2020 was the year in which shipowning companies who had not fitted scrubbers near the top of their ships’ engine rooms, and who had chosen instead to buy so-called ‘ultra low sulphur heavy fuel oil’, smirked as the price difference between this 0.5% stuff and the old 3% stuff became rather small.
Big tankers had a boom, a bust, and another boom, all inside a year, confirming the wisdom of BW’s Dr Sohmen that such ships are “for the strong and the brave”. Container freight rates and thus to some extent containership charter rates went from blanked sailings and wet layup in the second and third quarters to superboom in the last quarter. Cruise ships saw their market dry up completely; some were scrapped, and many took crews home and went into wet layup. Dry layup for a cruise ship is about as practical as dry layup for a DSV – in both cases it’s once in layup, always in layup. Bulk carriers just carried on.
This was the Year of the Petty Bureaucrat. I refer of course to the way in which almost all seafarers found that the traditional cry of “Where’s my relief?” was answered with, “Tough, chum!”. One ancient mariner of my acquaintance who first went to sea in 1950 ventured to say that when he set out on his first tour it was for three years, at which point he was howled down by friends and colleagues at sea today, who reminded him that those three years also involved hot and cold running stewards delivering quantities of gin and tonic, and actually going ashore, including the opportunity to meet agreeable ladies, some of them young, plus a chance to chat to your shipmates in the ship’s bar. None of which happens now.
The problem is that only very few places even tried to make it possible for seamen to join and leave ships, and some of those that did lost interest when they found that the ‘test results’ carried by some joining crew members were worth about as much as a Master’s Certificate from the University of Recto. Yes, President Duterte, this means you. Thank you, the lazy and careless (I could use other words) Philippines government for stuffing it up for almost everyone.
The effect of the thing that we need not name has been to give colossal power to people in rather unexciting jobs at ports. One country which I need not name distinguished itself by simultaneously fining shipowners for carrying crew past their contract expiry dates and refusing to make it possible for crew to leave or join their ships. Thanks, cobbers. I will not tell tales of the ways in which Port Health and Immigration across the world created situations that would have been funny were they not serious, because everyone in shipping will have plenty.
Another thing that nobody talks about is the near universal practice of ships taking every opportunity to pass within cellphone range of any coast that has a mobile phone system, i.e. anywhere. Wonder why people do that?
One country distinguished itself by simultaneously fining shipowners for carrying crew past their contract expiry dates and refusing to make it possible for crew to leave or join their ships. Thanks, cobbers
Talking of expensive accidents, which of course we were not, there is the habit of designing container ships with hull forms that are practically optimised for parametric rolling, and then doing a Boeing and proffering, as a solution, some fancy software to tell the benighted mariner, encased in a bridge from which he cannot see his own monkey island, where on his voyage this may be likely to occur, assuming that he can understand what the gadget is trying to tell him. It has not been a good year, at all, for the P&I clubs, who had more big claims and less investment income than anyone expected. Tired, bored people = accident.
Rather fewer people than usual ordered new ships. DVB, a bank which some say tended to be too clever by half, was folded up by its parent. Sadly, there are too many shipyards and too many banks still in the business, and far too many boards of directors are ordering yesterday’s ships.
The slightly good thing for everyone has been that, despite the usual millions of barrels of greenwash, coating endless get rich quick schemes for pretending to be environmentally friendly, we are just starting to begin to think about cutting emissions and cutting back on several million tons of plastics that we dump into the oceans annually. It’s obvious to everyone that the dear old IMO, that plausible attempt to regulate an entire industry by committee, has had its card marked ‘Must Try Harder’.
We’ve all had a shock. Shipping thrives on shocks. What will next year bring?