Maritime awards: it’s time the industry woke up

“Despite difficult times, leading companies in the maritime industry have shown amazing resilience, remarkable ingenuity, dedication to safety and best practice. We’re here tonight to celebrate the achievements of those who have put their best foot forward.”

Wake up! I haven’t been to a maritime industry awards night in years, but I can imagine the opening speeches resonate in this way – the same as they have since publishers started to realise they can make a bigger profit from awards nights than they can from the publications they are pinned upon in order to seem credible.

It is time that the industry recognised that the abundance of maritime awards nights that are being held, probably more than 50 a year these days, are nothing more than big money making exercises. Of course, we’re all here to make money, but let’s not dress these awards ceremonies up and take them seriously as if they are symbols of excellence, judged by industry experts who proclaim your company to be greater than another. That would be completely false.

As someone who has witnessed many awards from the inside, let’s get this right. They are run by spreadsheets. X amount of sponsors plus X amount of tables. The spreadsheet is far more lengthy than the nominations lists for all the categories (if you enter, there is a better than good chance you’ll be shortlisted although you have just cost yourself a few thousand dollars to buy a table!). The spreadsheet is also far more complex than the nominations and judging forms.

Yes, judges are assembled with good intentions in most cases. Yes, they are presented with all the nominations in an unbiased fashion to choose the best submissions. It’s the system which isn’t right. The judges are judging the best submission rather than the best company, because that’s all they have to go on. It is all about marketing spiel. What else can someone from Intertanko do when judging the container line of the year award, for example?

While the intentions of the judges can’t be questioned, how do you deal with a sponsor paying up to $20,000 who demands they win an award? Especially when they also advertise in your prestigious hard-hitting, unbiased publication? Perhaps if the judges don’t select them you can make up an award, maybe a newsmaker or personality award? Maybe an encouragement award? Ever wondered why the night just goes on and on?

It’s difficult to fathom why companies would spend so much money to sponsor one of these awards. For the amount mentioned, you get a table of ten, your logo up on the screen and an advert in that valuable commemorative program amongst other things. You even get to network amongst a room full of other sponsors, also eagerly chasing the very few shipowners or managers in the room.

Maybe, just maybe, your boss enjoys going up onto the stage and taking the limelight for two minutes while he passes the award to the winner and has his photo snapped?

It’s time to put the egos aside, and your money back into something worthy. Invest in safety, education, support a charity, or reward your staff with a beer and a pat on the back.

If you really do want a good night out networking you can support your local shipowners’ association event instead. A table at the Singapore Shipping Association annual dinner costs a fraction of the price of a maritime awards night and over 2,000 people attend.

Hold my hand for ten minutes and I could probably introduce you to half a dozen shipowners – free of charge.

Grant Rowles

Grant spent nine years at Informa Group based in London, Sydney, Hong Kong and Singapore. He gained strong management experience in publishing, conferences and awards schemes in the shipping and legal areas, working on a number of titles including Lloyd's List. In 2009 Grant joined Seatrade responsible for the commercial development of Seatrade’s Asia products. In 2012, with Sam Chambers, he co-founded Asia Shipping Media.


  1. Shoehorning awards just so that pats on the back can be doled out is a classic at these awards. Last Friday a show created a ‘Contribution to the Development of Maritime Singapore’ award just so a business partner of the organiser could win a gong. I recall the same organiser created a ‘Most Influential Port in Northeast Asia’ at a previous shindig, just so some chums in Dalian could win something. Then there was the 51-year-old receiving the ‘Young Person’ award a while back. More often than not ‘Deals of the Year’ awards go pear-shaped too. I could go on …

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