Rouge waves and rough waters are ahead for shipping, globalization, and logistics but are boomers to blame for our woes? Captain John Konrad says yes.
OPED by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) Container shipping stocks are collapsing as rates and demand for many cargo segments continue to rise. Recession fears are growing almost as much as new job listings. Inflation is spiraling while trucking rates collapse. China decides to print more money as the US Federal Reserve raises rates. Labor negotiations have ground to a halt. The US Navy watches as mines continue to drift around the Black Sea and does nothing to protect seafarers risking their lives to navigate ships loaded with Ukraine grain. The US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg pushes hard on electrifying the roads but hardly ever mentions ships, shipyards, or the US Maritime Administration (DOTMARAD) at all.
He is not alone.
The situation in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia is even worse with chaos in the Black Sea, pipeline explosions, and rising tensions in the South China Sea. A global drought threatens to close the world’s most carbon-efficient means of transportation as waterways and lakes are evaporating worldwide. Germany is selling some of its busiest terminals to China as Chairman Xi continues to harass Taiwan. Fights over the transport of oil continue as new ones emerge over the transport of the millions of tons of copper, lithium, and precious metals needed to improve corporate ESG and build a new electric grid for millions of trucks and railroads. Meanwhile, the US Navy currently scores very weak and doesn’t have enough warships to protect all the world’s oceans. It doesn’t have defensive ships either. The US Navy no longer has even a single fireboat to protect its own ships from fire in San Diego and it repeatedly underfunds both Military Sealift Command and Secretary Buttigieg’s DOTMARAD “ready” reserve fleet which recently achieved a Cumulative Fleet Success Rate of only 40.7 percent.
Cargo is no longer king, confusion is.
All of this reminds me of the Bill Murray quote from Ghostbusters “Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!”
But that quote is misleading as it assumes Hollywood and the media care about shipping. They don’t. Despite the due to the worst energy crisis, the worst international food crisis, the worst US Navy shipbuilding crisis, the worst ship mine crisis, the worst transportation infrastructure crisis, the worst part congestion crisis, and the worst transportation stoked inflation crisis in many decades. Despite all this focus on shipping I challenge you to find a single mainstream media interview with our nation’s port and shipping czar, DOTMARAD’s Commandant Ann Phillips. While European media outlets cry for more American LNG exports they don’t even call to ask why Phillips has stalled on issuing ship terminal permits.
The majority of the business world doesn’t know the word DOTMARAD at all. The entire world breathed a sigh of relief when the giant containership Ever Given was freed from the Suez Canal but the problems have only gotten worse since then.
The question is what is the common denominator on all these problems and why does the United States seem to have the most severe maritime problems despite the growing strength of the dollar and comfortable distance from geopolitical hotspots?
The problems in United State’s maritime industry are because it was the first to be deregulated and outsourced to foreign labor so the workers Buttigieg’s DOTMARAD relies on to maintain ports, shipyards, terminals, barges, ferries, and ships are older than almost every other workforce in American industry.
Our maritime workforce is top-heavy with boomers.
gCaptain has reported on many of these problems from China’s port lockdowns to deglobalization. From US Navy’s new apathy towards protecting commercial shipping to President Biden’s threat to punish foreign shipowners. These, along with countless editorials, have kept the gCaptain team incredibly busy since the outbreak of Covid so we have missed a few topics. We also failed to report on one enormously important topic.
Boomers are making nearly every problem in transportation and logistics worse.
While that’s an accurate statement it’s a bit misleading and unfair. A more accurate statement would be that the baby boomer generation is not only the largest generation but also the best trained and educated. This generation built the most complicated but successful system of international trade the world has ever seen. The problem is now they are retiring en masse resulting in major skill shortages throughout the maritime world.