Thursday, 27 December 2012

The adversity paradox

The Christmas break has given me time for some introspection and to reflect on 2012 and it's highs and lows and the lessons learned. This year's adversity has tested me on all levels like no other year has before. I have survived and am more life and business savvy than ever.

The adversity I am facing right now, while very painful and something preferable to avoid, I am certain will actually be my making. I feel more equipped and battle-hardened than ever to accomplish extraordinary things personally and professionally. Therein lies the adversity paradox.

The concept of an "adversity paradox" was something that I learned while at MIT University undertaking the Birthing of Giants(BOG) programme. BOG was founded by my friend and mentor Verne Harnish and has been responsible for developing some amazing self-made entrepreneurs over the years. I graduated in 2004 and still regularly review my notes when I am developing ideas. I also frequently bounce things off my classmates to gain greater global perspectives. The lecturer that spoke to our class about the adversity paradox was J. Barry Griswell. He is a man that has overcome tremendous adversity and wrote and talked about the power of it in putting many of mankind's greatest achievers on incredible success trajectories in all fields of endeavour. These people consciously chose not to be a victim but instead to use the adversity as a source of strength to fuel their pursuit of greater goals. 

So how has adversity changed me and set me up for what's next? 

For starters I will continue to do my best for the people that have been hurt by what happened to Skelton Sherborne. I acknowledge adversity I have suffered has caused adversity for others which I am sincerely sorry for.

Apart from that responsibility the slate has basically been wiped clean and I have the opportunity to rebuild my life and future business model exactly the way it needs to be. I have much more clarity how to do this, what's most important, and who I want with me and who I don't. No victims, princesses or people wanting a free lunch allowed! I know who my friends REALLY are now by who stood by me and who didn't. I will be using the word "No" much more in all aspects of my life to preserve my energy for my main priorities.

The perspective I have gained will be invaluable. When you have endured the adversity and pain I have there isn't anything or anybody who can deliver you more of it than you already have experienced. As a result I am more resilient, resourceful, fearless(not reckless) and tenacious than ever. All I see now is opportunity and upside. The entrepreneurial passion and spirit is starting to flow freely again for the first time in about 3 years. The hunger is back and I am relishing the challenge.

There is no shortage of challenges to overcome. The business environment has changed and will keep changing faster constantly. The swing back to the East from the West is well underway even though some people in the West prefer to be in denial about it. In a truly global economy the West can no longer compete with it's high labor costs and high debt compared to the East. The internet combined with fast and modern shipping methods have enabled global competition. It's no longer a concept it's a reality and this is what is really driving change in the global economy.

The power in a sales transaction has shifted too. It now rests with the buyer, not the seller as it previously did. This is the new landscape and there is no doubt in my mind that it is here to stay and we are going to see many great companies' business models, particularly in the West, being challenged and many of them will fall by the wayside and whole industries will disappear.

I was talking to one of my Canadian BOG classmates about a week ago who pointed out to me that most people who are not business owners themselves view business like they do a game of football that you either win or lose. He said that it isn't like that at all because in a game of football there is a full time siren. In business it is never full time as the game goes on and on with no real end or respite. You have to constantly make the best of every situation, adapt, re-invent and keep your work rate higher than the competition to stay ahead of them. He is finding his business model being challenged by the new global economy and when he looks back over the last 15 years he says 13 of them were great and only 2 have been bad so the scoreboard is okay and he has received tremendous personal satisfaction in creating opportunity and prosperity for his people and all other stakeholders in his business for the risks he has taken. It's not about the money to him either.

As we head into 2013 I can't help thinking that the number 13 is considered unlucky by some people. It's not unlucky from where I am sitting right now and I think it will be a great year of re-invention, opportunity and proving J.Barry Griswell's adversity paradox theory.

All for now,

Brad Skelton

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

We lost our battle.

Sadly I have had to appoint a liquidator to Skelton Sherborne this afternoon.

The Deloitte receivership conducted on behalf of HSBC has been catastrophic to the company's future viability. Despite the great efforts of my amazing team to save the company post the receivership, we deemed it could not be successfully salvaged while the bank accounts, debtor book and statutory refunds were kept under the control of Deloitte. Effectively Skelton Sherborne's cash flow was cut off and as a consequence the company became insolvent. As a director I was compelled to appoint a liquidator.

