in particular the implications of changes in this sector for the market in the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent. In a session chaired by well-known industry expert, Jesper Kjaedegaard, speakers included Bobby Varghese, Vice President- Financial Strategy, Abu Dhabi Ports; Jacob Berman, Director, Standard Chartered; Ali Shehab, Deputy CEO, Kuwait Oil Tanker Company; Marcus Machin, CEO, Tufton Oceanic (Middle East); Andrew Simmons, CEO, Global Marine Transport; Tien Tai; Regional Partner, HFW; and Michael Savva, Partner, Watson Farley Williams.
Supporting regional trade development was the subject of the third and final session. Delivering a varied series of presentations, that looked at different commercial, financial and technical influences on local trade flows, Capt. S.R. Patnaik; CEO; International Shipping & Logistics; Bora Bariman, Head of Energy and Marine, National Bank of Fujairah; Waleed Altamimi, General Manager, Emirates Classification Society (TASNEEF); and Giovanni Moscatelli, Partner and Managing Director, Boston Consulting Group Middle East, all kept the audience fully engaged, and listening intently right to the end.