Maritime CEO Forum: Shipping anywhere from 30 to 500 years behind the technology curve

Shipping has been warned it’s nearer to Kodak than Uber in its slow adoption of technology. Delegates attending this week’s digital session at the Maritime CEO Forum in Singapore were told shipping is anywhere from 30 to 500 years behind the technology curve.

Venkatraman Sheshashayee, CEO of OSV operator Miclyn Express Offshore, said shipping and offshore were 30 years behind many other industries. Many developments maritime companies are working on today other sectors have had since the mid-1990s. The huge changes coming in the next five years would leave many lost, he predicted. “As an industry we are not prepared,” he said. “We need to change minds to cope with this huge revolution around us.”

Forget 30, the industry is 500 years out of touch, argued delegate Kenny Rogers, who heads up Aurora Tankers. He cited bills of lading as an example, something that have not changed much from the times of Columbus, apart from moving via DHL rather than on horse.

“Shipping does not need autonomous ships,” Rogers said, “It needs an interim solution just to take it out of the Middle Ages.”

Shubpreet Singh, managing director of OSM Ship Management, said the way ships operate has not changed much for decades.

“Our KPIs, the way we spend money has not changed since the late 1970s,” he argued, stressing the need to change the way people were trained in order to meet today’s tech challenges head on.

Mitul Dave, founder of ship finance blockchain platform, agreed on the need to change mindsets, but also he said there were not too many executives willing to commit resources today to long term digital outlays.

“Why is shipping behind the curve?” he mused. “If you are making a decision where there is a cash outflow – a decision for the future – they tend to put that off.”

The novelty of blockchain meant that it was still something the conservative industry was sceptical about, Dave argued.

“Predictions don’t make sense, we need to get the probabilities on our side and we need to use to technology to help that,” he maintained.

John Hahn, CEO of digital freight platform Ocean Freight Exchange, said that going forward the shipping business will not solely be built around long term relationships.

“Those who are able to mine the markets and the data will be the winners. There will be a lot more done by fewer people,” he said.

Part of the problem, Hahn felt, was the individual nature of shipping. “Our industry has lacked a spirit of collaboration and that has really held us back,” he said.

Concluding the session, moderator Morten Lind-Olsen, CEO of Norwegian digital platform Dualog, warned those attending the high calibre event: “I think based on this discussion the shipping industry is nearer to Kodak and Nokia than Facebook and Uber.”

Maritime CEO Forum was sponsored by Cobham, Compas, Dualog, DVB Bank, Liberian Registry, Marlink, OSM Group, ShipServ, Veritas Petroleum Services and Wartsila.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Shipowners traditionally have a lack of “Spirit of Collaboration” and with all the new buildings or near new buildings sitting idly by there will never be any co-operation between shipowners since everyone is figuratively trying to cut each others throat.

  2. Wow, talk about stating the obvious…this industry is still operating in sailing ship days except for email and sat communications.

  3. Uber is built on the idea of one player having market monopoly, and patently doesn’t work if not (the company has been hemorrhaging money since the beginning and is a far cry from being profitable at current scale). How Uber and similar companies in other industries are dysfunctional are well covered elsewhere on the internet including a long and excellent series on Naked Capitalist so wont go further into that here (use Google).

    What the owners of Uber/Silicon Valley guys “get” which is lacking in the marine industry is that generally it’s better to have a “monopoly” in a specialized niche than being “competitive” among many players doing the same. But due to the enormous leverage necessary/capital intensity of shipping this has not generally been the modus operandi of the players (there are room for many when many expensive assets are needed with high demand). But in any event shipowners are better off starting adopting that “Silicon Valley”-mindset than just thinking that they need to become or need the new Uber/Amazon/insert flavour of the month large tech firm. An intelligent adoption of technology will come more naturally from there and we won’t have to willy-nilly throw away tried and tested methods just because they somehow feel unfashionable.

    Surely the shipping company execs don’t want to become the other end of the Uber equation: The equivalent of the heavily pressed “freelance” Uber-drivers who have to settle for volatile income with no protection from their software provider/employer Uber in order to compensate for the latter overhead cost.

    I’d really like to be challenged back by the participants of the forum on this!

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