Therefore Anne Meagher and Terry Rose of SV Partners have been appointed and will proceed to wind up the company. I am no longer in charge of the company's affairs. SV Partners office phone number is +61 7 33102000. They will soon be in touch with all clients and creditors.

I know many of our clients have been hurt and inconvenienced by what has occurred with Skelton Sherborne these past two weeks. I am sorry that we were not in a position while Deloitte were in charge to achieve the right outcomes for you with your cargo. For any clients with cargo stored with us at our Brisbane Terminal, we ask that you make arrangements to promptly collect it. There will be a skeleton staff staying on with the company to assist you and the liquidators for a short time with this and to help clients with cargo still on the water.

To my crew. Thank you! You have been awesome and I am shattered for you and your families that this company could not survive. The loss of your jobs so close to Christmas is dreadful. I am so sorry! I think we can honestly say we did our level best though. The professionalism and commitment you have displayed to our clients, suppliers and each other in very challenging circumstances has been truly inspirational and helped keep me going and fighting hard everyday. I am deeply touched that such was your determination for this great company to survive that you all volunteered your time and expertise these past two days without pay. I could not dream of more support than this and I want everyone to know what you did. I am sorry I have let you down in the end.

I am in disbelief that such a good and profitable company with a great track record can lose the support of it's bankers and end up in this position with so many innocent people hurt along the way. I am sorry to the people Skelton Sherborne owes money to and any hardship this has already caused you and may in the future as the liquidation proceeds.

Thank you for the tremendous support the team and I received from so many people.

This is a setback for my children and I. The five year plan just became a ten year plan I think so the job of rebuilding starts tomorrow. I will soon be back bigger, better and even smarter so stay tuned to this blog.

I'll chalk this up to another great entrepreneurial learning experience that you can't get at any university in the world. For entrepreneurs it's not about the money. It's about the journey and the best days are still to come.

All for now,

+Brad Skelton 


Sunday, 2 December 2012

I'm back in control of Skelton Sherborne but....

Just before 5pm last Friday afternoon Deloitte advised me they have been "partially" retired by HSBC as receivers to Skelton Sherborne and handed control of the business back to me. A circular was sent by Deloitte to clients and suppliers early that evening advising them of this. 

If you have read my two previous blog posts you know the team and I have been fighting hard to find a way to get the control of Skelton Sherborne back and the receivers out. I should be really happy as I am largely in control again but I have been handed back a company that has literally had it's heart ripped out as a consequence of HSBC's actions in unjustifiably freezing bank accounts and then appointing receivers who brutally carried out their task in getting the banks money with little or no regard for our clients and our ongoing relationship with them, the future security of employment of my team and payment of other creditors who are owed money too.

I fear that these actions may have caused the company to become insolvent and as any responsible director knows it is against Australian corporations law to trade while insolvent. I am urgently seeking advice on this and the exact financial position of the company to get clarity on this.

Therefore regrettably I need to put our clients on notice that we may not be legally able to resume normal trading and cargo deliveries right away and there are the other issues raised as a consequence of a partial retirement of receivers I need to urgently find a way to overcome.

So what does "partially" retired as receivers mean?

Deloitte advise that the only areas of the business they continue to maintain control over are bank accounts, the debtor book as at the 30 November and statutory refunds. All other aspects of the business are back under my control as the director. They have pulled their people out of our office on Friday so it is just my team and I there now.

So what does this mean to the operation of the business and can it start to resume normal trading? Breaking it down...

Bank accounts
The HSBC bank accounts remain under their control. This effectively leaves the business without a bank account to operate and any funds contained in the existing HSBC accounts Skelton Sherborne doesn't get the benefit of to operate the business.

Debtor book
Deloitte will be collecting all amounts owed to the company as at 30 November, 2012. Therefore Skelton Sherborne will not have access to these funds to allow us to operate with either. 

Statutory refunds
The company has a stamp duty refund due of about $86k so Deloitte advise they will collect this as well.

Therefore to run the business I effectively have no banking facilities, no cash coming in from past work performed nor the benefit of a stamp duty refund. Furthermore subject to the advice I am seeking, we may now be insolvent and therefore cannot resume normal trading unless this situation can be resolved within the law.

