Maritime executives feel like weary boxers, conferees told

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By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOTFor maritime transportation industry executives, surviving the challenges of the current economic environment is akin to a battered boxer weathering blows in a championship bout.
Participants in the Jacksonville Port Authority’s first JAXPORT Logistics and Intermodal Conference, held March 16-18 at Northeast Florida’s Amelia Island Plantation, were treated to that analogy and other words of wearied encouragement – like those of a desperate cornerman to a blood-spattered pugilist – from a host of industry leaders.
(For photos of speaker panels and reception interactions, please turn to page 18 of Issue #446 of the AJOT.)
Steve Rand, president and chief executive officer of Jacksonville-based automotive processor AMPORTS, began one panel discussion by saying that the attributes for success in the present economy are similar to those required of “a punch-drunk fighter in the 15th round” of a title match.
“Absorption and being able to take a punch and being on your feet and staying agile” are the keys to remaining in the fight, Rand said.
Frank J. Baragona, president of CMA CGM (America) LLC, the world’s No. 3 ocean carrier, jabbed, “I feel like a punching bag. Our hands are full.”
Baragona said listening to and adapting to the needs of customers is more important than ever these days, and he added that he anticipates “fallout” among ocean carriers to “correct the structural imbalances that we have in supply and demand.”
Frank Pisano, vice president of TraPac, Inc., a Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. unit that in January opened a 158-acre container terminal at Jacksonville’s port, countered, “If Frank [Baragona] feels like a punching bag, you can imagine what I feel like as a terminal operator.
“We’re in big trouble,” Pisano continued, adding, “Not only will there be consolidation of steamship lines, you’re going to see consolidation of terminals.”
Paul Carlton, president of Mitsui O.S.K. Bulk Shipping (USA), Inc., said the bulk arena – not just container shipping – has been pummelled.
“We’ve had our hits recently also,” Carlton said, citing declines in bulk volumes and charter rates. “We also are part of the punching bag.”
William Clement, assistant vice president of sales and marketing for CSX Intermodal, said the intermodal subsidiary of CSX Corp. “will absorb these body blows and continue to make infrastructure investments through this down time.”
In a keynote address, John Stokes, a partner of Highstar Capital, which counts terminal operator Ports America among its investments, said the present business environment is more like a free-for-all than a sport governed, as boxing is, by Marquess of Queensbury rules.
“We see the market basically in turmoil,” Stokes said. “What we see is tremendous uncertainty, and no one really knows where we’re going.”
The only way to weather the maelstrom is to increase volume, Stokes said, and how does he suggest that be done?
“You have to steal it from somebody else,” Stokes said, recommending low price and the harder-to-produce, even-more-difficult-to-measure value to the customer as tactics. “The only new markets will be those that you steal from someone else.”
Such advice notwithstanding, some ocean carrier executives expressed confidence in markets in which they specialize.
“Brazil has done remarkably well,” said Juergen Pump, senior vice president of Hamburg Süd North America, Inc. “We’re pretty bullish on the future of Brazil.”
John Boudreau, president of Safmarine, Inc., said that, despite short-term slippage, the African market continues to import mining equipment, machinery and consumer goods, including used clothing and used cars. He commented, “Africa is still growing.”
Jimmy Crabbe, vice president of global ocean freight services for UPS Worldwide Logistics, said the biggest challenge he has seen comes in “the downgrading of service,” including from air to ocean and from full containerloads to less-than-containerload shipping.
Crabbe was joined by Terry H

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For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Scott Abbott has been writing and shooting images for the American Journal of Transportation, applying four decades of experience as an award-winning journalist. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a master’s magna cum laude from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Abbott has served as president of chapters of the Propeller Club of the United States, Florida Public Relations Association and Society of Professional Journalists. Abbott honed his skills on several daily newspapers, including [em]The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, Albuquerque Journal and (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, and was editor and publisher of The County Line, a weekly newspaper he founded in suburban Richmond, Va.[/em] A native Chicagoan, he is a member of American Mensa and an ever-optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs.