WILBUR Ross owns several important legal shipping companies that carry legal cargoes legally. Hold the front page, as we used to say.
As someone who has made a living from journalism for over 30 years, I have nothing but respect for colleagues who can craft attention-grabbing stories out of somewhat flimsy material.
Presenting information already largely in the public domain as a 'scoop' or an 'exclusive' is just one of the many underhand tactics to which we impoverished scribes must sometimes stoop, simply to put bread and dripping on the table for our emaciated children.
But even by the peculiarly dishonourable standards of my chosen trade, this weekend's #PanamaPapers coverage about the US commerce secretary's shipping activities leave me feeling distinctly underwhelmed.
Don't get me wrong, I am no admirer of the Trump administration. I am also fully aware that, as both a multi-billionaire and a prominent politician, Mr Ross is a walking, talking ready-made target for populist disapprobation.
For all I know, or even care, hordes of anarchists clad in Guy Fawkes masks may well be plotting a million mask march on whichever of his multiple luxury residences he may be residing in today.
But the point is, Ross has done absolutely nothing wrong. Navigator Holdings operates a fleet of liquefied petroleum gas and petrochemical carriers, perhaps the world's largest. Like all other shipping concerns, it touts for consignments to fill its vessels. So what?
Anyone who cared to know with whom it transacted business could have ascertained as much from a cursory glance at a fixtures list; this is hardly the kind of esoteric secret that can only be gleaned by teams of intrepid journos beavering away on a massive data dump.
It needs to stressed that, however unglamorous, getting petchems from A to B is an entirely commendable and socially useful thing to do. Presumably it also turns a penny for Mr Ross. But that is why private companies exist. So far, so unshocked.
Nor does the 'connections to Putin's son-in-law' angle withstand much interrogation. As popularised by the notion of six degrees of separation, pretty much anybody can somehow be tenuously linked to just about anybody else on the planet.
For its part, Sibur is one of the many companies that emerged in rather murky circumstances during Russia's period of 'shock therapy' conversion to capitalism in the 1990s.
But that was almost a generation ago. It is now a major gas and petrochemicals entity, requiring shipping capacity to serve its needs. Step forward Navigator, in entirely above board fashion, and paying such taxes as are due on its activities.
Some of Sibur's minor shareholders are Russian nationals reportedly subject to western sanctions. But is it really being suggested here that all companies should know all the shareholders in all the other companies that make up its client base? On that basis, world commerce would simply grind to a halt.
Besides, to accuse somebody prepared to serve alongside such now sadly departed White House moral titans as Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus and Anthony Scaramucci of choosing his associates poorly is not without a certain irony.
The reality is that through his WL Ross and Co private equity empire, Mr Ross has accumulated interests in so many companies that he probably cannot even name a fair number of them.
Now that he is playing in the political big league, he will have no hand in the nitty-gritty of their day-to-day management. That's what hired managers are for. As the Department of Commerce makes clear, he has recused himself from any involvement with his shipping concerns.
Being the most bleeding heart of all bleeding heart liberals, I do admit that defending a paid-up member of the Davos Man-incarnate global capitalist ‚lite does feel kind of dirty.
I'd much rather be salving my conscience by protesting the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, or trying to persuade people in shipping to take the reality of global warming seriously. That's how we liberals roll.
But in this instance, justice demands that I make one thing clear; No rules have been violated, no impropriety has occurred. It is difficult to know why the name of Wilbur Ross is in the headlines today.
NEWS that US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has investments in shipping will come as little surprise to anyone in the shipping industry.
Nor should it be a surprise to anyone else. Mr Ross disclosed his stake in Navigator Holdings to the US Office of Government Ethics when he was appointed to the position by President Donald Trump.
The news breaking from the release of the Paradise Papers leak this weekend, however, implies there is something nefarious in Mr Ross's holding of shares, and formerly a board position, in a company doing business with a Russian company.
The issue comes from the fact that two executives at Russian energy company Sibur, including the father of Russian president Vladimir Putin's son-in-law, have been sanctioned by the US government.
Sibur itself has not been sanctioned, and Navigator has been very open about the business it does with the company.
It has been public knowledge that Mr Ross through his company WL Ross owned a substantial holding in Navigator and took the company public in 2013, and that Mr Ross kept his stake in Navigator after he was sworn in as commerce secretary.