During the receivership Deloitte kept advising clients they were "trading" the business. Well as a business owner my definition of "trading" includes taking on new work. Many of our incredible clients have tried to keep supporting us through this period. Sadly we were instructed by Deloitte to turn this new business away so Skelton Sherborne has next to nothing in it's immediate pipeline to keep us going either.

I feel like we have just taken the hospital pass from hell with all of this but we are not dead yet. Anyone who really knows me will probably say I never give up on anything I believe in. I believe in Skelton Sherborne, it's people and know their families are worth fighting for. If we can find a way to keep trading, as HSBC should have sensibly allowed us as a profitable company to do, then the outcome for the Skelton's crew, our clients and our suppliers will be much better. 

My team and I are grateful for the many comments on this blog, some media attention, countless emails and texts of support. The words in one email in particular I love and have kept me going and smiling despite the seriousness of the situation. An old acquaintance of mine in Perth who said he has been through the same thing with his former bank said "Good luck and don’t give up until the bastards have nailed you to a cross". Well, neither Skelton Sherborne or I are on the cross yet let alone nailed. We will find a way to keep going and survive this as intact as possible.

I will keep posting a blog daily with important information for clients and suppliers and details of how this unfolds. For more immediate and frequent updates on cargo movements and the situation you can follow me on Google+ . I am sorry but unfortunately sometimes my key team and I are struggling to keep pace with the phone calls.

All for now,

+Brad Skelton 

Friday, 30 November 2012

Fighting back

Thank you for all kind messages of support since publishing my blog yesterday. I am grateful that so many clients and suppliers alike want this great Australian company to pull through this situation despite some hardship they are currently experiencing.

Our goal is to have the receivers, Deloitte, complete their task as fast as possible for HSBC so my team and I can then take back over and try to salvage the business and take it from there. We respect that Deloitte are still running a sales process in the background for which they have received expressions of interest already.

We know getting the company back on track after this receivership is going to be a HUGE challenge as some clients have been forced to take their business elsewhere to keep their cargo flowing. We respect this and do not blame them in the slightest for taking this action and regret the inconvenience and extra costs caused to them. While Deloitte are "trading" the business while they are trying to sell it, they are currently instructing our team not to take on new work. This is going to leave a void for us once they are gone making the recovery more challenging. Our team and I are up for it though and judging by the sentiment of most clients we hope they will come back.

If you are a client that ALREADY has delivery of your cargo but have outstanding final invoices relating to this then we would be very grateful if you could immediately make payment to us. The faster the funds come in and HSBC and Deloitte get paid out the sooner the receivership will end and we can start the recovery and return to normal.

To ensure we can keep trading and recover post the receivership we are hoping that we can pull the following things off.

1. We need a new bank! If any bankers are reading this blog and are interested in helping this company with a recovery, then please contact me urgently. In a future blog I will let you know what bank or banks were willing to support us.

2. If you are a creditor and Skelton Sherborne currently owes you money, then we are willing to consider a "debt for equity" swap. Again I am sorry for any amounts we owe you and any hardship this is causing you and your business!

3. If you are one of our team members, overseas agents, a supplier or an investor that would like to see this company survive and are willing to invest in it then we would welcome that.

Peter Lucas of Kestrel Solutions will handle the "debt for equity swap" and new investment process. Kestrel Solutions assist companies like mine in these types of difficult situations and can be relied upon to take a highly professional approach. Peter can be reached by calling +61 (0) 7 32325250 or by email plucas@kestrelsolutions.com.au 

Again my team and I are grateful for your support and well wishes. We are determined to get through this and hope that with a bit of help from everyone we can get all of our business relationships properly back on track and, receivership period aside, continue our good profitable track record.

This great Aussie company deserves to survive and my team, my clients and my suppliers will suffer far less if it does.

All for now,

+Brad Skelton 

Thursday, 29 November 2012

I'm sorry

If you haven't heard the news yet Deloitte in Brisbane have been appointed by HSBC bank as receivers to my company, Skelton Sherborne. Therefore they are currently in full control of the company not me.

Deloitte have advised they intend to keep the business trading while offering it for sale. An advertising campaign began yesterday in various Australian newspapers.

