Complexities of capacity
One of the abiding memories of the crash of 2009 is likely to be the vast number of containerships at anchor outside Singapore. That was the very visible proof of just how terrible the market had become for the container shipping industry.
Weekly lay-up figures provided the numerical evidence that this was a business suffering from massive overcapacity that would take years to absorb, given the huge gap between supply and demand.
At one stage, the size of the idle fleet stood at around 12% of the existing fleet, and with so many newbuildings in the pipeline, there seemed little chance of returning to balance until 2012 or 2013 at the earliest.
But what is equilibrium, and is the amount of inactive capacity a good enough measure by which to gauge the state of container shipping?
A vast total of decommissioned ships is a clear indication that all is not well, while a fall in numbers in recent weeks suggests the worst may be over for an industry still reeling from last year"s collapse.
But in an analysis in, a senior industry figure argues that too much attention is paid to the lay-up figures, and that container lines should be judged by how they deploy their assets, just as airlines are assessed on performance rather than how many unwanted planes may be grounded.
Lines need to be able to adjust capacity throughout the year, depending on seasonal cargo flows, and so will have their core fleets supplemented by short-, medium- and long-term chartered tonnage.
That relies on a reservoir of ships moving in and out of employment. Providing that capacity is the role of the non-operating owners and the charter market. Some ships, whether because of their age, size, reefer capacity or fuel consumption, will be under-utilised and may remain inactive for long periods as lines become more selective about their vessel requirements. That is the challenge for charter-owners.
But a semi-permanent pool of surplus tonnage does not necessarily mean that the liner trades are out of kilter.
Barriers to women
We were pleased to see Sarah Breton take command of P&O Cruises" 1982-built, 44,588 gt Artemis , the first appointment of a female master of one its cruiseships in the venerable company"s 173-year life.
We do wonder why a company, at this late date, would write a press release about it and why Lloyd"s List would deem it news, rather than another fine example of professionalism winning authority due to merit. But it is news because of the relative scarcity of female masters.
The UK"s Maritime and Coastguard Agency has a record of 36 female masters. That group is drawn out of a pool of 25,000 seafarers in the UK. A woman taking up seafaring as a vocation has a slim chance of becoming a master under today"s conditions.
Peter Cardy, the head of the MCA, is exiting his post at the end of the month. A signal contribution during his tenure was to advocate a more inclusive maritime industry. Mr Cardy, in these pages, suggested that one obvious cure for the perpetual shortage of officers was to recruit women more effectively.
?As with other previously male domains,? he wrote, ?to overcome the barriers requires senior role models not being the sole female on board, assurance of privacy and personal security, and clarity from the master and company about behaviour.?
That these factors are not guaranteed by owners may offer a clue to Britain"s shortage of women applicants despite the efforts of the government, the industry and the Merchant Navy Training Board.