Regarding the company's business dealings with Sibur, Michael Webber of Wells Fargo said: "Navigator's exposure to Sibur was actually a focal point in their presentations, appearing prominently in their investor decks".
As of Monday morning, Mr Ross appeared to be willing to divest himself of Navigator.
Mr Ross today told Bloomberg that he would "probably not" maintain his stake in Navigator. "I've been actually selling it anyway, but that isn't because of this," Mr Ross said.
It is unlikely that Mr Ross has broken the letter or even the spirit of the law in maintaining a stake in a shipping company doing business with another country. In America's febrile political environment, however, connections to Russia can be politically challenging.
Sharing the titles of commerce secretary and shipping investor also creates a conflict of interest, as evidenced by Mr Ross's own admission. A statement issued by the Commerce Department in response to the Navigator Gas/Sibur business dealings said that Mr Ross "recuses himself from matters focused on transoceanic shipping vessels".
With the majority of world trade, which Mr Ross's government role is supposed to cover, being carried in ocean-going or "transoceanic" vessels, this would require Mr Ross to give up a large part of his job.
GLENCORE has been unmasked amid the fall-out from the Paradise Papers as the largest single shareholder behind SwissMarine, one of the world's most active dry bulk operators.
At least one report fingered the much-pilloried Swiss commodities trader's involvement in the company as tantamount to being "linked to a ghost fleet".
SwissMarine currently controls a fleet of more than 150 chartered-in ships, including 84 capesizes, and 11 owned capes -- all of which are detailed on the company's website.
It turned over more than $1bn last year and carried more than 128m tonnes of cargo worldwide, the site says.
According to the Australian Financial Review, one of the 96 media partners in the international investigation that produced the so-called Paradise Papers, Glencore hid its relationship with SwissMarine.
It also wove lurid connections with SwissMarine co-founder, the Greek shipowner Victor Restis, who has in the past been entangled with accusations of Iranian sanctions busting and financial allegations in Greece - all since dismissed.
All parties connected with SwissMarine on Monday seemed underwhelmed to find the company unexpectedly under the microscope.
Forced to address a number of issues stemming from the massive leak of 13.4m files, mainly from corporate law firm Appleby, Glencore admitted that its investment in SMC was previously "not widely disclosed." This was "for commercial reasons".
It told the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists: "Where required, Glencore has disclosed its beneficial ownership in SMC, for example to banks or tax authorities."
SwissMarine was not a subsidiary of Glencore "nor is it a significant investment for the company", the trader said. The shipping company was run by its own management team.
Lloyd's List's inquiries reveal that SwissMarine was established in 2001 as a joint venture between Mr Restis and Glencore, initially under the name of a subsidiary, each with a 45% shareholding. Macsteel, part of the Mittal group, was a junior partner with about 5%, as was Peter Weernink, the company's chief executive.
As a result of managers hitting targets that entitled them to further shares, the two major shareholders' stakes were somewhat diluted. However, this changed in 2013 when Mr Restis found himself the target of a web of allegations that were all later dropped.
Jailed for about 100 days that year, and with family and group bank accounts frozen, the Greek owner decreased his stake, selling about 20% of the company to fellow shareholders, predominantly to Macsteel, but also to Glencore and the management.
As a result, Glencore's stake is now restored to about 47%, while Macsteel ranks second, with Mr Restis holding "less than 20%", he told Lloyd's List. "We lost a lot by selling assets cheaply to raise liquidity during that difficult period," he said.
Reports about SwissMarine stemming from the Paradise Papers were just "dredging up the same and same again," he said.
"It is just a sensational article that presents a picture that is far from the reality and intentionally mixes things up.
"SwissMarine and Glencore are multinationals, run by professional people that are regulated. It appears they are doing so well that it causes jealousy."
PUTTING together the Lloyd's List Top 100 is a little like battling the Rubik's Cube challenge. You get all your squares lined up and think you have aced it, only to discover an errant blue square on the wrong side of the cube that requires another 100 moves and a rethink to get it back in place. Personally, I would have thrown the damn thing across the room in a pique of anger, but no such leeway for childish tantrums is given in the Top 100.
I came to this project in its seventh year. By then, it was a well-established brand with a cult following that had managed to be both predictable and controversial. Remember that 'pirate' we put in the top 10 in 2011?