Skelton Sherborne has truly great people who I can say without reservation are among the shipping  industry's best in the world. I am extremely grateful to every one of them for the incredible professionalism they are displaying right now in very challenging circumstances. I am so proud of them. Most of these people have given the business between 8-15+ years of their lives and I hope they think it has been an interesting, fun and personally rewarding ride with the company so far. I thank them for the dedication to company and I and for their hard work. I am personally doing my best not to let them or their families down.

This team has built the company's systems and procedures from the ground up and they are world class and very innovative. Skelton Sherborne's business model and processes are probably the most copied by competitors in the heavy logistics market. With some amusement, the team and I have always taken this as a compliment. 

The company would make an outstanding acquisition for someone and has a track record of good profitability and growth. If you are interested please contact Deloitte in Brisbane directly.

So what happened at Skelton Sherborne for the company to be currently in receivership?

Clearly we lost the support of our bankers, HSBC. Late on Tuesday the 20th of November without warning or notice they froze Skelton Sherborne's bank accounts. The company was not outside of any bank covenants or limits. Furthermore the company was trading very profitably having just delivered the best four months results in years. The company did not have a single default or judgment against it that would give justification for our banks action. 

Since late September this year HSBC had imposed a rapid step down of credit facilities the company relied upon. They required the business to reduce one of those facilities by $100k every Friday or they threatened receivership. I am proud to say that with the tremendous help and support of my team, long standing clients, suppliers and friends that Skelton Sherborne met this step down as impossible as it initially seemed. We were still trading profitably and I thought the receivership threat from the bank was removed. Increased attention was then given to reducing creditor balances as fast as we could. As a consequence of the rapid step down required by our bank our cashflow was under pressure but recovering.

HSBC's action in freezing our accounts last week paralyzed us to pay customs, shipping lines and other suppliers in order to ensure smooth cargo and service delivery to our valued clients.

The company immediately engaged our lawyers to try and get this freeze lifted, seek our banks justification for this action and to reserve our rights to claim for any losses and damages caused. As we were within all bank limits we had hoped that we could quickly resolve this with them and continue serving our clients and paying suppliers. Unfortunately we were unable to get HSBC to lift the freeze and their lawyers informed us that all of our banking facilities had been cancelled and withdrawn. At the same time we were also given an immediate demand to payout the full balance of the remaining facilities. The company could not meet an "immediate" demand of that magnitude and subsequently HSBC appointed Deloitte as their receivers.

I know this receivership is hurting people. I humbly humbly apologise to my team, our clients and suppliers who have been hurt or affected by what has transpired with Skelton Sherborne over the last 9 days.

I am working very hard to try and somehow regain control of the business and continue on trading after the receivers have done their job for HSBC if I can. This situation is temporary and I am fighting like hell and determined to be one of those many companies who have successfully emerged from a bank receivership. This situation is a massive setback that will slow me down but it will not stop me.

Deloitte are making decisions that they think are in the best interest of the company and no doubt their client, HSBC. Many of the these decisions and actions my team and I do not agree with nor in anyway condone. We are sad to see some of our great clients, who have become friends as well, incurring further expenses that in our view could have and should have been avoided or at least minimised. Client and supplier relationships are being damaged and right now losses are being incurred. I am powerless to stop this at the moment.

For the company's competitors, who are nearly all former employees of mine, this situation presents an amazing opportunity. It's not every day that the biggest player in their market suffers misfortune like this. I don't blame any of them for trying to exploit it. I would seize the opportunity myself and indeed would buy the company from the receivers if I were them. By the way to my former employees...if your non-compete obligations in your contract have not expired then I strongly suggest you think very carefully. You know that we always enforce them and seek our damages. This situation will be no different.

I take my responsibilities as director very seriously and have been at the office every day. I have not run away overseas as some competitors are saying. Everything that I can do to improve the situation is being done and I know and accept the ultimate responsibility rests with me.

My team and I have at times been overwhelmed with calls and emails through this period. I am sorry if we have not been able to get back to you in a timely fashion. We have frequently been reliant on Deloitte for directions on how to respond to people.

It has been heartening to my team and I to receive so many calls and emails of support from clients and suppliers. Thank you! It is nice to know that you believe in us and the brand. Skelton Sherborne is a great company and I am determined that it will keep going somehow and hopefully with me still at helm and the team intact.

