AsiaMaritime CEO

International Chamber of Shipping: Two more years under Esben Poulsson

“You’re either mad or a masochist,” Maritime CEO fires in with our first question to the newly re-elected chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS).

No two-year term at the helm of the global shipowning body has been more momentous than Esben Poulsson’s first tenure in which he has had to front shipping’s positions on CO2, ballast water management and the sulphur cap among a host of other issues, often being the figurehead for attacks by many NGOs, especially in the run up to April’s momentous IMO decision to enforce a greenhouse gas emissions target on the sector for the first time.

“When it came to the vote, I looked around and saw no one else was willing to put their hand up,” Poulsson jokes on his re-election last week at an ICS meeting in Hong Kong.

The fact is few in the industry could have negotiated the massive regulatory hurdles shipping has faced in the past couple of years better than Poulsson, a Danish national who is also president of the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA). The former Torm man is also chairman of Enesel Pte Ltd, a Singapore management subsidiary of Athens-based boxship operator Enesel. This trio of roles will ensure he has a very busy time at Posidonia in Athens in 10 days time.

While in the past there have been ICS chairmen who have been in place for up to 10 years, the current constitution only allows for two terms so Poulsson will be heading the organisation through to the start of the sulphur cap, something that is now uppermost in his mind.

Recent comments from Poulsson on the sulphur cap – which is now just 18 months’ away – have seen him warn of the potential for an “unholy mess” if technical specifics are not ironed out fast by IMO member states.

“We are trying to bring focus from IMO countries that the devil is in the detail and there are technical issues that need resolution at upcoming meetings in July and October,” Poulsson tells Maritime CEO, arguing that world trade could be harmed unless the roadmap to the sulphur cap is made more clear to shipowners.

Poulsson says owners need to have worked out what they will do fuel-wise by the start of the second half of next year to ensure a smooth transition come the entrance of the sulphur cap on January 1, 2020.

“Owners are very concerned about fuel supply across the world’s ports,” he relays.

ICS works via consensus building, Poulsson says. He believes the organisation, made up of national shipowner associations, is particularly democratic in this regard.

“The secretariat is very good at reading the mood of the majority and then to articulate that and I then go with that,” Poulsson explains.

The secretariat that Poulsson praises so highly is set for a big change soon with the CEO of the UK Chamber of Shipping, Guy Platten, replacing long term ICS secretary general Peter Hinchliffe on August 1 this year. Hichliffe has been with the chamber since 2001 and has been secretary general since 2010.

“The transition will be smooth,” Poulsson reckons. “Both Guy and Peter get on well. They understand that they need to make it smooth and it will be a brief handover.”

Poulsson feels that Platten will help ICS develop better ways communication, citing how well the UK Chamber has engaged with the UK government and also the media. Platten will also be charged with helping drive membership at ICS.

ICS is the largest trade association in shipping, representing all sectors and trades and over 80% of the world merchant fleet.

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