The film Transporter starring Jason Statham ought to appeal to shipping folk. There’s a big action scene on a containership and the “transporter”, with his computer-like karate skills, has a commercial philosophy which consists of three absolute rules. Rule 1 – “never change the deal”; Rule 2 – “no names”; Rule 3 – “never open the package”. Could these be helpful in our branch of the transport business?

Our Word Is Our Bond

Rule 1 certainly can. Shipping is famous for sticking to its word, and Baltic members will enjoy the opening scene of the movie. Statham is waiting outside a bank, in his impeccable BMW get-away car, when four bank robbers jump in. But the deal was to transport only three, so Statham refuses to move. As police sirens wail, his clients solve the problem by shooting number four and pushing him out of the car. A better solution than arbitration, given the circumstances, but not one the Baltic recommends!

Shipowner With No Name

The Transporter’s second rule is also close to the heart of many shipowners – “no names”. During the 20th century shipping became a rather anonymous business, with the majority of ships flagged out under brass plate companies to avoid unwelcome costs. This practice of giving the ship a different name and nationality from the owner has gained wide acceptance and the “flagged out” fleet grew to 40% of world shipping in the 1980s and over 70% today. But Mr Statham’s “no names” rule is under pressure as the EU and US seek transparency so that the “responsible party” for pollution and terrorism incidents can be traced and apprehended.

P3 Package Poker

Which brings us to the 3rd rule – “never open the package”. The problem this rule addresses is that opening the package can produce unexpected consequences. It happens in the movie when the transporter opens the package and finds a girl and it can happen in business too. Take the recent “P3” package. The world’s three biggest (European) container operators decided that cooperation would give them a cost advantage. They packaged themselves as “P3” and asked for approval from the authorities. The EU agreed, but unexpectedly China did not. Why? One explanation is the balance of fleet ownership. Europe is a massive exporter of shipping services, with a fleet twice its ship demand, whilst China and SE Asia are big importers and exporters with relatively smaller fleets (see graph). To date China and Asia have accepted this imbalance, but maybe the world is changing.

Who Rules The Waves?

So, can the shipping industry learn from Mr Statham’s pithy approach to the transport business? “Never change the deal” is a core market principle and although “no names” does not work so well today as it used to, shipping has something to gain from keeping its head down. But it’s the unexpected consequences of opening the package that drives the film and maybe smart shipping players can learn something from Mr Statham’s error. Stick to the deal, keep your head down and whatever you do, never open the package, however interesting the contents may seem. Have a nice day.

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