Again I am deeply sorry for any hardship, expense or inconvenience this situation is causing anybody associated with Skelton Sherborne. I am sincerely doing everything in my power to make things right.

Please stay tuned to my blog for further updates as this situation is worked through. I might even lift the lid on a few secrets on people in the coming days.

All for now,

+Brad Skelton 


Monday, 5 November 2012

First solar powered boat to circumnavigate the world


Back in September 2009 I posted a blog about NYK working on designing a Super Eco cargo ship to have it in service by 2030 using a combination of renewable energies. Well perhaps this is now a step closer thanks to what has been learned by the PlanetSolar team.

The "Turanor" PlanetSolar catamaran completed the first solar powered circumnavigation of the world in May this year. Take a look at this video to see this amazing vessel.


The round the world trip it has undertaken has made it the symbol of energy efficiency and sustainable energy.  The "Turanor" is 95Tonnes in weight, 35m long, 23m wide and 6.1m high and has 537m2 of solar modules. The boat can propel itself at speeds up to 15knots without adding pollution of any kind as it is completely silent. It cost £10million to build and set many records as it circumnavigated the globe.

Commercialisation of solar powered ships surely is just around the corner. Who would have thought a Toyota Prius' would be commercialised into taxis as fast as they have.

By the way, is it just me or does everyone else seem to end up with a Prius every time you call a taxi these days?!

All for now,

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke






Sunday, 4 November 2012

40' container rates between Shanghai and Rotterdam spike up $788 last week!

Most container lines in the world are still struggling with over-capacity in ships for the current world cargo transportation task and little or no growth is forecast in cargo volumes in the coming year.

A break even result is the best many of these shipping lines can hope for with the prevailing market conditions. Despite over-capacity in ships which usually leads to lower freight rates, last week a huge and key market segment from China to Europe saw a massive increase in rates of $788 per 40' container/FEU(Forty foot Equivalent Unit). That is a 38% increase in a single week taking the average cost to ship a 40' container to US$2865.00.

(source-World Container Index)

As you can see by the rate history over the last year, rates at some stages have tripled and between January and July, effectively quadrupled.

What is causing this upward volatility when the usual rules of supply and demand suggest rates should be going lower?

Carriers are endeavouring to remove tonnage from some trade lanes to address the vessel over-capacity but the delivery of a profitable bottom line for them is the real driver after the terrible losses many of them have suffered the past couple of years. Ship owners are being forced to increase rates to ensure they stay profitable and are here in the long run. Slow steaming is still commonplace to keep fuel and operating costs to a minimum.

In my opinion we are going to see tremendous rationalisation and consolidation with shipping lines in 2013 and continued rate volatility. It just has to happen as charter rates are still low and they just can't keep carrying on with the financial performance of the last two years.

I would suggest that not only for the shipping industry but many other industries, "Volatility" is the new normal business environment that everyone has to get used too. Being lean, debt free, commercially agile and nimble will give operators the best prospects of survival.

All for now,

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke




Friday, 21 September 2012

Shipping Line Fuel Surcharges... Blatant Ripoff?


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Fuel for ships is known as "bunker fuel" and since the global financial crisis(GFC) bunkers have fluctuated dramatically with a sharp drop post GFC followed by a dramatic increase.

I am amazed at how different carriers apply or choose not to apply bunker surcharges of one description or another even when they operate in the same markets and source their fuel from the same place. Of course the carrier charging it claims they are bleeding and simply can't afford not too. I always enjoy the the look of terror on the sales reps face when I ask how come their competitor isn't charging it and has nearly identical cost structures. I am yet to ever get a plausible explanation.

The carriers that do apply a surcharge most commonly call it B.A.F. This stands for Bunker Adjustment Factor. Another one used by one RoRo carrier is E.F.A.F which stands for Emergency Fuel Adjustment Factor. The word "Emergency" always puzzles me too. Where is the emergency when bunker prices are falling? It's really just marketing spin to help justify a charge that perhaps isn't fair in the first place both in it's conception and it's application.

Another puzzling aspect is why does the application of BAF or EFAF not follow oil price increases and decreases exactly?

When a carrier prices a shipment the rate is made up of a few components. Vessel cost (whether it be charter fees or repayments to banks), part of the port fees, fuel and administration costs. Why then do carriers apply their BAF of say 55% to the components other than fuel? This is another thing any shipping line sales rep is yet to be able to explain to my customers and I.