It was a gimmick, for sure. But one that stirred up a lot of debate over the prevalence and violence of piracy off Somalia and brought the issue to a mainstream audience that previously only had Hollywood's take on it.
Over the past seven years, much has changed. There has been a significant shift of power away from a European-centric shipping industry towards Asia, where most of the world's goods are still made. Chinese leasing houses have pretty much kept the industry afloat as European banks have receded. And China remains the primary engine of seaborne energy from coal to iron ore and all types of oil.
Industry consolidation has seen a concentration of powers, most notably in the container shipping business, but also across dry bulk, tankers and offshore. That means we will bid adieu to a few more faces this year, and make room for new power-players to emerge.
Which is good. One of the things I struggled with when I first took over the Top 100 was what I perceived as its static nature - the people at the top just don't change that often. Yet looking back, there are a number of once-powerful people now gone. Maersk's Eivind Kolding, China's minister of transport Li Shenglin, Cosco's Ma Zehua, Walmart's Mike Duke, Cargill's Roger Janson.
But more can be done to identify those people who are huge influencers in emerging areas of the industry: the technologists, mathematicians and futurists who will undoubtedly change the way we do business. We will need your help with that.
We can also do more to counteract the old, pale and male bias. Shockingly, in 2011 there were only two women in the Top 100. Not because there weren't great women doing amazing things, but because our old, pale and predominantly male (sorry chaps) editorial team just didn't have them on their radar.
To head off any howls of derision over reverse discrimination, or predictably dull accusations of tick-boxing, or quotas: I can assure you, we do not add anyone to the list unless they deserve it on merit, woman or man. But if great people are being overlooked owing to known or unknown bias then it is our job to identify them, and add them to the mix.
By the way, by 2016 the number of women on the list was up to 10. It is small steps, but as the industry evolves, we do too.
ON the first Friday of each November Hamburg's shipping ‚lite have for the past 69 years invited clients from around the world to join them to feast on ham hock, sauerkraut, pease pudding, and potatoes, washed down by beer and aquavit. It was a tough job, but our containers team struggled through and returned with some insights on the state of German shipping, and a belly full of pork knuckle.
DRY bulk carrier newbuilding prices at Chinese yards have continued to strengthen, amid increasing orders for fresh tonnage.
However, shipbrokers are divided on the longer-term prospects, with the optimists believing a recovery for dry bulker builder is on the road while those who are more cautious argue that the resurrection in ship prices might just be temporary.
The monthly China Newbuilding Price Index, which tracks ship prices at Chinese yards based on inputs from 19 member broking houses, has seen its bulker index rise six points to 780 in October.
The sub-index has expanded for three consecutive months since August. It has also climbed 2.5% compared to the January tally.
Full report here
THE capacity of the world containerised fleet grew by another 59,000 teu in October, according to figures from Lloyd's List Intelligence, one of the smallest increases in capacity per month this year.
On paper, at least, the market appears to have taken a pause. The fleet stood at 20.4m teu and no orders were recorded during the month to further increase the size of the orderbook.
But appearances are deceiving. Deliveries continued apace, with 68,000 teu added to the fleet during the month, including the inevitable ultra large containership, with last month's being OOCL's 21,413 teu OOCL United Kingdom.
While no new orders were placed, the orderbook is creeping up again, relative to the size of the existing fleet. The total amount of capacity on order rose to 3.2m teu, or 15.6% of the existing fleet, during October.
Full report here
IN last month's issue of Between the Lines, we examined the Asia-Europe and transpacific capacity scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2017 compared with that of previous years, and found that capacity deployment for the fourth quarter was not slated to contract relative to the third quarter, as has been the case in previous years, when capacity is traditionally brought down to match the seasonal volume decline of the winter slack season.
In this issue we revisit the capacity deployment scheduled for the fourth quarter, to see if carriers have culled the deployed capacity over the past month.
Full report here
HERBJORN Hansson would like his Nordic American Tankers to pay a dividend in perpetuity. To accomplish this, he is determined to leave no stone unturned.
The most obvious thing would be to focus on the company's earnings and hence its capacity to declare dividends. What happens then when NAT is losing money?
A clever manoeuvre happens in the form of an innocuous proposal seeking approval from shareholders. The New York-listed company is proposing to eliminate the $215m "share premium" from its books and instead credit it to "contributed surplus".
