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Insights into the Shipping Industry | ShipFinex

Updated: Dec 5, 2023


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Shipping Industry: A Comprehensive Overview for 2023
Shipping Industry

Imagine an industry hauling goods over $14 trillion, controlling 80% of global trade, and being the cheapest mode of transportation for goods worldwide- that’s the Shipping Industry for you. As a vital pillar of the global economy and the driving force behind globalization, the shipping industry enables the movement of goods and commodities across continents, facilitating international trade. It has the lowest carbon footprint among all other modes of transportation, making it the greenest method among Air, Sea and Land freight.


The industry encompasses diverse segments, including container shipping, bulk shipping, tanker shipping, and specialized services like LNG, LPG and Chemical shipping. Due to the industry’s competitiveness, dynamism, and global impact, it is a melting pot of economic, geopolitical, and regulatory factors, among others.


The industry is especially important for keeping global supply chains intact, facilitating imports and exports, providing employment opportunities, and being the growth engine for economies worldwide. Its efficiency and effectiveness are critical for businesses to remain competitive. Not many might know this, but the shipping industry keeps the global powerhouses running by reining in inflation- a minor change in freight rates can have drastic effects on the price of commodities worldwide.


In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about the industry- history, current scenario, trends and everything that falls in between. As we sailors say,” Ahoy!”, brace yourself for a tsunami of facts about the trillion-dollar maritime industry.


History:


With the advent of civilization came the need for trade- marking the beginning of the shipping industry we see today. The first known instance, so far, has been traced back to the Egyptian civilization, and their world-famous papyrus boats and rafts, used for local transportation. However, significant advancements in technology over the centuries have shaped the industry.


From the development of wooden sailing ships in ancient civilizations to the invention of steamships in the 19th century, and finally to modern Internal Combustion engines, maritime transportation has undergone major technological transformations. These advancements have increased the capacity, speed, and efficiency of shipping, allowing transportation of goods across vast distances.

As technology continued to evolve, the introduction of containerization in the mid-20th century further revolutionized the industry, enabling standardized handling, storage, and transportation of goods on a global scale. These historical milestones have propelled the industry into being the central stage for global trade and commerce.


Companies such as Maersk, MSC, and CMA CGM, among others, have played a pivotal role in shaping the shipping industry, investing in cutting-edge technologies and innovative business models. Infact these companies are currently having one of the best financials report in their long history, but more on that later.


Current State:


Crude tanker supply and demand changes in the shipping industry
Shipping Industry

In 2021, seaborne trade volume amounted to approximately 11 billion metric tons. On the other hand, in 1990, only 4 billions tons were hauled across ports, meaning the number nearly tripled in 20 years.


The container shipping industry is expected to reach a market size of USD 12.52 Trillion by 2028, with the largest container ships in the world capable of carrying over 24,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). Similar is the scenario in the tanker and LNG markets, which is seeing a gold rush as the Russia-Ukraine war continues and Europe and Russia rewrite traditional shipping routes.


The most significant challenge that shipping companies have had to face recently, was perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic. It unleashed unprecedented challenges on the global shipping industry, disrupting supply chains, trade flows, and logistics operations in its due course.


As governments worldwide were forced into lockdowns and border closures, demand for most commodities, apart from the few necessary ones, saw freight rates plummet and ships idlying off anchorages worldwide. Companies had to trim down their fleet size, send ships to the shipbreaking yards of South Asia( Alang, Chittagong, Gadani). When freight rates started picking up again, post 2019, it has been a dream run for a few sectors like container, tanker and LNG as earnings crossed historical benchmarks.


The shipping industry, as mentioned before, is at the crossroads of international trade and commerce, energy and commodities markets, international politics and some 'n' number of variables keeping the trillion-dollar maritime industry afloat. Shifts in trade patterns, geopolitical tensions, and trade disputes among nations can impact shipping volumes, freight rates, and investment decisions.


The best example in this case would be the Russia- Ukraine war, which forced Europe to diversify its energy demands away from Russia, and Russia shipping most of its Ural grade oils and natural gas to China and India.


Economic fluctuations, such as changes in consumer demand, inflation, and currency exchange rates, also influence the performance of the shipping industry.


The shipping industry faces significant regulatory and environmental challenges, including the implementation of Ballast Water Treatment Systems (BWTS), retrofitting scrubbers, and Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oil (VLSFO); with increasing pressure on the shipping companies to go Carbon neutral by 2050.


