It was a case of standing room only at a packed room at the Astir Palace for the final session of Capital Link’s Posidonia event yesterday with organisers saying they had saved the thunder for last.
Six of the biggest names in Greek shipping -Evangelos Marinakis, John Coustas, George Procopiou, Nikolas Tsakos, Petros Pappas, George Economou (pictured left to right) took to the stage to discuss a rage of matters from the Ukraine invasion to digitalisation
Many of the assembled Greek shipping behemoths argued the case that sanctions being imposed on Russia were futile, while all admitted that new trading patterns emerging in the three months since war began in eastern Europe could be highly beneficial from a tonne-mile perspective.
We should focus on the doable, not the desirable
Marinakis, the head of the sprawling Capital shipping empire, told delegates of the new opportunities coming into play as different trading patterns emerge. He argued that sanctions penalised Europe more than they did Russia, warning that the continent would see the consequences soon.
“Our economies face huge recessions,” Marinakis warned.
The longer the war goes on, the greater the problems faced for ships with crews featuring both Russians and Ukrainians, Marinakis said, explaining that across his fleet the decision has been taken to separate them.
Procopiou, founder of Dynacom, also hit out at politicians for plunging Europe into today’s energy sensitive situation as part of an overall thesis of his on the realities of the green transition.
“For last three and half years there has been no investment into fossil fuels due to every leader going for plan B when plan B was not in place,” Procopiou said, stressing: “We should focus on the doable, not the desirable.”
After the invasion Procopiou said Europeans had been shooting themselves in the foot with the only real winner being China, and possibly India.
Who is blame for the pollution of a taxi? The driver or the passenger?
Procopiou described the conflict as the “biggest miscalculation of the century”.
While conceding it was a tragedy for humanity, the fact is, Procopiou said, tonne-miles will increase immensely. Cargoes that used to go by pipeline to neighbours in Europe are now heading by ship to Asia, while other cargoes are heading from Asia to Europe for the first time in what Procopiou described as “rewriting shjpping lanes”.
“With challenges, there come opportunities,” the veteran shipowner told delegates.
Like others on the heavyweight shipowning panel, Procopiou maintained that sanctions did not work – the Iranians had learned to become self-sufficient, while most Venezuelans suffered as a result of existing sanctions.
Procopiou said shipping was living in a grey area in terms of what is legal and illegal in today’s fast changing Russia sanctions environment, a period of time where Greek owners have been shipping the most amount of Russian cargoes.
Quizzed on how they would spend $100m in today’s strong shipping markets, Tsakos, CEO of Tsakos Energy Navigation, opted for a duel fuel newcastlemax or cape, while Economou, founder of the TMS Group, told the audience he was convinced the dry bulk markets will be good for the next three years, said his best investment advice would be for older, larger capesizes. Economou also revealed he is in the process of creating a ship investment platform for retail investors.
Many of the shipowners present let it be known that unlike in previous Posidonias they’d be keeping their powder dry, holding off ordering newbuilds until confirmed new technology was proven, likely towards the end of this decade.
Petros Pappas, CEO of Star Bulk Carriers, pointed out shipping still did not know what the new green fuels will be, and after the right engines and vessel designs, and then for the prices to be comepetitive. He alluded to a statistic he had read recently that stated it takes 80,000 sq km – nearly the size of the island of Mykonos – to produce enough green ammonia ro power a single 20,000 teu containership.
“Overall I think it will take the better part of the next decade to fulfil these requirements,” Pappas said.
Pappas said he had no intention of ordering new ships as the right new engines will only come along from around 2027 onwards. “Ships before that will immediately be second-class old citizens,” Pappas said.
This ordering restraint was also part of Procopiou’s strategy, with the owner telling the conference: “No owner wants to be a guinea pig ordering ships.”
Tsakos agreed, saying he preferred to wait for the dust to settle on current technology being discussed.
“We will not be first movers,” Tsakos said, adding later on: “We will not be the Christopher Columbus discovering America, we will be right after.”
Looking ahead, Tsakos, one of the most famous names in the tanker industry, conceded the business on which he had first built his empire might not have much of a rosy future.
“Going forward I am not so sure how sustainable the tanker business will be,” Tsakos said, going on to explain that was why he had been so keen to diversify his fleet.
Also looking ahead, John Coustas, the CEO of Danaos, suggested that one of the biggest challenges Greek shipping will face will come with the advent of autonomous shipping. Referring to how Procopiou liked to say ships are the taxis of the seas. For Greek shipping, which Coustas said prides itself on training crews and vessel expertise, this potential uberisation of shipping posed a challenge.
Also using this taxi analogy, Procopiou turned to the audience in a concluding remark on shipping’s great green conundrum, asking all those present, “Who is blame for the pollution of a taxi? The driver or the passenger?”