Moving goods around the world is an essential part of any economy that exports and imports, and for hundreds of years the shipping industry has done this on behalf of manufacturers and growers of food. They have made and lost fortunes depending on the economic global circumstances, but when you see a vast container ship packed high with steel rectangles or an enormous oil tanker sailing the seas to disgorge its black gold into a refinery, you tend to think that the shipping business is doing well.
However, it is not always the case, because there are many alternatives for business to ship goods without using actual ships.
Planes, trains and automobiles
If you take the automobiles to be trucks then you have the triumvirate of competitors to the shipping industry. It’s true that you can’t put as much onto any of these transport methods as you can onto a ship, but you are getting speed and convenience.
If, for example, you want to transport goods from Seattle to New York, it’s unlikely you would choose a sea route. The chances are you would look to air or road transport, depending on what your load was, or examine options for using a freight train. However you wanted to move goods, you would also be weighing up costs, delivery times and ease of access to your chosen transport medium.
Cargo on planes can be expensive, but where speed is of the essence it can be the right choice, providing the budgets stack up. Rail and road may take longer but you could make a significant cost saving, an important consideration when margins are tight.
With these alternatives, it could be easy to think that shipping is a business on the decline, but there are factors and businesses that are hitting back, investing in shipping to provide new facilities and services that exporters and importers want.
One of the perceived problems with the global shipping industry has been, and still is, the oversupply of vessels. Though fuel costs have been relatively stable, there has, according to Moody’s Japan K.K., been a higher supply of shipping vessels than the demand for the majority of shipping services.
However, there are shipping organizations that are working to buck the trend, and one shipping agency in Africa offers logistics throughout the continent to ensure supply routes are maintained across national borders. What importers and exporters want is the infrastructure to handle their freight effectively and efficiently, and if you do or are planning to do business in Africa then the continent is opening up, not just in its coastal areas where ships are essential, but also requiring ongoing transport to its inland areas.
With modernized ports, longer wharves, top-quality handling equipment allied to deeper draught and state of the art information systems, Africa is a place to do serious business.
The right logistics
Shipping will always be a key part of the logistics of moving commodities, and with Africa both having and putting in place infrastructure to serve the shipping industry, there are new possibilities to be explored.