BWTS are critical to prevent the introduction of invasive species through ballast water discharge. Scrubbers are used to reduce sulfur emissions from ship exhausts, and VLSFO is required to comply with IMO's sulfur emission limits. Overcoming technical and operational challenges related to these regulations is essential for sustainable and responsible shipping practices.


Navigating these regulatory and environmental challenges requires innovative solutions and proactive measures to ensure compliance and environmental sustainability in the shipping industry.


Types of Ships and Shipping Methods:


Types of Ships and Shipping Methods in the Shipping Industry
Shipping Industry

The world of shipping is diverse, with various types of ships designed for different functions. From cargo ships to tankers, container ships to bulk carriers, each vessel has its unique purpose. Cargo ships transport general goods, while tankers carry liquid cargo such as oil and gas. Container ships are specialized for transporting standardized containers(the same ones seen behind trucks) , and bulk carriers handle commodities like grains, coal and iron-ore.



Shipping methods include liner shipping, tramp shipping, and chartering. Liner shipping follows fixed routes and schedules, tramp shipping offers flexibility for individual shipments, and chartering involves hiring a vessel for a specific voyage. Understanding the different types of ships and shipping methods is crucial in navigating the complex world of maritime transportation.


According to industry statistics, approximately 80% of global trade by volume and over 70% by value is carried by sea transportation. Air transportation accounts for a smaller portion of global trade, but it plays a significant role in high-value and time-sensitive shipments. Land transportation, including trucks and railways, is vital for last-mile deliveries and regional transportation.


Major Players in the Shipping Industry -


Key players in the tanker market of shipping industry
Shipping Industry

The shipping industry is dominated by a handful of major players that shape the global maritime trade. These companies offer a wide range of services, including container shipping, bulk shipping, tanker shipping, logistics, and supply chain management.


Container:


Some of the top companies in the container segment includes Maersk Line, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), CMA CGM, COSCO Shipping, and Hapag-Lloyd. The top 10 container lines control over 85% of the global containerized trade, with different companies having different alliances. In economics, this is termed as an oligopoly, where a small number of players instead of vying for larger market share, team up with its competitors and dominate the market.


Examples of this would be the 2M Alliance, consisting of Maersk Line and Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), two of the largest container liners presently.

Other examples of similar alliances are: Ocean Alliance including CMA CGM, COSCO Shipping, Evergreen Line, and OOCL, and THE Alliance comprises Hapag-Lloyd, Ocean Network Express (ONE), and Yang Ming.


Post pandemic, due to the increase in demand for goods worldwide and revamped needs of consumers, as well as supply chains being roiled inside out, container lines recorded record profits unseen in the industry. Starting from the second half of 2020, the bull run continued till 2022, reflected in the balance sheets of all major liners.


Freight rates have slumped by considerable levels in the first quarter of 2023, as per a Reuters report, with respect to historic highs in the industry seen in the post-pandemic period. Inflation, as pointed out earlier has reduced consumer spending, leading liners to increase blank sailings and reduce freight rates. On the other, this comes as good news for the general public. Liners now are well aware that the days of 52-week bonuses are all but in the rearview mirror.


Take it from Maersk, which stated that global trade could be contracting as much as 2.5% in 2023. Also, brace for this, Maersk's EBIDTA for 2022 was a record $31.2 billion. For 2023, it's estimated to be as little as $2 billion, as per the Copenhagen-based company's reports.


Tanker:


The tanker market, which primarily deals with the transportation of liquid commodities such as crude oil, petroleum products, and chemicals, is dominated by several major players that have a significant impact on the global energy trade.


Some of the key players in the tanker market include:


A.P. Moller-Maersk: Maersk Tankers, a division of A.P. Moller-Maersk, is one of the world's largest tanker operators, with a diverse fleet of crude oil and product tankers. The company operates globally and provides comprehensive shipping solutions to meet the transportation needs of its customers.


ExxonMobil Corporation: ExxonMobil, one of the largest integrated oil and gas companies in the world, also has a significant presence in the tanker market. The company owns and operates a fleet of crude oil and product tankers that transport its energy products to various destinations worldwide.


Chevron Corporation: Chevron, another major oil and gas company, also operates in the tanker market. The company owns and manages a fleet of tankers that transport its crude oil and refined products across different regions.


