The fast and the spurious

Steven Jones on the curious sense of paralysis he sensed at this year’s Posidonia.

“That is where the Ferrari hit the tree. So sad. All these rich young guys racing so fast.” These were the first words my wise old Athenian taxi driver had said all journey, and as I looked up I saw the terrible charring on the patchwork mottled bark of a beautiful old olive tree.

Chuckling with the burble of 40 Karelia Blue a day, “The rich guys, crazy shipping kids, they race up and down Poseidonos Avenue. It is madness. If I was rich, I would drive so slow, for everyone to see me.”

Along this beautiful stretch of road, where Piraeus kisses Athens, then suddenly gives way to Glyfada, and where saddened foreigners swing away from the stunning coast to the airport, you can hear the crazy. The deep roar of money, as Ferrari and Lamborghini vie to make the most noise, and seemingly nuisance.

The divide is widening between the dreams of the young, and the concerns of the old

Then it struck me as to the story my wily driver, Yiannis, was telling me. He was actually capturing and coalescing all that I had seen in my week at Posidonia into one fable. A story of Icarus but in a car, in which the young are travelling so fast they risk never arriving, but where older heads are holding steady and perhaps will avoid the journey all together.

At Posidonia 2022, as the wonderful recent Jon Chaplin article pointed out, we saw many characters re-emerge back into the real life world of business deals and networking. The caricatures and stereotypes all too obvious, and some of them odious…but all missed while the maritime world has been forced apart.

There were new ones too, as the Class of 2019 took their walk on the blue carpet for the first time.

My impressions were of an industry moving at two speeds, just as Yiannis had so sagely alluded to. There are the younglings, fired up on data, analysis and possibly Haribo. The focus on start-ups, unicorns, of making shipping transparent, blockchained and zero-carboned.

The Greek digital footprint is growing, and there are many wonderful thinkers and companies which have sprung forth from a heady mix of academia and deep traditional owners’ pockets.

These are the offspring and progeny of the shipping lines being given their head, some investment from Grandpa, a company with an ‘X’ in the name, and sent off with a focus on the future of shipping as they want it to be. The tech savvy, socially awoken and eager, driving their corporate vision at 150 kmh down the super information highway.

While away from the event, far from the Metropolitan Expo centre, away from the taxi queues, the forlorn executives in high heels and brogues traipsing over scorching rocky ground to attend. Far from here, there remain the big beasts of shipping. The real rich who drive, like Yiannis dreams, slowly and with a view to being seen. If not always heard. They sit at the centre of a Hellas-centric universe, as the rest of the industry orbits around them.

The message of the show was of change, there were innovations discussed, goals to achieve, agreements to be forged and much slapping on the back from flag states, class and the like. However, the quieter message was perhaps the loudest.

The calm, clear and calculated reality that owners will not be willing to jump through all these hoops without guarantees, without a reasoned, realistic and responsible corporate path to the decarbonised, clean, green and wonderful future we all crave.

The real power for change is taking a pause and reflecting, waiting, hoping yes, but not rushing headlong into a metaphorical tree. There is huge appetite for the digitalisation which so many are bringing to the fore, but while there remains such indecision and lack of clear incentive to know which fuel/propulsion horse to back, then it becomes a waiting game.

The lack of any real new innovation from the shipyards exhibiting perhaps told as important a tale as any of the boasts and wonderful capabilities of the tech side of the equation. With designs, models and even ideas that seemed to have been dusted down from 2018, there seems a dearth of actionable ideas.

We have lots of innovation, more data than ever, and a host of maybes, but it is increasingly hard for the industry to nail its colours to a fuel mast. Which means that we are in a paralysis, one that is widening the divide between the dreams of the young, and the concerns of the old.

Until there is the silver propulsion bullet which slays all doubts, or the wider investment in R&D, then the two tracks will continue to run parallel and risk never converging. That would be a tragedy, as shipping is at a fantastic point, with the wisdom of experience set to combine with the power of intelligence and energy of youth. The streams have to be forced to cross though.

Alas, at the moment it seems there is so much to do in order to bring these ideas, and opportunities together. The gravity of change is holding us apart as it lacks the big bang of change. So while rules, laws, agreements and investment in solutions are so slow in emerging, it seems that the young are from Venus, the old money from Mars, and if you don’t agree you may as well be talking from Uranus.


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