London International Shipping Week 2021 is next week and I am really excited about the event.

Yes, it will be the first real opportunity the industry will have had in over 18 months to meet face to face, but LISW21 also comes at a time of significant change and development in global shipping and trade — issues that will be thoroughly aired and debated at the 140 events, and rising, to be held.

The event is the fifth LISW instalment. Each of its predecessors exceeded expectations in terms of numbers attending and the richness of the debate and business networking on offer. This one will, through necessity in this Covid-19 era, be different and will incorporate several important innovations. I am confident it will follow tradition and be the best yet.

Early meetings of the LISW21 Steering Group and Board of Advisors toyed with the idea of postponing the event. But it was clear that, while Covid-19 was posing huge challenges, our industry across the world — with the notable exception of those long-suffering seafarers confined to ships for long periods of time — was coping brilliantly.

And, in the meantime, other issues, particularly the need to respond to climate change and for the industry to move on decarbonisation, were becoming increasingly pressing.

Important challenges

But there were also other important challenges and issues that needed to be addressed and debated: de-globalisation and security of supply; digitisation; disruptive technologies; the vital role of people and skills; how are new ships to be financed and are industry governance standards up to scratch in meeting the increasingly high standards required by investors? We found that the industry wanted, and needed, to meet up.

Through all the succession of lockdowns and false dawns, three models were under constant review: fully in-person, fully virtual or hybrid (a combination of both).

Through all the process of evaluating what was safe and what would work we are now in a great place, a practical and flexible place, which will afford a very large international audience the opportunity to attend, be that in person or, thanks to a very high spec LISW21 Portal, virtually.

Well over half of the events will have an in-person element, fully or hybrid. The conference itself, to be held on Wednesday 15 September, will take place at the International Maritime Organization, for which we are most grateful to the secretary general. The IMO Plenary Hall has capacity for 743 delegates, however, in line with LISW21’s Covid protocols, we are expecting an in-person audience of up to 400.

The headline conference has as its title 'Driving Growth and Recovery in a disrupted world' and is set to be the most diverse conference to date with blue-sky thinkers from industry, politics, and civil society.

Robust appraisal

The sessions and panels have been developed to provide an honest and robust appraisal of the outlook of the shipping industry in the context of wider societal trends and concerns.

It is very much my ambition that we will lay important foundations for a crucial 24 months that will define the future trajectory of the industry.

As usual, there will be a staggering number of other events, seminars and webinars on offer outside of the conference, organised by a host of UK and international organisations and businesses.

This speaks clearly of the contribution LISW seeks to provide in international maritime thought leadership and reflects the unique concentration of maritime organisations and businesses to be found in the UK. We owe a great debt to the UK and national governments, national agencies, and our industry sponsors for their significant support.

We are also very grateful to the Royal Navy, which is very generously locating a ship on the Thames that will provide a superb backdrop to some of the tech and innovation events going on during the week.

We are all increasingly aware of climate change. At the centre of LISW21, sit issues around the climate crisis and it will be followed by the Global Maritime Forum meeting in London in mid-October, and then the all-important COP26 conference to be held in Glasgow, providing a continuum where maritime can develop its response, and its way to contribute to the stabilisation of climate.

Yes — we are faced with many challenges. But with them come opportunities. I look forward very much to seeing you at London International Shipping Week.