Europort Opening Summit hears new thinking on maritime issues

Source: press release, 2 November 2021

New thinking – Europort Opening Summit
New thinking – Europort Opening Summit (photo: Europort)

The voice of young professionals rang out loud and clear at the Opening Summit of Europort, as shipping’s next generation shared insights on digitalisation, energy transition and ship finance, and expectations of the maritime career.

The highly topical Summit celebrated the 40th Edition of Europort in newly expanded facilities at the Ahoy Center, Rotterdam, as the leading maritime event successfully returned as an in-person experience months ahead of the nearest competition. Hosting almost 800 companies and organisations from 40 countries, Europort will welcome visitors from all over the world this week.

Right from the outset, the value of face-to-face engagement became clear from a telling exchange involving Young Maritime Representatives Maxime Abels, Juliette van Overbeek and Wessel Vollaard.

In stressing his commitment to inspiring enthusiasm for the maritime sector in schools, Maritime Officer Studies graduate Vollaard disclosed that only 15 from 100 of his fellow students had seen it through to graduation. Beyond those not making the grade, the high drop-out rate had to do with a misperception of what working at sea involved, he said.

“To me, this career is the total package, offering participants a high-tech industry, early responsibility, a highly sociable environment and travel. The other side of it is that, for some, 6 months at sea can be hard to handle.”

Low carbon shipping
Representatives from the Technical University in Delft told the summit audience about an industry-sponsored prototype boat which uses a hydrogen fuel cell for propulsion and will offer new insights on the zero-emission technology for commercial shipping.

“Our mission is to demonstrate what’s possible and to try to inspire others on what can be achieved, starting with maritime industry,” said Sophie van ‘t Hoff, part of this year’s intake. “We have to take action [on the environment] now so we have to start implementing these new technologies.” Anna Koper, who has been working on the project over the last year, expressed ambitions that the technology could be converted from a prototype to a commercial solution for a container ship by 2030.

Virtual ideas
Keynote speaker and internet entrepreneur Alexander Klöpping also offered food for thought on a changing maritime industry, placing his focus on the impact of the fast-emerging virtual world. Klöpping, who made his name as the founder of Blendle, envisaged cameras mounted on spectacles quickly evolving, to provide the basis for “you as avatar, as virtual person, to roam through virtual worlds”.

Klöpping emphasised that those driving change – Facebook, Google, Apple, etc. – were the same players as had been shaping the world for two decades. While the idea of virtual art, virtual TVs and other virtual electronics did not thrill a logistics audience, 34-year-old Klöpping offered some respite by confiding plans to withhold all online tools from his young daughter until she could “prise them from my dead hands”.

Green issues
In a hard-hitting finale, Europort’s Opening Summit brought together Dutch shipowner association KVNR Director Annet Koster, Fast Lines Managing Director Yvan Vlamicnkx, Reederei Nord Managing Director Adriaan Rüppell, and Nicholas Serritslev of YoungShip Rotterdam.

Serritslev portrayed an industry whose attractions could be lost on the young, due to lack of visibility and an image problem of failing to take responsibility. “We need to take full responsibility for our actions; in the digital age it’s no longer possible to get away with things,” said the YoungShip Rotterdam spokesman. “As a younger person, I need to look to the people in charge today.” Shipping was also behind on digitalisation, he said.

However, in this case, the older generation offered a few counter punches. Speakers were able to describe opportunities to be part of an innovative and challenging sector with an international outlook, open to digitalisation and the development of lower carbon fuels, and attractive to financiers. With COP26 in mind, for example, Koster highlighted that shipping was not only pursuing hydrogen as a green propulsion alternative, but biofuels and batteries.