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UK looking to cement its position as a leading maritime cluster

Over the years, a lot of cities have emerged as potential candidates to lure ship owners and shipping companies away from traditional maritime centers like London. Some of them have succeded more so than others, but the British capital has remained the main choice for most ship owners. This will be the case in the future, according to Mr. Doug Barrow, Chief Executive at Maritime London, an organization which is promoting London as a premier maritime centre. At the same time, Mr. Barrow is at the forefront of the London International Shipping Week (LISW). In an interview with Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide (www.hellenicshippingnews.com) he reveals the goals around this year’s upcoming LISW and offers details of what should we expect.

How did the idea of LISW came to be?

It had long been a view that there should be a regular, significant maritime event in London. After all, London is the world’s premier maritime business centre. There have been attempts to hold a Posidonia type event around a maritime exhibition, but the format didn’t work. Exhibitions are good for displaying and promoting equipment and visible services, but not ideal for promoting professional business services so we needed to look at alternative models. The energy industry has, for many years, had a very successful International Petroleum Week that attracts over 2000 influential industry figures and government officials to three days of conferences, roundtables and breakfast sessions with a series of networking opportunities. This seemed to be a good formula that could apply to the maritime industries. Even with this model, efforts had been made to develop a form of LISW a few years ago, but we were unable to find an organiser who was prepared to take the financial risk. In September 2012, Shipping Innovations approached the industry to take the concept forward and, after a series of meetings, both the industry and the government agreed to support the concept. It was realized then that for the event to be a success, industry and government had to work together with the organisers, they did and the rest is history

What’s your view of the inaugural LISW back in 2013? Would you deem it a success compared to what the original expectations were?

The first LISW in 2013 was an unparalleled success and certainly exceeded our expectations for the first event. The steering group all had confidence that it would be a success, but momentum gained as we neared the start of the week. There were some within the industry who were sceptical about “yet another maritime event” and were slow to connect, but it soon became apparent that, with significant industry support matched by an enthusiasm from government, this was going to be big; and it was. With over 70 separate events during the week, a high profile conference and having to move the dinner to a larger capacity venue due to demand for tickets, life was not dull.

Which are the main targets for LISW 2015?

If, by targets, you mean audience, we are looking to attract a global gathering with industry leaders from around the world. There will be more focus on demonstrating the UK’s role in an international market.

We are looking to see LISW15 being viewed as a “must attend” global shipping event with a higher attendance than LISW13. This will be seen by the larger number of key global players who attend the week, but it will be the high quality of the contents of the week’s events that will attract them.

Prior to, and as a result of the LISW15 conference, we will see some significant thought leadership papers giving ideas for the trends over the next ten years.

Which will be the main theme of this year’s week?

LISW15 will be considering the areas players will need to address in order to consider a ten year perspective on shipping. The overarching theme is Shipping in 2025 and we have identified five particular areas to be considered Innovation; Investment; Challenges; Relationship with Government and the evolution of World Maritime Trade. The conference on 10th September will focus on these areas and it is anticipated that the majority of events during the week will be tied into these themes.

Are you happy with the progress made so far?

Very much so. Whilst LISW13 was a success, there was a lot we learnt about how to do things differently and importantly, to understand what the industry, government and especially those attending the events were looking for. I expect LISW17 to be even better than LISW15!

London is arguably the most successful maritime cluster globally. Which were the main factors which attracted so many shipping companies and maritime players in the British capital?

The cluster originally grew alongside the growth of British shipping over many hundreds of years. As international trade developed from the 17th century, the new ship owners needed to finance their ventures and ships, this led to shipbuilding, ship financing, legal and insurance services providing the necessary products to support this growing industry and as the centre grew, it attracted more owners who could access all the services in a one-stop-shop location. Once established, the cluster has survived despite the reduction in owners in the UK, but it is important we continue to attract maritime commercial interests to be located in the UK otherwise, there will be a gradual decline in services. Looking at why London has retained its importance as a maritime centre important factors include the rule of law, the continuing high quality of the services provided, the skill set that is available across the sectors and the ethics of the industry embodied in the motto of the Baltic Exchange – Our word, our bond.

Despite this, the UK flag hasn’t been enjoying the same success, as evidenced by the latest figures for 2014 which indicated that a declining trend is now the norm, rather than the exception. Why is that in your view?

Other flags have been able to provide a more flexible approach to owners and have responded to customer needs. The government is aware of this problem and steps are being taken to ensure that the respond to owners requirements whilst still upholding the quality of the flag.

Is there a viable danger of an “immigration” wave by ship owners to other countries, like for instance Dubai or even Singapore, where the taxation framework on shipping is a lot more friendly?

We have already seen some movement towards other centres, but taxation is not the only reason commercial maritime operations will decide where to be located. If that were the case, then Dubai would have already been flooded with new companies. It is important that the location is able to provide the services needed to operate a company. Without those skilled in law, finance, insurance, shipbroking, accountancy etc. all working together then it would be significantly harder to operate a shipping or chartering company. It is also important there is high quality infrastructure in terms of transport, communication etc. Finally, there needs to be a good working relationship between industry and government. The centre has to provide value for money. You can choose to drive a budget car or a quality car. If those maritime commercial organisations want the best quality and widest range of services, then they need to look no further than the UK. The government is undertaking a Maritime Growth Study and it is anticipated we will see some positive changes in due course encouraging companies to continue to be located in the UK for many years to come.

Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide

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