This proposal will not change the total amount of shareholders' equity in the books, just its composition. But it may change the company's capacity to declare dividends in the future, whether these dividends are paid from earnings or its "contributed surplus".
PARTICIPATION by Asian players in the dry bulk derivatives market has risen since the Singapore Exchange took over the UK's Baltic Exchange a year ago.
The share of volume executed by Asian companies rose to 22% this year from 13% in 2016, according to data by Cleartrade Exchange, part of Germany's European Energy Exchange, which is growing its exposure to freight derivatives clearing. The data encompasses all clearing houses.
SGX finalised the purchase of London's iconic shipping institution in November last year. One of the drivers for the deal was to improve liquidity in the dry bulk forward freight agreements market. The two sides have been actively engaged in marketing the hedging tool in Asia and Europe, regularly holding workshops and training sessions. They are also targeting the US.
So far this year, 87 companies have joined the Baltic Exchange, of which 69 are from Asia.
FOOD wastage in the global supply chain is a challenge the world over, but getting the shipping industry to stand up and tackle the issue is equally challenging.
With the global population growing at a rate of more than 210,000 inhabitants every day and conservative estimates of 11.2bn people on earth by the end of the century, compared with today's 7.4bn, food waste will only increase unless action is taken now.
The One Percent Challenge aims to create a global claim database that will help to pinpoint exactly where the major choke points of food waste occur in the cold supply chain.
TRANSOCEAN Oil has become the third bunker fuel supplier in Singapore this year to lose its licence or not have it renewed, after the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore revoked its licence owing to breaches of the terms and conditions.
The MPA said checks conducted on Transocean in March and April this year showed several falsifications of records and discrepancies in the stock movement logbooks on board the bunker tankers it operated. The move follows a recent flurry of similar cases that has seen several bunker firms exit Singapore.
Panoil's licence was not renewed in August because it had made unauthorised alterations on the pipelines of its bunker tankers and had accumulated demerit points for non-compliance with bunkering procedures. Universal Energy had accumulated demerit points for delivery of bunkers that were severely aerated as well stoppages during bunkering operations.
Since the start of the year Singapore has required bunker operators to install mass flow meters to measure heavy fuel bunker deliveries more accurately.
SOUTH Korean prosecutors have demanded a criminal court mete out a three-year sentence to former Hanjin Shipping chairwoman Choi Eun-young for insider trading.
Separately, prosecutors asked for a Won2bn ($1.83m) fine to be imposed on Ms Choi, as well as the return of Won1.1bn that she allegedly obtained from the transactions, according to a Yonhap News Agency report.
Ms Choi was indicted in December 2016 for allegedly disposing of shares in Hanjin Shipping in April last year shortly before the ailing shipping company announced it had reached an accord on a debt restructuring plan under the Korea Development Bank's supervision.
SOUTH KOREA's SM Line has announced that it will merge with WooBang Engineering & Construction, a unit belonging to parent Samra Midas Group, in a move that would enhance the company's financial stability.
The move confirms the ambitious play by Woo Oh-hyun, the chairman of the South Korean conglomerate Samra Midas Group which owns Korea Line and SM Line, who said in October that he wanted to grow SM Line into "something comparable to Hanjin Shipping".
Analysts estimate that SM Line's assets are expected to increase dramatically from the current Won175bn ($156.7m) to about Won1trn, while its debt ratio is expected to decrease from 220% to below 200%, after the merger.
SHIPPING Corporation of India posted wider losses for the three months ended September 30 this year, dragged down by weaker earnings from its bulk carriers, tanker and offshore segments.
The state-owned company reported a net loss of Rs761.8m ($11.8m) from July to September against a net loss of Rs177.7m in the same period a year ago.
Amid its fleet expansion, revenue increased to Rs8bn from Rs7.5bn in the same period a year ago, but overall operating expenses rose to Rs8.8bn from Rs8bn.ipping-Corporation-of-India
INDIA's shipping authorities have extended the period in which companies can apply for financial assistance with regard to coastal berth projects under the Sagarmala programme by three years, to March 31, 2020. The authorities have also expanded the scope of the funding to include capital dredging at major ports and the preparation of detailed project reports.
The Coast Berth Scheme provides funding to ports or state authorities for building infrastructure to facilitate the movement of cargoes and passengers by sea or inland waterways.
India's central government will subsidise 50% of each project's total cost.