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Wah Kwong: CMA Commodore in waiting

Tonight Sabrina Chao, the chairman of Hong Kong shipowner Wah Kwong, will don a black naval hat – purchased nearly 30 years ago at a fancy dress store in Stamford – and in the process join an illustrious band of shipping legends that includes the likes of Helmut Sohmen, George Livanos, Paddy Rogers and John Fredriksen.

Chao, who took over from her father at the helm of the famous Asian shipping line eight years ago, is this year’s Commodore at the Connecticut Maritime Association, something she describes as “shipping’s hall of fame”.

“I am very honoured and very humbled to be included in the stellar line up of winners,” Chao tells Maritime CEO, adding her whole family is excited about it. She says she hopes the timing of her award will coincide with the end of the downturn in shipping.

66-year-old Wah Kwong is undergoing significant change this year. David Palmer will shortly leave Pareto Securities in Singapore to become the line’s new CEO, while Chao’s brother, Hing, has joined the board as an executive director.

The venerable Hong Kong line has also formed a tie up with China Merchants Leasing to expand the business in new directions.

Tonight’s speech in front of the CMA luminaries, Chao says will focus on the growing role of Asia in world shipping and the Hong Kong Shipowners Association, which turned 60 last year.

On the markets, Chao, whose fleet is made up of a mix of bulk carriers and tankers, says she is cautiously optimistic with many “encouraging signs”.

“Grand plans like China’s One Belt, One Road suggest there is the possibility of a sustainable recovery,” she says, adding that new trade agreements and the rise of a number of emerging economies all lend hope that shipping could finally exit its near decade long doldrums.

Chao is just the second women to be bestowed with the Commodore’s hat since the gala dinner was introduced in 1990. In 2011, Navios’s Angeliki Frangou became the first woman to don the now iconic hat.

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