Marintec China – Superlatives, Shipping, and Shanghai

Returning from Marintec, BLUE Account Manager Rhys Thomas explains why Shanghai is the perfect place to explore the challenges facing shipping in 2017.

If just one thought sticks with me, long after I have left Marintec behind, it will be this: China loves a record. And I don’t mean the vinyl type – rather, this nation’s pre-eminent desire to build taller, bigger, and faster than any other on the planet. It’s no wonder, then, that Shanghai has a reputation above all other cities for being a true city of superlatives.

Consider this – in landing in the world’s largest city (population 23 million, or four times the size of London) and getting to my hotel, I travelled on the world’s fastest train (the Shanghai Maglev), used the world’s longest metro system (at 365 miles of track in total) to stay in a room looking out at the world’s second largest building, the Shanghai Tower. Sorry, China – the United Arab Emirates has you there – but the Shanghai Tower does have the world’s highest observation deck to compensate.

Shanghai is also of vital importance to our industry. It is the world’s largest container port (handling 37m TEU in 2016) and is China’s pre-eminent gateway to global trade. For the world’s largest trading nation, that’s a big deal, and so it’s no surprise that it is here, in this city, that the country throws open its doors to shipping’s leading lights every other year.

Marintec was laid out over half of the Shanghai New International Expo Center’s 17 halls, packed with hundreds of exhibitors from China and beyond. All of the world’s major shipping hubs had a presence at the event, with pavilions for Norway, Germany, the UK, Singapore, and others making this a truly international conference.

It provided a wonderful opportunity to catch up with BLUE clients (including UKHO, Høglund, De Nora and others) – and especially our wider friends from across the industry, such as Wärtsilä, TradeWinds, Seatrade Maritime News, IHS Markit and Riviera Maritime Media.

Successful meetings and media interviews punctuated a busy week circling the halls, meeting new faces, and getting first-hand thoughts on some of the biggest issues and challenges facing the industry.

And as for the feeling on the ground? Well, digitalisation seemed to be the abiding theme of the week, with companies looking to untangle this promising (and nebulous) concept with a range of new technologies and solutions that sought to dispel any fears that shipping is not adapting to the modern era.

But nervousness about regulation, in both the certainty of the 2020 sulphur cap and the uncertainty of shipping’s decarbonisation pathway, was also laid bare in my discussions with attendees, who are looking to balance commercial realities with the compliance solutions to navigate these challenges.

In some ways, it is apt that these themes rose to the surface in Shanghai. After all, what is the city if not a digitalised, high-tech marvel, but one that is struggling with its own decarbonisation issues?

Roll on Marintec 2019, and here’s to the knowledge that we’ll always hold lots of enthusiasm for this most unique, most hectic of events in the shipping conference calendar.