For its eighth Webinar in the highly popular Covid-19: A Leadership Perspective series, The Maritime Standard assembled a distinguished and hugely experienced panel of executives to discuss the impact of the pandemic on maritime infrastructure projects. As Clive Woodbridge, Editor of The Maritime Standard and Webinar moderator, pointed out, “Many experts are saying that infrastructure investment is key to economic recovery, but so many of the assumptions on which ongoing and planned maritime projects were predicated have now changed. This was an ideal opportunity to gauge the opinion of some of the most respected names in the business as to whether infrastructure spending can indeed be sustained post-pandemic.”
The tone of the Webinar was, however, overwhelmingly upbeat and positive, with speakers agreeing that not only would most major projects continue despite the pandemic, there was an absolute need for them to do so, to support global trade, as well as regional economic growth.
The importance of taking a long term strategic view was stressed by several panellists including Amitabh Kumar, Director General of Shipping and Additional Secretary to Govt. of India. He said “There was an initial impact on ports, and this temporarily affected project timelines, so some adjustments have had to be made to arrangements with concession holders. But now the short term impacts have been taken care of and we have to look towards the post-pandemic situation.”
Speakers also highlighted the need for investment in digital infrastructure, as well as ‘bricks and mortar’. As Abdulla Bin Damithan, Chief Operating Officer, DP World- UAE Region, observed, “Times have changed and are clearly challenging. But at DP World we continue to develop plans for both additional quayside infrastructure and smart ways of doing business.”
Abu Dhabi Ports’ Director of Urban Planning and Permitting, Hamza Badawi, stressed the importance of proactive planning with regards to critical infrastructure such as ports, and for agility in the face of the pandemic. “Master planning is vital,” he suggested, “and this calls for close collaboration across key stakeholders.”
Krishna Kotak, Chairman of India’s J M Baxi Group, quoted the British economist, Sir John Templeton, who wrote that “bull markets are born on pessimism, grown on scepticism, mature on optimism and die on euphoria.”
He suggested that “While these are pessimistic times, the lessons of the past suggest strongly that growth will return, and infrastructure projects will be needed. We must keep our nerve and have the stomach for investment.”
Industry veteran, Captain Jimmy Sarbh, who headed up P&O Ports in India and South East Asia for many years, said, “This situation will pass, and so infrastructure development should not be stopped. The UAE and India are both doing very well in this context.”
David Casey, Group Chief Commercial Officer of Gulftainer, one of the world’s leading independent terminal operators, agreed, stating: “The industry has been tactical for the past few months, but we need to stay strategic as well, and think long term. Over 80% of world trade moves by water and it is important to plan for the eventual recovery.”
Speaking from a shipyard perspective, Julian Panter, Vice President, Business Development, of International Maritime Industries (IMI), said that despite the pandemic the joint venture’s project to build a 5 million m2 shipyard in Saudi Arabia remained on track. He suggested that the impact of this massive investment would be felt not just in Saudi Arabia but across the Middle East Gulf, creating significant knock-on opportunities for strategic partnerships with suppliers. He also highlighted the fact that the pandemic had forced IMI to look at embedding digitalisation and technology into the project alongside traditional infrastructure.
Preparations are now being made for the 9th TMS Webinar in the series. This will take place on September 23rd and will take the theme: Sustaining ship and offshore support services. For more details please visit: https://www.themaritimestandard.com/tms-webinar/