Teekay Corporation: Teekay is a leading provider of marine services to the global energy industry, with a diverse fleet of tankers that transport crude oil, petroleum products, and liquefied natural gas (LNG). The company operates globally and provides shipping solutions to its customers through various partnerships and joint ventures.


Euronav NV: Euronav is one of the largest independent tanker companies in the world, specializing in the transportation of crude oil and petroleum products. The company owns and operates a fleet of modern and environmentally friendly tankers, serving customers in various regions.


Talk about epic comebacks in the industry history, and the story of tanker owners last year would hardly go unnoticed. The Russian invasion of Ukraine followed by sanction imposition by NATO countries resulted in spot rates going up, followed by the creation of newer shipping routes due to the rerouting of energy flow. With the war nearing no end, the fortunes of tanker owners are expected to go up and stay elevated for some time now.


As European countries decided to shun Russian oil, they needed to source the oil from other sources, increasing the tonne miles, and leading to increased earnings by tanker operators worldwide. On the other hand, Russian oil was diverted to India and China, making it a win-win for tanker operators, increasing tonne miles along the way.


For a sector which has had a bad period for a few years now, 2022 was a rejuvenation moment- to say the least, bringing in much-needed cash flow to the industry.


Technology in the Maritime Industry:


From advanced communication systems to autonomous vessels, maritime trade has witnessed significant technological advancements that have transformed operations, efficiency, and sustainability, as well as reducing manpower and the human error element that comes with it.


One major area of technological innovation in the shipping industry is digitalization. With the advent of sophisticated software systems, data analytics, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, shipping companies can now better manage their operations, track shipments, optimize routes, and enhance supply chain visibility. This has led to improved efficiency, reduced costs, and enhanced decision-making capabilities.


Automation is also reshaping the shipping industry. Automated port terminals, robotic cargo handling, and autonomous vessels are becoming more prevalent, leading to increased productivity, reduced human error, and improved safety. These technological advancements have the potential to transform the entire logistics and supply chain ecosystem, making shipping operations faster, safer, and more reliable.


However, technology in the shipping industry also presents challenges. Automation may disrupt traditional labor markets, as has been the case in various US and EU ports, and cybersecurity threats may pose risks to data privacy and security. Additionally, the integration of new technologies requires significant investments and regulatory compliance which has a long list of bureaucracy attached with it.


Maritime Trends:

Digitalization and Automation: Technologies like AI, data analytics, and autonomous vessels are transforming shipping operations.

New Trade Routes: Melting Arctic ice has opened up shorter trade routes, reducing transit times and costs.

Port Automation and Connectivity: Ports adopting IoT, AI, and blockchain for optimized operations and supply chain visibility.

Decarbonization and Sustainable Shipping: There is a growing emphasis on green shipping and the use of alternative fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the maritime industry. Biofuels, LNG (liquefied natural gas), hydrogen, and ammonia are being explored as potential alternative fuels for vessels. Additionally, there is a push towards the development of electric and hybrid vessels, as well as shore power solutions to reduce emissions while vessels are docked.

Supply Chain Resilience and Risk Management: Importance of resilient supply chains and risk management practices.


Careers in the Shipping Industry:


Careers in the Shipping Industry
Shipping Industry

Maritime Operations: Opportunities in ship management, operations, logistics, and supply chain management.


Deck Officers: Deck officers are responsible for the safe navigation and operation of vessels. They include positions such as Captain, Chief Officer, Second Officer, and Third Officer. Required education typically includes obtaining a Bachelor's degree in Nautical Science or Marine Transportation, along with obtaining relevant certifications such as a Merchant Marine Officer's License. Skills required include navigational expertise, ship handling, leadership, and communication. Salary expectations vary depending on the rank, type of vessel, and experience, but can range from $40,000 to $150,000 per year, depending on which part of the globe you hail from.


Marine Engineering Officers: Engineering officers are responsible for the maintenance and operation of a vessel's mechanical and electrical systems. They include positions such as Chief Engineer, Second Engineer, and Third Engineer. Required education typically includes obtaining a Bachelor's degree in Marine Engineering or a related field, along with obtaining relevant certifications such as a Merchant Marine Engineer's License. Skills required include technical expertise in marine engineering, problem-solving, and leadership. Salary expectations vary depending on the rank, type of vessel, and experience, but can range from $50,000 to $150,000 per year, depending on your nationality.


