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Shipping boss ponders on industry prospects

October 11 - In a keynote address to delegates of the 2012 Breakbulk Americas conference at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston on October 10, 2012, Ron Widdows, CEO of Germany-based Rickmers-Linie, queried when there would be an economic pic

Answering his own question, Widdows admitted: "No one really knows."

There were way too manyships in the market and not enough cargo, he observed. When there would be an improvement in infrastructure spending that translated into cargo was the same story: "We have no idea as a sector on how to figure that out," he said.

In the container sector, recovery would be consumer driven, and "we know how to work that one out", Widdows went on. But on the recovery of the projects market: "We have spent time with investment houses and they have no idea too".

Nonetheless he projected that a growth of 5 percent in the projects cargo market for the next few years "feels about right".

The multipurpose fleet is old and one-third of it needs to be replaced over the next 20 years, Widdows observed. In the heavy lift sector, a "fair sized number" of ships are old. "There will be too much capacity for a while, but this will change as these vessels are withdrawn from service and scrapped."

If fuel prices increaseagain to high levels "there are ships trading today that will go away," he added.

The situation will demand big fleet renewal programmes and the amount of investment required to upgrade the heavy lift and multipurpose fleet would run into "gargantuan numbers" Widdows stated.

But with a lack of funding in place for these replacement vessels, he expects to see a number of newbuild ships being put in the water during the next few years with no owner and "these ships will not make it to market".

Consolidation in the multipurpose sector "is much more likely than in the container sector and this will make for stronger players in the future," Widdows went on.

Concluding, he noted that much more investment wasneeded in order to provide a healthy industry with the capacity it needs for the future.

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