Shipping tries to stay afloat

When the world economy tanked last year and global trade juddered to a halt, nothing fell further or faster than freight rates in the world shipping industry.

And within that mix of container lines, tankers and dry bulk cargoes such as iron ore, it was, not surprisingly perhaps, this last one that fared worse. In little more than six months, it fell by more than 90 per cent. Now, however, it is well off the bottom. Iron ore is moving again, as are other bulk commodities, as global industry picks itself up off the floor and begins a tentative restocking. But don’t get too excited. Most of these cargoes are heading for Asia as China, in particular, benefits from a massive and unprecedented domestic economic stimulus. It is an encouraging sign, but after a long cold winter any sign of spring is encouraging and we know from long experience in this country that warm spring is no guarantee of a decent summer. That said, you would expect the shipowners and charterers at least to take comfort from what is going on.But if that is what you expected you would be wrong. At the Baltic and International Maritime Council (Bimco) shipping conference in Athens this week, where owners, users and builders meet, the mood was one of continued gloom. It turns out that of all the industries in the world facing problems of overcapacity in the face of declining demand, none is in worse shape than shipping.

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