Naval Architecture: Involves designing and constructing ships, offshore platforms, and marine structures.


Shipping Finance and Law: Careers in finance, law, and insurance related to shipping and maritime industries.


Maritime Technology: Opportunities in developing and implementing cutting-edge technologies for the shipping industry from other engineering branches.


Required education, skills, and qualifications vary based on the career path. Salary expectations and job outlook are influenced by factors such as location, experience, and demand for specific roles.


Sustainability in the Shipping Industry:

As we look forward to an era without fossil fuels and fastrack energy transition, sustainability becomes the most important factor for assessing any industry.

As a sector contributing significantly to GHG emissions, the industry as a whole is aiming to reduce its environmental impact and contribute to global efforts to combat climate change. Key aspects of sustainability in the shipping industry include reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, complying with environmental regulations, managing waste and recycling, protecting biodiversity and marine conservation, practicing corporate social responsibility (CSR), promoting sustainable supply chain management, and driving innovation and technology.


The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the principle policy making body, has set ambitious targets to reduce GHG emissions from shipping, and the industry is exploring measures such as using cleaner fuels, adopting energy-efficient technologies, optimizing vessel design and operations, and investing in alternative propulsion systems.


Compliance with environmental regulations such as the Ballast Water Management Convention and MARPOL is crucial, and waste management, recycling, and biodiversity conservation are also important aspects of sustainability. Corporate social responsibility principles are being incorporated into shipping companies' operations, and sustainable supply chain management is gaining prominence.


As institutional pressure mounts on companies, they are being forced to improve their sustainability practices in the long run.


Conclusion:

The shipping industry is a vital component of the global economy, facilitating the movement of goods and driving international trade. In this comprehensive overview for 2023, we discussed various aspects of the shipping industry, including its history and evolution, current state, major players, regulatory and environmental challenges, technology trends, and sustainability efforts.


As highlighted, the shipping industry has faced significant challenges, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, changing trade and economic trends, regulatory compliance, and environmental concerns. However, the industry has also witnessed remarkable technological advancements and sustainability initiatives to mitigate its environmental impact.


In conclusion, as the shipping industry continues to evolve and adapt to changing dynamics, it is essential to stay informed and stay ahead of the curve to make informed decisions and capitalize on emerging opportunities in this dynamic industry.


FAQs:


What are the different types of cargo ships?


Cargo ships transport general goods, while tankers carry liquid cargo such as oil and gas. Container ships are specialized for transporting standardized containers, and bulk carriers handle commodities like grains, coal and iron-ore.


How has the shipping industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?


COVID-19 unleashed unprecedented challenges on the global shipping industry, disrupting supply chains, trade flows, and logistics operations in its due course. As governments worldwide were forced into lockdowns and border closures, demand for most commodities, apart from the few necessary ones, saw freight rates plummet and ships idlying off anchorages worldwide. Companies had to trim down their fleet size, send ships to the shipbreaking yards of South Asia( Alang, Chittagong, Gadani). When freight rates started picking up again, post 2019, it has been a dream run for a few sectors like container, tanker and LNG as earnings crossed historical benchmarks.


What are the top shipping companies in the industry?


Some of the top companies in the container segment includes Maersk Line, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), CMA CGM, COSCO Shipping, and Hapag-Lloyd. The top 10 container lines control over 85% of the global containerized trade, with different companies having different alliances.


What are the new technologies shaping the industry?


There is a growing emphasis on green shipping and the use of alternative fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the maritime industry. Biofuels, LNG (liquefied natural gas), hydrogen, and ammonia are being explored as potential alternative fuels for vessels. Additionally, there is a push towards the development of electric and hybrid vessels, as well as shore power solutions to reduce emissions while vessels are docked. Alternative modes of propulsion like Rotor sails and Air-lubrication method are also being tested widely by shipowners in an attempt to reduce carbon footprint.



What are the job prospects in the shipping industry?


The job prospects can be divided into 2 parts: Onshore and offshore.


Offshore jobs: Involves sailing on ships either as an officer or crew onboard. Remuneration offered is higher than the one offered to shore personnel in the same role. Examples: Engineering officers, deck officers, crew.


Onshore jobs: No sailing required for these roles. Examples include: Naval Architects, Maritime lawyers, Port operators, dock workers, etc.


Written by ANKUR KUNDU

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