The challenges of ultra large container ships and adoption of new port technologies dominated debate at the 39th annual TOC Europe show in London this June
London, 15.07.2014 – Over 3,500 members of the international shipping, ports and transport community converged at ExCeL London on 24-26 June for the TOC Europe Conference and Exhibition 2014, making it one of the best-attended in the show’s 39-year history. With 120 speakers at four conference and seminar streams, spanning container supply chain, container terminal operations, port-centric logistics and bulk ports, plus over 160 exhibitors, the 2014 edition offered the industry the largest and most diverse programme to date.
Making Sense of Scale was the key theme of the main TOC Container Supply Chain (CSC) conference and the numerous technical and operational seminars taking place over the 3-day event. As expected, a major focus of debate was the impact of ultra large container vessels (ULCVs), alliances and related shipping industry cost control measures on shippers and other members of the transport chain, especially port operators.
With this year’s TOC Europe staged just a week after the announcement that the Chinese government had vetoed the proposed P3 alliance between Maersk Line, CMA CGM and MSC, the over-riding view from industry experts taking part was that this does not spell the end of further carrier alliances and co-operation. That view was swiftly verified by industry events, with the announcement on 10 July of the 2M vessel sharing pact between Maersk and MSC.
Speakers in the TOC CSC conference observed that the growing fleet of 15,000 TEU-plus container vessels that is set to dominate the main deep sea trades in the next few years can only achieve the sought-after cost savings at greater than 80% utilisation rates. So efforts to fill the giant ships will continue unabated, and will require carriers to join forces — as far as the regulators will allow. Cost control, said Martin Dixon of Drewry, has now become the dominant driver of shipping line policy.
A common sentiment emerging from the diverse conference sessions was that the shipping industry’s ‘gigantist’ approach is placing immense pressure both on customers and on the rest of the transport chain. Keynote speaker Neville Scowen, of International Paper, gave a damning verdict on carriers for their poor schedule reliability, ever-lengthening transit times and, most of all, poor or non-existent customer communications. Shipping lines, he said, are in danger of becoming purely “takers, not makers”.
Andrew Penfold of Ocean Shipping Consultants shed a spotlight on the pressures being placed on terminals. The average call exchange is now at 4,000 containers, he said, creating for many ports a concentrated ‘surge’ of peak traffic that they have never had to deal with before.
Summing up in the closing session, Tony Simkus, President, Sarandipity LLC, spoke of the “big disconnect” between shipping scale and the terminal industry’s capacity to cope. On a positive note, he pointed out that many of the systems and technologies on display at TOC Europe showed promising signs that suppliers and terminal operators were on the right road to handling the coming wave of massive container volumes in a single call.
Attention was also focused on the consequences of cascading displaced 8-10,000 TEU vessels into regional trades – an issue which, as of yet, has not been seriously addressed. ULCVs will only be deployed on a limited number of trades and port calls, and the infrastructure is being put in place to cope with these. But Richard Clarke, Director, Richard Clarke Marine, pointed out the same cannot be said of smaller ports where infrastructure has not been scaled up to cope with vessels of 8-10,000 TEU. “I don’t think carriers have sufficiently thought through where they are going to send these classes of vessels,” he said. “There could be as many as 230 vessels of around 8,000 TEU looking for a home.”
With knowledge gathering taking centre stage alongside contact building, TOC Europe once again delivered to the industry a comprehensive platform to learn, debate and network. “We thank everyone who made TOC Europe a success this year, the first time the event has been staged in our home city.” said Paul Holloway, Event Director, TOC Events Worldwide “Plans are already underway to make our 40th edition in Rotterdam a truly memorable occasion. The industry is invited to celebrate with us the anniversary of a brand that strives to stimulate debate and networking amongst those who own, move and handle containerised cargo.”