Shipping’s lost generation

We’ve schmoozed and schnarfed our way across myriad events at Singapore Maritime Week. It’s been insightful, and yet I come away from it all with a rather sad feeling. The more I listen to the debate and hot air at shipping conferences today the more I realise what an incredible opportunity has been lost for this industry over the past decade.

A combination of financial malaise and rigid mindsets have set shipping back a generation. The current senior leadership across most shipping companies – those aged 55 and over roughly, ie the last of the baby boomers – have not been pioneers as in previous generations. Theirs has been a cling on attitude rather than a can do one.

Instead of focusing on investing in talent and resources for the future the focus has been on survival. After a decade of simply trying to hang on in there, all of a sudden shipping is being asked to hyperleap to a new industry, and yet it has made itself deeply unattractive to new entrants and the most pioneering technologists thanks to its conservatism and dismal financial results.

The lack of clarity and vision among top management in shipping today reminds me alarmingly about the Brexit generation of politicians in the UK – contradictory, conservative, out of touch and only interested in looking after their own skin.

Results from a Faststream maritime senior executive survey, revealed at a breakfast I attended this week, sum the situation up very neatly. Fully 88% of the 2,000 surveyed by the HR firm said shipping’s new generation of talent needs a different leadership style. And here’s the amusing part – 88% of them also said they had the skills to lead the new generation. They patently do not as the in-depth survey went on to highlight with top management and their employees shown to have hugely different opinons on what matters most to them at work.

Still, it wasn’t all bad this week. Here are some highlights from a mad few days in the Lion City:

Best Grub: The Norwegian reception at the Fullerton Bay on Wednesday night. Salmon smorgasbord supreme!

Best Quote: “The tanker industry is still stuck in the Middle Ages. Christopher Columbus can go into most offices today and work as normal, with the possible exception of the espresso machine.” Aurora Tankers’ Kenny Rogers speaking at the Maritime CEO Forum.

Best Exhibition Freebie: Struggling to sell enough space, the organisers of the Sea Asia exhibition had to get creative this year to fill up the floor. Cue photo exhibits, plenty of extra meeting rooms, registration in the hall, etc. However, one bonus was that the organisers brought in a free massage service onto the exhibition floor. Bravo!

To access our full coverage of Singapore Maritime Week, click here

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. One should also question the point of these overly abundant get-togethers – are the exhibition and conference organisers desperately trying to justify their own existence and does shipping really need so many gatherings all around the globe all through the year?

  2. I would amend the “best quote” by simply removing “tanker”. With global trade at all time highs these owners/managers/agents should be rolling in money. Instead they slit each others throats and lead by seeing who is next to go under.

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