Britain’s maritime industries are preparing for a major event at the end of the summer in a more upbeat and confident mood than has been apparent for years.
Long gone are the days when the country’s shipowners, port operators, shipbrokers, marine insurers, equipment manufacturers and other shipping interests that comprise the UK’s broad-based maritime activities were complaining about disjointed policies and regulatory U-turns driving business away.
Instead, a new understanding between government and shipping interests, underpinned by co-ordinated and regular communications that have fostered far better relations between the two sides, is providing the backdrop for London International Shipping Week to be held in two months’ time.
But the steering group stresses that this will be an opportunity to showcase the whole country’s maritime strengths and skills, and not just to promote London.
The long list of supporting organisations includes Mersey Maritime, the Wales Office and other associations that represent national interests.
Nevertheless, London will be at the centre of a week of conferences, seminars, workshops and receptions, a charity golf day and a gala dinner.
The underlying purpose is to reinforce the UK’s status as a major maritime country and London’s position as one of the few cities in the world that can offer both UK and foreign shipowners a complete range of support services, from ship finance, insurance, law, arbitration and shipbroking, to training, consultancy, technical and security expertise and advice.
Posidonia and Nor-Shipping are biennial events in Athens and Oslo that have become firm fixtures on the global shipping calendar.
The sponsors of LISW hope that London in September will become another must-do for the international shipping community.
London will have a different format to the events in Athens and Oslo, which are focused around major exhibitions for equipment and machinery manufacturers, although networking and socialising have almost eclipsed the shows’ original purpose.
The UK event will be modelled more on International Petroleum Week, based on a series of conferences, annual general meetings and dinners, focusing on the so-called invisible shipping services on which London has built its reputation.
Even though most top-level shipping executives pass through the city on a regular basis, London has not hosted a week-long event such as that planned for mid-September before.
A chance remark from former UK shipping minister Stephen Ladyman during a visit to Posidonia a few years ago, asking why London did not organise something similar, set the ball rolling.
“We felt others were gaining a greater profile and therefore potentially an advantage through having an event, when we didn’t,” says Mark Brownrigg, director-general of the UK Chamber of Shipping.
Mr Brownrigg is a member of the LISW steering group, along with other industry luminaries such as Baltic Exchange chief executive Jeremy Penn and Maritime London chief executive Doug Barrow.
To date, more than 60 events are planned for the week, featuring everything that the country has to offer by way of maritime-related activities.
”We needed to do something for UK maritime collectively; it has to be all-inclusive,” says Mr Barrow.
What should give a truly international flavour to the week is the fact that it has been timed to coincide with the annual meeting of the International Chamber of Shipping, which should ensure that shipowner representatives are in town from around the world.
Visitors will also be reminded just how many international shipping organisations, associations and businesses are located in London; from the International Maritime Organization, Intertanko and Intercargo to Inmarsat and the International Association of Classification Societies.
When Lloyd’s List conducted a survey of London-based industry and trade institutions a couple of years ago, the number easily surpassed 40. Add to that manufacturing, marine and leisure organisations, and the total rises to some 90.
What has given LISW real momentum is government backing, testament to the way in which the two sides are working together to promote a sector that has continued to grow when many other industries are struggling.
The formation a few years ago of Maritime UK, a coalition of leading shipping associations, has promoted greater understanding at government level by ensuring the industry presents a united front when dealing with ministers.
Then, in a breakthrough earlier this year, the government announced that it would adopt a more co-ordinated approach to maritime strategy, where in the past government departments often took decisions that affected shipping in isolation, sometimes creating contradictory or counter-productive policies. That was particularly true in the case of tonnage tax, with the Department for Transport recognising the advantages and the Treasury signalling possible adjustments.
That lack of certainty led some international shipowners with vessels registered in the UK to consider transferring them to other jurisdictions.
Those doubts have now been removed. The government has pledged fiscal stability that has injected renewed confidence into Britain’s maritime industry, buoyed by the second Oxford Economics report on the impact of maritime services, published late last year.
The latest analysis showed that the UK’s maritime businesses created thousands of jobs and increased their contribution to the country’s economy during a recession. It found that the maritime services sector was directly responsible for creating 262,700 jobs in 2011, some 35,000 more than in 2009 when the previous study was published.
In terms of gross domestic product, maritime businesses accounted for £13.8bn ($22.4bn), equivalent to 0.9% of the UK economy. Again, that represented growth compared to the 2009 figure of £13.1bn.
Government ministers have also identified the maritime sector as one that could move the UK away from an economy heavily dependent on consumer spending.
That recognition generated a series of meetings between industry leaders and government officials, which bring together all the relevant ministerial departments. Together they are seeking to establish strategic partnerships that cover the different service sub-sectors and set goals and aims for each.
This is the first time that ministers and civil servants have worked together across departments on maritime-related issues, say Mr Brownrigg and Mr Barrow.
Ministers know that the UK is in a global race and have recognised publicly that shipping and maritime services can drive growth.
The sponsors of LISW now hope that vote of confidence will enable the industry to build on its recent successes and dispel, once and for all, the myth that UK shipping is in terminal decline.
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InterManager’s Annual General Meeting will take place on September 13th as part of London International Shipping Week.