Love, traffic and disruption at Nor Shipping

30 May 2017
The Hyperloop could disrupt shipping, as well as Gresta's idea that

The Hyperloop could disrupt shipping, as well as Gresta's idea that "we choose who to love based on traffic"

Speakers at the Nor Shipping opening conference tackled the weighty topic of shipping disruption on the first day of the biennial exhibition.

Tony Seba, billed as thought leader and serial entrepreneur, offered perhaps the most radical vision of a future in which electrification and automation reshape the shipping market. But even usually sanguine ship owners see the change ahead.

“We need to change how ships are ordered,” said Nikolas Tsakos, chairman of tanker association Intertanko and president of Tsakos Energy Navigation. “We have overcapacity, but we also need to think about the disruption that is coming. We are still ordering ships for 20 to 25 years.”

“Should we be investing in ships at all,” asked Elisabeth Grieg, president of Grieg Group. “We’re spending many millions of dollars and we don’t know what technology we will need.”

“You should be investing, but in ships that offer that 10x cost reduction,” responded Seba, referring to his idea that disruption is driven by cost advantage. He noted that changes that reduce costs by ten times always lead to disruption.

Other speakers questioned whether the shipping industry was structurally ready for the change that new technology would bring. Thomas Wilhelmsen, CEO, Wilhelm Wilhelmsen Group, argued that companies could no longer afford to spend years developing answers to problems, when game-changers such as efficiency-boosting applications can now be conceive and executed in a few weeks. The company also acknowledges that disruption comes from outside – a driving influence behind its decision to invite start-ups to collaborate with the group in the new Maritime Innovation Lab.

“The people who disrupt are the outsiders,” agreed Seba. “It’s Tesla, not GE or Ford, which is disrupting [the automobile market].”

Fittingly, the conference looked beyond shipping for disruption, finding in the form of BHP Billiton vice president freight Rashpal Bhatti, who discussed how one of the world’s largest freight owners was positioning itself for a more sustainable and safer shipping business.

The conference concluded with a firecracker of a presentation from Bipop Gresta, co-founder and chairman of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. The Hyperloop – an extremely fast magnet-levitated train propelled through a vacuum tube - could slash transport times and even become a major competitor to shipping.

Gresta explained the potential disruption, noting how much of what we do, even dating, is determined by travel times. “We’re choosing who to love based on traffic,” he said.

The Nor Shipping opening conference provided a fitting context for a week of forward-looking discussion in Norway, or as director of Nor Shipping Birgit Liodden described the country, the “Silicon Valley of shipping”.