By the way, how can you possibly charge 55% anyway? That's enormous and surely far outweighs the actual fuel cost itself.

Where there is confusion in terms, or emergencies, there is scope to squeeze more money out of the shipper in the end. I think it's about time some shipping lines came clean and stop the games and rip off. The market can't afford it any more.

My clients and I would rather see all carriers drop this charge altogether and build their fuel costs into their freight rates like most other transportation operators do whether via road, rail and air.

What could be more transparent than that?

All for now,

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke

Monday, 20 August 2012

No doubt about the Canadians..a FTA with the EU.


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It has barely been reported in the media around the world but one of the worlds biggest mining and resource nations, Canada, is hurriedly trying to secure a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the European Union. A truly brilliant move in my book.

Mines in Europe are generally all but depleted so the primary resources need to be shipped in from somewhere so Canada is setting about ensuring it becomes the most competitive supplier possible by removing import duty and taxes on it's resources. No mining or carbon taxes being applied there unlike with the Canuk's biggest competitor, Australia.

Canada needs the business as the resources landscape in Canada is changing. Traditionally Canada has been a big energy supplier to it's southern cousin, the USA. However this is changing as the USA is increasingly using fracking technology to get natural gas out of places once thought impossible so the need for Canadian energy is diminishing.

Another reason is that with uncertain global economic conditions and generally slowing GDP growth in most regions of the world, it is only prudent to try and create conditions that lock in one the worlds biggest consumers as a customer, the EU.

On the otherside of the Atlantic with an FTA in place, a debt ridden Europe will no doubt love selling and shipping more BMW's, Gucci and Louis into Canada without import duties as well.

As a proud Aussie I am frustrated that my country isn't doing all it can to beat the Canadians to the punch with the EU. In fact we seem to be doing the opposite which will ultimately be at our peril. I think we have too much reliance on the Chinese buying our natural resources.

By the way, the cost of shipping from Canada to China is not that different from Australia so I think we better watch our backs as the Canadians are proving to be leaner, meaner and more agile and I'm sure are working hard on winning over our biggest customer.

Australia needs to take a leaf out of the Canadian's book with the EU and quickly get FTA's with our biggest trading partners and remove taxes that make us a less competitive supplier.

By the way, a little bit of intervention by the Aussie Reserve Bank to get our dollar down from 1.05 against the USD would help our exporters out a hell of a lot too!

What part of "exports bring money into the country to deal with debt and help us prosper" don't our regulators get?!

All for now,

Brad Skelton
The Shipping Bloke

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

How many containers get lost at sea?

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Frequently in the media I hear statistics quoted that up to 10,000 containers are lost overboard  at sea each year.  In these modern times, why does it happen at all?

A number of factors ranging from severe weather and rough seas to catastrophes like the ships themselves getting lost at sea just like the "Rena" (pictured off the coast of New Zealand) contribute to the losses. Safe stowage can also be compromised by shippers overloading containers although progressively most countries are following the International Maritime Organisations agenda to have the weight of all containers properly verified before loading.



As for the reliability of the data....there is isn't central source keeping track of this nor do the marine underwriters compile or publish any accurate statistics. The World Shipping Council has surveyed it's member shipping lines to try and find out how many containers are actually lost. It was radically different to what media outlets sensationally suggest. 

Not counting catastrophic events the survey revealed a figure of only 350 containers being lost each year. If you include catastrophic losses like the "Rena" then the number only rose to 675. A far cry from 10,000! Considering the millions shipped each year that's not too bad.

So the yachties of the world are safer than they think, my clients can probably sleep tonight and so can their underwriters. I still recommend you get insurance though!!

All for now,
Brad Skelton
The Shipping Bloke

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Australian shipping revitalisation...It's desirable but unachievable.

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The Australian Government wants to revitalise the shipping industry to help with what the transport minister describes as an immense freight task with the resources boom. Currently there are five bills making their way through the parliamentary process. These bills include substantial changes to existing coastal shipping legislation and tax incentives for Australian ship owners and operators.


As an island continent I would personally love to see Australia's shipping industry revitalised however I believe the governments efforts are focused on the wrong things and with the shipping industry struggling financially, they are completely mistimed. 


