TOWAGE INDUSTRY FACES UNIQUE CHALLENGES

Kasper Nilaus CEO of Svitzer
Kasper Nilaus CEO of Svitzer

Kasper Nilaus, recently appointed global CEO of Svitzer, provides an exclusive insider view of issues impacting on the tug sector during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond in the July/August issue of International Tug & OSV (IT&O). He writes: The towage sector holds a unique position within the wider shipping industry. As custodians of the first and last mile for a vessel’s journey, towage is a crucial link in the global supply and logistics chain. This privileged position gives us great insight into the trends occurring within the shipping and ports industries. However, it also means that the pressures being faced by shipping are acutely reflected in towage, prompting us to change in tandem. One of these pressure points comes in the form of the short and medium-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Analysts predict a steep drop in seaborne trade which is backed up by major container lines who expect a 20-25 per cent decrease in volumes this year. So, talking about trends in Svitzer’s market without paying some thought as to how Covid-19 is impacting operations, at least in the short and medium-term, would be difficult.

Kasper Nilaus CEO of Svitzer
Kasper Nilaus CEO of Svitzer

Initially, Covid-19 caused a plummet in oil demand and nudged a large proportion of the world’s tanker fleet to operate as floating storage while land-based options became overwhelmed. Cruise and ferry operators now look at implementing drastic alterations to accommodate more stringent public health measures within their day-to-day operations. These and other changes in the maritime industry are going to be felt intensely by the towage sector. Even before Covid-19, the towage sector was facing unique challenges of its own. However, the shift from when outside issues became front and centre concerns could be the most significant impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of these pressures and challenges have been years in the making. An ever-expanding global economy has driven a continuous upward trend in the size of vessels operating on the world’s oceans, with the latest high point being the delivery of the first 24,000 TEU containership. This dramatic upsizing has placed significant expectations on the towage sector to expand its technical and power capabilities to tow these larger vessels. However, one could argue that this is the simplest trend affecting towage right now: greater technical capability requirements for tugs are being dwarfed by the issues of consolidation, professionalisation, sustainability and new technologies. Perhaps the strongest trend within towage is the ongoing consolidation and pursuit of professionalisation within our market.

Consolidation has been a trend in our sector for some time due to the ever-present quest for operational efficiency; in fact, we believe that it can drive further change and innovation. With new technologies, a greater focus on sustainability, and safety on the agenda of all towage operators, the sector’s decision-making has become a matter of resources. It is no stretch to say that towage leaders of the future will be defined by their ability to invest in operational efficiencies and technological innovations that help them keep pace with customer and market requirements. After all, technical and operational updates are dependent on access to funds. That is why many smaller operators are becoming reliant on partnerships and diversified sources of investment to finance their futures. In all, this is a positive step for towage. We can deepen our understanding of customer – and wider market – needs, and ensure that we have our ‘finger on the pulse’ to adapt operations as new demands emerge. Svitzer, as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Maersk, benefits from Maersk Group’s innovative capabilities and financial stability, as well as its
experience, scale, and expertise in shipping and maritime. These resources give us a strong platform for growth opportunities, but first and foremost allow us to provide consistently high-quality towage for all of our customers.

It also allows us to explore and test new technologies and support our crews as our operations evolve. In terms of new technologies, towage is on the precipice of an exciting new era. Already, Svitzer and other market leaders are trialling and testing the technologies of tomorrow – technologies that aim to bring greater safety for crews and operational efficiencies benefiting our customers. Although full autonomy is viewed by many as the ultimate ‘end goal’, automated and remote-controlled operational enhancements, augmented situational awareness and reducing the risk of operations such as connecting to a vessel being towed are going to radically improve safety in the medium term. Sustainability will also be an important driver for towage of tomorrow.

As shipping looks to curtail its carbon emissions in line with the CO2 reduction targets set by the IMO, towage has its part to play in shipping’s journey towards a low carbon future. We must take ownership of the impact of our emissions. Innovation coupled with technological transformation will be crucial if these aims are to be reached. As well as exploring low greenhouse gas fuels, data-driven insights can contribute to reduced emissions, as we have seen first-hand with our fuel savings campaign – a data-led initiative looking at mapping complex operations, optimising journeys and mobilisation speed. There are no silver bullet solutions for the challenges that our market faces. If anything, Covid-19 and the ongoing public health and economic emergency has only reinforced the criticality of a resilient supply chain. As such, towage’s role is more crucial than ever before. That is why we must continue to adapt to the changes taking place in our sector. An ambitious, proactive approach to growth, investments and customer service is what will define the next 10 years of towage. Ultimately, these factors are also the criteria for success for all towage operators as we progress into another tumultuous and uncertain decade.

Source : http://www.towingline.com

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