...that might be the thought in the minds of many maritime professionals at the moment – a few days before the world’s leading trade fair SMM opens its doors after a four- instead of two-year break. Once again – and for the 30th time – the maritime world will come together in the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg for a week of innovations, presentations and networking at the beginning of September.
A lot has happened since September 2018 and the last ‘proper’ SMM – globally, socially, and geopolitically. The term ‘disruptive’, which was used almost indiscriminately long before the outbreak of Covid-19, has probably never been more appropriate than now. The unprecedented field of tension consists of so many different aspects – the pandemic, the climate crisis, Putin’s war of aggression on Ukraine, energy supplies, wild fires across Europe, the Chinese claim to supremacy, shortage of skilled workers and resources – that every area of life, professional and private, is now affected.
Interestingly, one positive outcome is that people and professions from outside the industry are increasingly attentive towards maritime and logistical processes and issues. Why does it take so long for the spare parts to arrive? How will the energy supply be secured if we no longer get gas from Russia? How quickly can floating terminals come online in this country?
Will this intellectual involvement lead to a better understanding and possibly even more political support, especially for European shipbuilders and suppliers? Probably not. However, the pressure remains on an industry that is responsible for the timely transport of goods in a global context.
The possible energy crisis and an energy security independent from Russian gas or coal puts another very significant spotlight on the shipping and shipbuilding businesses and, of course, on the entire field of offshore renewable power. In the short run, the availability of sufficient capacity to ship LNG from countries like the United States to Europe has to be of greatest concern.
LNG carriers have long been solely built at Asian shipyards – another form of dependency that is most likely to prove a grave oversight in the near future. Especially if more ships are needed and shipyard capacities are exhausted. May this open up oppor- tunities for European builders? Again – probably not; at least not without further ado and possibly even some state support.
In the move to transform our energy supply into sustainable resources, China also plays an important role: resources and com- modities such as solar modules and rare earths are obtained from the country on a large scale. So as a trading partner, China is actually indispensable, and turning away from it would be problematic on many levels. As Bernhard Bartsch, head of External Relations of the Mercator Institute for China Studies, recently said on German public broadcasting: “There is no second China!” Countries like India, Indonesia or Brazil cannot replace China in this respect.
What to do then? The call for appropriate regulation is not new – and yet it has probably never been more urgent than now. But as said before, to hope for swift support from local politicians is probably naïve. The current developments on the world stage are supposedly more dramatic.
With all this ‘luggage’ that is currently keeping our minds busy, it may be difficult to remain optimistic for a bright future. However, never has it been more important to combine all possible creative energies toward a common goal. We already have the know-how and the technologies that are needed to ensure the sustainable use of existing resources – a change in thinking and probably leaving the comfort zone has to happen in people’s minds.