As a consequence of the governments reforms, on Friday night Hoegh Autoliners announced to the market they are suspending their Australian coastal service. They are not the first carrier to do so however Hoegh were one of the largest RoRo operators providing this extremely important service. To my clients, who ship heavy and wide mining and construction machinery, which is difficult and extremely expensive to move via road and impossible to rail, this is a real blow and I suggest creates another cost impost on the mining industry. For the road using public, this means that suddenly much more wide, heavy and slow moving freight will be hitting our highways creating even more pressure on the road network.


In essence the government is wanting to create a broad range of incentives to companies willing to invest in rebuilding the shipping industry. They are also making it more costly and difficult for foreign owned carriers like Hoegh, to participate in coastal trade. So to any Australian company brave enough, in competitive terms and in theory, you should have a pretty good chance of building a viable business with government legislative support.


That is of course if as a ship owner you can overcome a few other obstacles to operating in Australia such as:
-Financing the purchase of suitable multi-purpose ships. Currently shipping financiers globally are simply not lending much. This is because global charter rates are very low and the value of ships in general terms has dropped about 30% thus weakening any financiers security position.
-Stevedoring in Australia is still currently far less efficient than other countries and in itself creates a significant cost burden on any operator. Recently MISC, the Malaysian owned shipping line, withdrew services from Australia citing inefficient waterfront practices as one the main reasons for making their Australian service unviable.
-Very high salaries and wages for Australian seamen compared with labour from other countries.
-The market being able to accept what will need to be very high ocean freight rates as coastal traders will not have the benefit of revenue from international cargo like foreign operators do which effectively subsidises coast freight rates.


We seem to have a short memory. Australian National Line (ANL) used to be our national carrier and in it's day, owned and operated good multi-purpose vessels internationally and coast-ally but some years ago it was sold by the government to the French owned CMA CGM. It was sold because financially it couldn't deal with these very factors. Apart from some intended tax and depreciation relief the legislation contemplates, I can't see that anything has really changed or changed enough to allow an Australian shipping industry to take root successfully again.


From my perspective to achieve the governments goal of shipping helping Australia with it's freight task they should be making it easier, not harder, for foreign operators. Australians need to face the reality that our labour costs here are prohibitive and will remain so to the shipping industry. Further waterfront labour reform is needed to help make our stevedores deliver worlds best efficiency thus making servicing this country more attractive.


If these things are done then shipping will be able to greatly help the Australian freight task but if not, then this humble shipping bloke really can't see anything changing except for there being alot more heavy traffic taking to our roadways.


All for now,


Brad Skelton


The Shipping Bloke

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The new protectionism - EPA

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I met with a client today who is a major shipper of earthmoving, mining and construction machinery. Apart from the usual conversation about freight rates, shipping lines and quarantine compliance, our conversation turned to the EPA(Environmental Protection Authority) rules around diesel engines that powers equipment.


While I think we agree that reducing emissions is desirable and important, the hypocrisy and lack of fairness starts when you have different EPA agencies around the world producing their own rules on what engines will comply for their country. This has resulted in manufacturers building multiple engine types depending on what rules apply in the country the machine is destined for. There are differing "tiers" of engines for various countries.


Most manufacturers have realised that in the name of saving the environment, they can conveniently use this EPA legislation to protect their markets from imported machinery which may be fitted with engines that do not comply. They are building machines so that once exported, they can never come back or be sold into other markets with different EPA compliance requirements.


When I studied as a customs broker and freight forwarder there was a world trade agreement called GATT. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. GATT existed as the World Trade Organisation tried to moderate and control protectionism to keep trade relatively fair. 


Protectionist policy is essentially countries using import duties and tariffs to protect their local manufacturers and markets from cheaper imports. As globalisation and free trade agreements between countries gained momentum GATT was abandoned and protectionism has fallen out of favor and is now considered archaic and politically incorrect. As an aside, try telling that to workers in the western world who are losing their jobs in manufacturing to Asian competitors right now though! This might be a somewhat wild idea but protectionism, in this current tough global economy, might even make a come back as countries try and save whole industries and jobs. It would also raise government revenue to pay down sovereign debt. Anyway perhaps there is a future blog in that topic for another day!  


