Editor’s note: Ulrich Ulrichs, Chief Executive Officer, BBC Chartering GmbH & Co. KG writes about the company’s experiences last year. This story, below, was first published in the Shipping Australia Annual Review 2020.
Ocean shipping is one of the oldest trades in the world, and we have always needed to adapt to new circumstances and requirements. 2020 has no doubt been a challenging year for every individual and every industry, in almost every aspect.
2020 kicked off with IMO 2020 and nobody knew if enough spec compliant fuel would be available. There were many rumours regarding potential failures and problems with the new fuel, with the majority not eventuating.
Even pre-COVID, cargo movements were frequently delayed, and our industry has always had to adapt with ad hoc decisions and changes. While spot markets can mean a day-to-day challenge, they also come with numerous opportunities. The Heavy Lift/Project sector has the capacity to quickly adapt to evolving demands and temporary geographic shifts in trade lanes.
Once COVID-19 peaked, Australian ports stayed open for business, and whilst government regulations can be challenging at the best of times, the reaction to the COVID-19 threat was swift, practical and kept our industry open for business, whilst safeguarding the health of all maritime workers. This allowed the major infrastructure and mining projects that are planned and approved years in advance to continue being built, especially for projects that had already begun – the wheels on already started projects are almost impossible to delay or even come to a halt.
Throughout the pandemic our versatile multi-purpose ships delivered essential cargoes for industries such as infrastructure projects (Brisbane Cross River Rail and Sydney Metro), major mining sites in Western Australia and windfarm projects all over Australia.
As a global company, BBC Chartering reacted promptly to setup measures for their employees working remotely, and invested globally in communication technologies as the crisis developed into a global pandemic.
Mauro Capano, managing director in Australia, has said that “In Brisbane we got lucky compared to other parts of the world, lockdown only lasted 3 months. During this period we were able to continue servicing our clientele without missing a beat, same has continued beyond the lockdown – We have been busy throughout!’.
Beyond Australia, Asia is an incredibly important market to our sector and Lars Schoennemann, our regional managing director based in Singapore, has said, “We all rose to the challenge and it has been really good to see that our staff quickly adjusted to the new circumstances, and that we as a team pushed through. But not only that, our clients and service providers showed that the relationships that are built, especially in the Heavy Lift/Project market, are built to last – even through a global pandemic”.
Communication remains key
As the virus persists and the dreaded ‘new normal’ takes hold, we and every other carrier have faced operational issues. Major factors were mainly cargo readiness, travel restrictions and quarantine regimes in some places. Overall however, the issues remain at a manageable level.
Looking ahead the Heavy Lift/Project market is quite sporadic nowadays. It has brought a lot of delays to the supply chains due to a range of issues, mainly factory closures, transportation to and from the ports, and movement of personnel to and from the job sites. But most projects have simply been placed on hold due to current challenges. The outlook for the near future is relatively uncertain.
Another factor is the oil price. A recovery of the oil prices will hopefully give more confidence to the oil and gas segment to place new investments at some point, translating into cargoes for our ships. We’ve previously seen a time delay of about three to six months between recovery of main economic KPIs and movement of real cargoes. We are optimistic to see steady market improvements in the later part of 2021.
If 2020 has shown anything, it is that the world may stand still, but it is essential for all economies that commercial ships are not kept from sailing and delivering cargo. The Heavy Lift/Project sector is a niche market and we have shown that we stay flexible.
Relying on highly experienced technical, operational and commercial teams, we use our strengths and explore every opportunity given to us. This allows us to not only continue to provide the quality and service our clients are accustomed to, but to innovate and grow.
BBC Chartering is a full member of Shipping Australia.