September Commerce Club: Optimistic for Future; Looking for More Next Generation Recruitment

John Hark, Ed Bastian, and Grant Wattman

The Greater Houston Port Bureau hosted a panel discussion on the outlook for breakbulk cargo at the September 13, 2018 Commerce Club Luncheon at the Houston Marriott South. Panelists were Ed Bastian, global sales director for BBC Chartering; John Hark, director of chartering for North America for FH Bertling and adjunct professor with Texas A&M University; and, Grant Wattman, president and chief executive officer of Agility Project Logistics.

A special visitor to the September luncheon, RADM John Nadeau, assistant commandant for prevention policy, from Washington, D.C., talked with guests during the networking hour. Just prior to the panel discussion, he briefly greeted the crowd, naming the waterways of the port region part of a “gift to the nation that you keep secure and moving goods and people efficiently… you all protect it every day.”

Grant Wattman kicked off the panel discussion, offering an outlook of “moderately improved” for 2018 for heavy lift and project cargoes. Wattman noted that while capital projects had moved sideways, there had been some resurgence in mining. He cited several positives affecting the breakbulk sector, particularly some benefits that could come from tax reform and the billions of dollars in capital expenditures pending approval globally.

Speaker Ed Bastian cited several factors that had inhibited the breakbulk sector, including excess vessel capacity and the 2014 oil crash, noting that “energy is a huge part in the heavy lift and multi-purpose industry”. Bastian stressed the IMO 2020 low-sulphur fuel compliance uncertainties, referencing a recent survey that indicated as many 35% of vessels could continue to operate with heavy fuels. “No one really knows how it will play out until the regulations take effect,” he said.

The panel concluded with comments from John Hark. He, too, recognized 2018 as “another year of uncertainty”. Hark believes shipping rates will eventually rise and stressed the importance of not getting “caught on the wrong side”. Throughout his comments, he urged industry to be pro active in their approach and thinking. “Be innovative with the data you have,” he urged.

Each speaker offered a cautious optimism for the year ahead while acknowledging the challenges still to be tackled, with John Hark referencing Kipling for a little added inspiration! All panel members stressed the need for continued innovation as an industry and recruiting new talent into the field.

  • Date September 26, 2018
  • Tags 2018 Sept