World Maritime News

WMNF 2019/04/04


Chinese rival challenges Singapore for bunkering business

Singapore has held on firmly as the world’s number one bunkering hub for many years but life as the top is not getting easier amid a rapidly changing competitive and regulatory landscape.

The city of Zhoushan (China) is gearing up to compete against Singapore for its bunkering business as the 2020 sulphur rules provide it with a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.

The International Bunkering Industry Association’s regional manager Simon Neo said that Zhoushan poses a much lesser threat to Singapore than it does to bunkering ports in Northeast Asia. Zhoushan appears to be serving box ships plying Far East-US trades and dry bulkers delivering Australian coal to China. These vessels hardly call at Singapore in the first place.

He noted that bad weather in Zhoushan can hold up bunkering operations for days. By comparison, Singapore’s more stable tropical climate allows for a faster and more predictable turnaround time for the bunkering of ships at its port.

Shipping lines’ important concerns after 2020 will be compatibility and quality of fuels. This means that marine fuel price differentials between ports is unlikely to be the sole criterion in their bunkering calls in future. That said, Zhoushan can still pose a serious challenge to Singapore. Should China drastically slash marine fuel prices by US$ 10 to US$ 20 per ton, Singapore’s volume would be hit according to Mr. Neo.

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Container terminals face uncertain times

Geopolitical, economic and regulatory upheaval are said to be rattling the usually stable world of container ports and terminals, said Drewry senior analyst Neil Davidson said.

The China-US trade talks remain a key theme across the 11 listed companies Drewry tracks.

Figures from Asia indicate that fears of a tariff war may have been favorable for north Asian nations excluding China, due to changes in sourcing. There is a greater focus on consumption and domestic activity, which is changing the nature of Chinese trade in a much wider way beyond the tariff war issues, he added.

The impact of the UK’s exit from EU on domestic ports remained an open question, there had already been an economic impact on UK economy. However, The UK is still served by most major deep-sea services, so there have not been any structural changes in that sense.

Meanwhile, port and terminal operators could find themselves the accidental casualties of IMO 2020 low-sulphur regulations as carriers drop the number of port-calls they make to allow for slow steaming to save on fuels costs. If you do slow steam, you may have to drop some ports to maintain a voyage turn-round time.

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Italy joins China’s New Silk Road project

Italy has become the first developed economy to sign up to China’s global investment program which has raised concerns among Italy’s Western allies.

A total of 29 deals amounting US$ 2.8 billion were signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Rome. The project is seen as a new Silk Road which, just like the ancient trade route, aims to link China to Europe. Italy’s European Union allies and the United States have expressed concern at China’s growing influence.

The new Silk Road has another name – the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – and it involves a wave of Chinese funding for major infrastructure projects around the world, in a bid to speed Chinese goods to markets further afield. Critics see it as also representing a bold bid for geopolitical and strategic influence.

Italy slipped into recession at the end of 2018, and its national debt levels are among the highest in the eurozone.

The Chinese investment could help Trieste and Genoa to become more efficient gateways to southern, central and eastern Europe in competition with the northern range container ports i.e. Hamburg, Bremen/Bremerhaven, Rotterdam and Antwerp.

The European Commission released a joint statement on “China’s growing economic power and political influence” and the need to “review” relations.

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Low-sulphur fuel availability

ExxonMobil is planning to boost its low-sulphur fuel output in Singapore with a major investment at its long-established chemical production plant in Asian bunkering hub. The company is expecting several billion dollars on the project, which is due to be completed in 2023. As part of the project, the company is also working on a long-term commercial agreement with Linde to upgrade residue from the site to hydrogen and synthesis gas.

ExxonMobil will also roll out marine fuels with below 0.5% sulphur content at a number of other key bunkering ports worldwide, including the range of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp, Marseille-Fos, Genoa and Hong Kong.

Japanese refiners will be ready to supply marine fuel complying with the IMO global sulphur cap by the final quarter of 2019. Japanese refiner Cosmo Oil said that it plans to start supplying 0.5% sulphur bunker fuel from October 2019.

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Los Angeles confrontation signals smart ports battle

Los Angeles port commissioners voted unanimously to defer implementation of a plan by APM Terminals to introduce automation on Pier 400.

LA mayor Eric Garcetti has offered to help mediate a potentially disruptive dispute between APM Terminals and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 13.

The dispute is over an apparently minor permit that APM Terminals applied for that would enable the company to introduce battery-operated machinery onto its Pier 400 facility in the port of Los Angeles. ILWU 13 has raised objection to the granting of this permit.

For ILWU members up and down the US Pacific coast, the introduction of autonomous vehicles in Los Angeles could mean the end of their job too.

California State Senator Susan Rubino wrote “it is critically important the Port of Los Angeles does not become a hollow pass-through for the massive transfer of goods and wealth without any benefit to the families and communities that surround or are impacted by the port.”

As a first test case, this confrontation clearly presents an opportune moment for Los Angeles to contribute to the global debate on automation and the future of work in the maritime sector.

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Strong leadership is a company’s best cyber protection

If collaboration is key and the if the industry must ditch its reluctance to share data, as several speakers advocated at the Informa Connect/KNect 365 Shipping 2030 conference in Week 12, then cybersecurity must be Maritime’s next global issue.

International Safety Management Code includes a requirement for all identified risks to ships, personnel, and the environment to be assessed and for appropriate safeguards to be established. Guidelines were issued that included best practices for effective cyber risk management. The solution, or at least part of the solution, lies with senior management.

Cyber security is like safety: strong leadership from the top means much more than all the guidelines and advice the industry puts out, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence data.

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