During the conversation with my client today I said to him that clever manufacturers are leveraging EPA rules as effectively "protectionism" under a different name. He agreed. Therefore EPA rules are already impacting "fair trade" and will gradually and ultimately lead to less global trade of heavy machinery unless something changes. In the old days of GATT, someone would have been shouting "not fair" and the WTO would be stepping in but who would dare do this now and then be seen to not be environmentally responsible? 


So what would be environmentally responsible then? To me there should only be one standard of engine produced. That being the one with the lowest emissions. Why bother even building anything else? Forget the rest. That's what environmental responsibility looks like to me. Now I am just a humble shipping bloke, not an engineer or mechanic, and I suspect differing fuel quality in some places may present a challenge to this idea. I don't know but the whole planet breathes the same air ultimately so this situation seems ridiculous and irresponsible to me.


This reminds me of another absurd situation in the name of protecting the environment in my own country, Australia. Here the Department of Environment and Heritage is wanting to ensure that air conditioning gas in machinery is of a type that is non-ozone depleting. Fair enough but this caused the department to institute an import permit regime on all imported machinery and vehicles that have air conditioners. As yet most countries don't even have any rules on this so consequently many machines air conditioners are still filled with ozone depleting gases. 


To avoid having to apply for import permits nearly all of our clients elect to get their supplier to evacuate the gas overseas before the machine is loaded on the ship to Australia. This takes me back too a point already made in this blog that the whole planet is sharing the same air ultimately so this is stupid. 


My company has pointed out to the department that effectively the import permit system is actually counter-productive not only for Australia, but the ozone layer no matter what country you live in. The response:- "That's okay, here in Australia we are doing the right thing and the rest of the world needs to catch up". Meantime somewhere in the world more ozone depleting gases are getting released into the same atmosphere we all share.


The sooner the whole world converges on truly uniform standards on EPA rules the better off global trade and the environment we live in will be.


All for now,


Brad Skelton


The Shipping Bloke

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Would you live and work in a shipping container?

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Since containerisation started in the shipping industry in 1956, the question has exisited of what to do with them when they are no longer fit for the rigors the sea throws at them? The average container has a life span on the ocean of between fifteen and twenty years and potentially much longer than that back on dry land.

Well, how would you like to use them for your home or office?

They are cheap ($1000-$3000 each depending on the age, type and condition), easy and cost effective to transport to site or re-locate, stackable, secure, incredibly durable, fast to errect with minimal foundations required, easy to plumb, easy to wire and are eco-friendly and can actually look ok.

Alright.....I only said "ok" not "great". There are now dedicated architects for shipping container buildings doing some incredible things with them. Offices, multi-storey hotels, homes, cafes can all be successfully built from them.








I can visualise the funky beach house in the future for the Skelton clan already. Maybe...

All for now,

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Staggering overcapacity in the global shipping fleet.

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I recently received a commentary from Ferrier Hodgson with some amazing facts I thought I'd share on the global shipping fleet and cargo volumes.

In January 2011 there were 103,392 cargo ships operating globally. This number of ships grew an amazing 54% from 2005 in order to meet a pre-GFC high demand.

In this period the number of container ships grew by 83% and bulk carrier numbers grew by 63%. The growth in shipping capacity completed outstripped the growth in seaborne cargo which for the same period was only up 27% to 8879 million tonnes and.....the global fleet is still growing. About 16% more new ships are being added in 2012 from orders placed by ship owners years ago.

A massive imbalance in supply and demand in shipping has been created. Bulk carriers have been the worst affected with current charter rates dropping to the lowest levels in about 30 years.

The value of ships has dropped by about 30% which is causing financiers to get nervous about their security position.

For shippers and freight forwarders this situation is mostly benefiting them. It is leading to some very keen freight rates in some trade lanes as a result of carriers lowering their profit margins in an attempt to maintain or capture greater cargo volume.

The downside is that some ship owners are in a very precarious financial position and cannot withstand much more stress from ongoing operating losses and devalutions of their fleet. Most carriers are continuing to adopt cost cutting measures by dropping port calls and steaming more slowly to save fuel costs.

A consolidation of operators looks inevitable unless cargo volumes really pick up soon. With a lethargic global economy in general, I can't see that sort of growth in trade happening for a while.

All for now,

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke