Maritime trends for 2017 and beyond

Dec 2016

Ruud Muis 2014 (3)





The maritime sector witnessed a difficult time and 2016 was not exactly easy. The overcapacity, the struggle for shiploads and the margins of almost every player on this market are under pressure. So ship-owners opt for postponing their maintenance and when they dock, the bare minimum is done. Do I see light at the end of the tunnel in 2017? Where lie the opportunities in the maritime industry? I identified five trends


1.      Escaping the doldrums
There are few segments in the maritime industry that have escaped the effects of the economic crisis. The cruise segment and LNG tankers are doing nicely. And now Trump is elected in America, I think the defense market will improve. But container and cargo shipping and tankers will still have to angle sharply windward in the year to come. The large consolidations are still in progress. But that does not solve the overcapacity. I hope that all ship-owners will have the courage to write off part of their fleet. This will incite a tremendous boost for the industry.

2.      To be or not to be oil addicted
We will remain addicted to oil. Because oil is not only used as fuel in cars, ships and planes, it is also indispensable for plastics, soaps, polymers and asphalt. Recently, OPEC has managed to agree on reducing the worldwide oil and gas production, resulting in an increase in price. If it continues to rise, investments in the industry will increase, with positive effects for shipping in its wake.

3.      Competitive edge
The sales and service market will increasingly emphasize on customer satisfaction, customization and specialization. Independent brand components for seals and propulsion systems are here to stay. They are, if only in terms of costs, too attractive for ship owners. When producers resist these components to enter the market, this will lead to a lack of competition and therefore innovation. I wonder if trade association EMISA is able to achieve a breakthrough on this in the next two years.

4.      Race to the bottom
Competition purely on price might seem a logical strategy, but it is a race to the bottom. Competing solely on costs and aiming for a maximum of efficiency will result in compromising quality, service, safety and good personnel. And that's a dead end. Opportunities in competitive advantage lie in added value through customer focus, building long-term relationships and optimal service. Shipping companies will increasingly select on these criteria.

5.      Crewless ships and 3D printers
The rise of the 3D printer will have a big impact on our industry for the next decade. At the WorkBoat Show in New Orleans, I saw a plastic propeller seal; lighter than a bronze seal and equally robust. In five years, when the costs of 3D printing have gone down considerably, this could be a true replacement for bronze. At AEGIR-Marine we also look for innovative solutions. Together with PhD students of the Technical University in Delft, we were able to achieve progress in this field.

What about crewless ships? Shipping is a very old industry, with sometimes century-old rules and regulations. For example, regulating incident and accident liability is a hurdle we have to take for remote controlled ships. Although, the development of these ships is probably irreversible, solutions for this challenge are not to be expected within the next decade.

I wish you a healthy, innovative and highly successful 2017.