London: To the Canadian High Commission last night, one of the grandest buildings on Trafalgar Square in London, for the international launch of the Vancouver International Maritime Centre (IMC).
The Canadian city is trying to position itself as a base for shipowners with very friendly tax preferences. It is not the first time Vancouver has done this of course. Back in the 1990s, as Hong Kong readied for reunification with China, a number of owners hedged their bets by setting up in British Colombia. This time around however the marketing and global scope that the Vancouver IMC is chasing is much larger.
Graham Clarke, the chairman and ceo of the project, tells Maritime CEO: “Our mandate is three fold. First we will try to attract shipowners, then we will facilitate them, and also we are here to advise government.”
Clarke says both the federal and provincial governments support the initiative and recognise the importance of shipping.
“Government realises for exports we have to have efficient shipping,” Clarke says. “It also helps diversify the economy with more white collar jobs.” Ottawa has granted the project three years of funding, by which time Clarke says the aim is to be self-sustaining.
Money will be spent to develop and nurture local maritime education as well as to make the city more “shipping friendly”, Clarke says.
With shipowners at the centre of the Venn diagram, as Clarke describes it, it is then vital to get other services onboard, not least ship finance.
“Ship finance is there,” he insists, “it is just not that refined yet.”
Clarke and his team are discussing with Canadian banks about the possibility of shifting some of their London-based ship finance experts over to the west coast of Canada.
When quizzed about potential rivals in North America for this IMC status, principally New York, Clarke says the Big Apple is a source of cheap capital, but that does not mean companies have to be based there. Two Vancouver lines stand out in this regard – Teekay and Seaspan both tapping New York for funds while remaining firmly entrenched in Vancouver.
Clarke says every facet of shipping services is now being looked at by his team to make the Canadian city a shipping hub, even the shipping register. Could there be a second flag? “You never know,” he says, “we’ll leave no stone unturned. We will do everything to make Vancouver a great place to settle down.”