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Over 500 Attended Shipping Finance Conference in Athens

By MarEx 2019-03-10 15:08:00

More than 500 attendees from around the world gathered in Athens, Greece, for a day of panel discussions, presentations and interviews with thought-leaders in shipping, finance, technology and academia. The second annual conference Karatzas Slide2Open Shipping Finance 2019 conference was organized by New York-based shipping finance firm Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co and Cyprus-based Slide2Open.  

The Minister of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy of the Hellenic Republic, Fotis Kouvelis, spoke of the efforts of the Greek government to support the all-critical shipping industry, while the leader for shipping policy with the minority political party “New Democracy,” John Plakiotakis, stressed the challenges deriving from the stricter regulatory framework and changes in legislation concerning fuel. Dr. George D. Pateras, President of the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping, rhetorically stated that “we are victims of our success, which led us to greed” and expressed the hope that shipping has learnt from its past mistakes.

On a live on stage interview expertly contacted by Costas Paris, Shipping Reporter for The Wall Street Journal, George Procopiou, one of the largest independent shipowners in the world and founder of Sea Traders, Dynacom Tankers Management and Dynagas, shared his much sought-after thoughts on the current state of the industry and his insights on being successful in shipping. Procopiou expressed the opinion that a trade war between the U.S. and China would never amount to much, as it’s to the best interest of both parties to find ways to get along. The pain of a trade war would be just too much for the vested interests in the U.S.-China relations. The audience was at the edge of their seats listening to a genuine Captain of the Industry.

Basil M. Karatzas, CEO of Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co and host of the conference, adopted a decade-old view of the industry to explain the state of the market, but mostly, to set the agenda for the conference and a frame for a much expected and much hoped for (but also much delayed) shipping recovery: pay attention to fundamentals where “cargo is king,” adhere to long-term proven business practices of serving customer needs, get financially sophisticated for this capital intensive industry and, keep up with the times as many changes are afoot in the shipping industry. 

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Drobetz, Professor of Corporate Finance and Ship Finance in the Department of Business Administration of the University of Hamburg, Yves Kallina, Senior Vice President of the Global Loan Syndicate, HSH Nordbank, Anastasios Papagiannopoulos, President of BIMCO and Principal of Common Progress, Peter Sand, Chief Shipping Analyst in BIMCO, and Panos Michalopoulos, Managing Partner with WEMETRIX (software company about IFRS standards in shipping), provided in-depth analyses on the state of shipping, both from an academic and also commercial point of view. Deep insights for making the most during challenging and also hopeful times in the industry. 

In the first Shipping Finance panel, Kyle Shostak CEO of Navigator Acquisition (a Capital Pool Company), Michael Frisch, Chief Commercial Officer and Member of the Executive Board with Danish Ship Finance,  Fredrik Bock-Hagen, Managing Director of Ocean Yield Malta, Martin Hugger, Managing Director, Meerbaum Capital Solutions, Gina Panayiotou, Head of Shipping, Michael Kyprianou & Co. and Markus Wenker, Head of Ship Finance, Hellenic Bank covered capital market, leasing, traditional bank lending, alternative capital and equipment finance (i.e. scrubbers, etc). While it seems that capital is tight for shipping at present, one has to be able to see “outside of the box” and offer the financiers both the right opportunity along with the right “structure” and “package” in order to stand out among the competition when seeking financing.

Ruthie Amaru, Chief Marketplace Officer in Freightos – Amazon FBA Shipping Calculator, in a highly insightful presentation, talked on “From Physical to Digital” whereby 40 percent of shipping firms have already drafted a digital strategy, implicit proof that digital transformation is underway, for better or worse. John Dimarakis, Managing Partner of Scotwork Hellas, Eirini Liadi of the OTE Group (a major Greek telecommunications company), Charalambos Saperas, with  INTRASOFT International (a blockchain technology company) and George Christopoulos, with Marine Operations LAROS by Prisma Electronics and retired Vice Admiral (Engineer) of the Hellenic Navy, presented on new technologies in shipping, from blockchain to the Internet of Things and Big Data and digital transformation.

The Technology Panel discussion focused on “Advanced Technologies in Shipping: How Novel Technologies Reshape a Traditional Market.” Under the moderation of Constantine Komodromos of VesselBot (a digital freight platform for dry bulk), the panelists included Greg Atkinson with Eco Marine Power from Fukuoka, Japan, John N. Cotzias with Xclusiv Shipbrokers and President of the Hellenic Shipbrokers Association, Pandelis Esmeroglou, Chartering Director, Olympic Vision Maritime, Gerasimos Michalitsis with INTRASOFT International, Christos Giordamlis with Prisma Electronics; and Carlos Sanchez Vinas with CosmoPay Card Mexico and OGP (Online Global Payments).

The Shipowners’ panel discussion was masterly moderated by Yuri Bender, editor-in-chief, Professional Wealth Management at The Financial Times, and had as its topic “Where there is a will, there is a way.” Panelists included George D. Gourdomichalis with Phoenix Shipping & Trading, Stavros Gyftakis, Chief Financial Officer, Seanergy Maritime Holdings, Harry Kosmatos, Corporate Development Officer, Tsakos Energy Navigation, John Platsidakis, f. Chairman, INTERCARGO, Managing Director, Anangel Maritime Services and George A. Tsavliris, Principal, Tsavliris Salvage Group.

And, keeping always an eye on the future, and trying to set an example of diversity in this male dominated industry at the age of #MeToo, the last panel of the conference, titled “The New Wave: The Next Generation in Shipping,” comprised of representatives of the new generation in shipping. The discussion was moderated by Danae Bezantakou, CEO of Navigator Shipping Consultants, and the participants were George Sp. Alexandratos with Apollonia Lines SA & Vice President of the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping, Alexander C. Hadjipateras of Dorian LPG (USA), and Isabelle Rickmers with Zeaborn Ship Management. 

The Conference had a touching and evocative epilogue thanks to Manolis Vordonis, former Chairman and Executive Director of Thenamaris Ship Management, one of the most prominent Greek shipping companies that has acted as an incubator and training ground for many new shipowners in the last two decades. Now in his successful retirement, Vordonis still spoke of a language of “love” for shipping. He observed that while young people were talking about regulatory frameworks, new technologies etc. – terminology that was unknown in his shipping vocabulary back then when he was hard at work, he still saw a language of love for ships and the sea and culture, still the human factor and feelings deeply embedded in the shipping industry. He stressed that the shipping industry is developing with the help of (and rendering a helping hand to) other industries; that it is in the shipping DNA to serve people and that it will keep on doing it with zeal and love. He concluded with this feeling of love with a patriotic call to all participants to “make our country as it was.”

A greatly successful conference, with profound appreciation to all the participants, attendees, delegates, panelists, sponsors and speakers, who literally came to Athens for this conference from as far away as Mexico and Japan, Denmark and the U.S. Congratulations to Despina Travlou of MediaLab and Slide2Open and Basil Karatzas of Karatzas Marine Advisors for putting together this conference. Already looking eagerly to next year’s conference! Until then, fair winds and following seas!

For more information on the Conference, please visit http://www.slide2open.net/en/shippingfinance2019/