19th February 2024, Dubai, UAE: The Maritime Standard held its relaunched Ship Finance and Trade Conference on February 14th at the Taj Exotica Hotel on the Palm, Dubai. The event, being held after a gap of four years, proved hugely popular on its reintroduction into the company’s portfolio of conferences, with over 250 people in the audience to hear a stellar array of speakers from across the industry highlight key issues relating to shipping and finance, as well as the prospects for the short- and medium-term future.

In his opening remarks, TMS Managing Director, Trevor Pereira, said he believed the relaunch of the conference was very well timed. “There are obvious geopolitical challenges, but there are opportunities as well,” he observed. “This is evidenced by a whole host of deals, mergers and acquisitions which have been rolled out in the region in recent times.”

The keynote speech for the TMS Ship Finance and Trade Conference was given by Capt. Ammar Al Shaiba, CEO – Maritime & Shipping Cluster, AD Ports Group, who skilfully set the scene for what was to come. Capt. Al Shaiba emphasised the need for collaboration and strategic planning in navigating the way forward, and advocated diversity and adaptability in mitigating risk and maximising opportunities. He also underscored the crucial role of sustainability in driving the industry towards a greener future.

Captain Al Shaiba added, “The financial community plays a pivotal role in steering these initiatives towards success. By investing in sustainability-focused projects, financial institutions not only support the global agenda for environmental responsibility but also position themselves as key enablers of positive change.”

Session 1, which followed the keynote speech, was chaired by Petros Doukas, Former Mayor of Sparta; President of Capital Partners and former Deputy Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs, Greece, and addressed the theme: ‘Investing in sustainable shipping and maritime – the strategic outlook.’ Dr Ibrahim Al Nadhairi, CEO of ASYAD Shipping and Drydocks, emphasised the shift in banks’ perception of green objectives and the growing influence of ESG criteria in lending, and stressed the importance of having clear financial strategies for retrofitting vessels to meet climate change objectives. Emile Hoogsteden, CEO, SOHAR Port and Freezone, stressed the importance of adherence to IMO rules in responsible ship financing and outlined Sohar Port’s pioneering investments in biofuels and sustainable transportation. Then, Theo Xenokoudis, Chief Commercial Officer and Managing Director, Piraeus Office, International Registries Inc. provided insights from a flag state perceptive and discussed the evolving ship finance landscape, while Chris Peters, Head of Sales and Purchasing, Montfort Investment, explored the changing dynamics of ship financing, and addressed market trends and regulatory shifts. He also highlighted the influence of environmental considerations such as the Poseidon Principles and alternative fuels and provided some intriguing insights into innovative strategies for fleet growth amidst political uncertainty and climate change.

Having spoken in the first session, Chris Peters went on to chair Session 2, which looked at ‘The future of ship finance – the shape of things to come.’ Bobby Varghese, Senior Vice President – Group Finance, AD Ports, addressed key challenges, and solutions, in financing port developments and expansion, while Dipak Karki, Business Advisor, Transportation, iLex, emphasised the benefits of fintech for funders and arrangers, providing useful insights into managing primary syndications, conducting due diligence and leveraging advanced market analysis tools. Additionally, Ian Edwards, Director, Middle East and Africa, DNV, highlighted the broader impact of emissions regulations on business performance and discussed the growing significance of the Poseidon Principles in shipping.

Other speakers in this session included Bard Poulsson, Divisional Director – Marine, Middle East and Africa, Gallagher Re DIFC, who shed light on insurers’ role in ship finance, emphasising the assistance provided to both lenders and financiers; Nitin Mehta, Chief Operating Officer, Lila Global, who provided some actionable strategies for navigating the complexity of ship finance, and suggested innovative approaches for sustainable growth, drawing on Lila Global’s own experiences; and Menelaus Kouzoupis, Partner, Stephenson Harwood, who underlined the pivotal role of the maritime law sector in fostering collaboration between the shipping and finance sectors.

Session 3 addressed the theme ‘Building resilience in the maritime landscape,’ and provided a platform for a lively discussion, expertly moderated by Ali Shehab. Bureau Veritas’ Jamil Al Ali discussed classification societies’ pivotal role in making future-proof decisions, maximising risk mitigation and optimising efficiency in ship designs. He was followed by George Bolton, Director, Sale and Purchase, Clarkson’s DMCC, who explored the complexities of the S&P market, emphasising the synergy between shipping and finance, while analysing how this synergy can bolster resilience against market fluctuations and environmental imperatives.

This dynamic session, which deepened attendees understanding of the challenges and opportunities to be derived from building industry reliance, also included an informative presentation from Gulf Navigation’s Group Chief Finance Officer, Ali Abouda, who highlighted his company’s financial journey and their strategies for overcoming challenge; Nikheel Idnani, of IMarEST, who discussed the role of marine professionals, and the transformative impact of technology for ship finance stakeholders; and Tejas Shah, Chief Financial Officer, Tomini Shipping, who delved into the collaborative efforts required between shipping and finance in the bulk shipping and trade sector. On a fitting note, he concluded that there was an urgent need for adaptability and strategic collaboration to ensure high levels of resilience in the face of mounting industry challenges.

Reflecting on a very rewarding and thought provoking day, Trevor Pereira, added, “We were fortunate to hear from industry leaders experienced and expert in many different aspects of the shipping, maritime and finance sectors. This really put the Ship Finance and Trade conference firmly back on the shipping industry calendar and we look forward to staging it again in 2025.”

Ship Finance and Trade conference highlights key industry trends