Clarksons Research Services president Stopford made a clear distinction between what he sees as cargo port cities such as Rotterdam and Shanghai, which are driven their role serving their cargo hinterland, and shipping service ports or cities to the international shipping industry such as Singapore or London, in the latter’s case the port not being a major part of what it offers to the maritime world.
In the future Stopford said he sees the need for two or three of what he characterised as “shipping super cities”. At present he noted shipping currently has a number of cities that are important and will continue to play their part, but there is requirement for probably one city in each eight-hour timezone (Asia, Europe and the Americas) that acts as a shipping services hub.
Stopford did not say much on which cities might be, but noted tax regimes and regulations that are friendly to the industry would be important, and that theoretically it could even be a landlocked city such as Geneva.
As he was speaking in Singapore though it was hard to avoid discussion of where Asia’s “shipping super city” might be, especially when it came to the question and answer session.
In Asia, if one accepts Stopford’s argument that Shanghai is a cargo port, that leaves two main competitors – Singapore and Hong Kong. Singapore’s stated ambition to be an international maritime centre is well known and has made plenty of progress over the last decade or so. Bringing in international cargo players was one factor that was seen as important. Stopford noted how when Singapore attracted the Australian iron ore cargo trade to Singapore a few years back how Clarksons chose to move its dry cargo desk in the region to the city-state.
But upping the ante to Singapore’s ambitions is the longstanding shipping hub of Hong Kong. While its government has long maintained a hands-off approach to attracting shipping companies to its shores, it is now planning to set up a new bureau to make it rival London as a maritime services hub.
"What we should do now is to upgrade Hong Kong to be on par with London as an international shipping service hub," Hong Kong lawmaker Miriam Lau said recently when speaking about the setting up of the inter-departmental body to provide a one-stop shop for the maritime sector.
Whether there will really be “shipping super cities” in the future remains to be seen, but for those cities and countries where the international maritime industry plays a major part rivalries are bound to continue.