By Barry Parker (gCaptain) –
After leaning into a surging tanker market and selling off his fleet at, or near, its peak, what should is a shipowner to do?
That knotty question was the subject of the keynote speech by Bob Burke, the driving force behind Ridgebury Tankers, at the HACC NACC conference, held this week in midtown New York. Ridgebury emerged after Burke’s tenure in maritime finance, which included stints at Irving Trust and GE Capital before striking out on his own in the late 1990s. He found great success in managing institutional money, using it to purchase and finance second-hand tankers at opportune times. The more challenging task was cashing out when cash flows and asset values were high. Burke’s remarks, before a packed lunchtime crowd in between the informative panel discussions, was a nice break from the conference’s standing-room-only deep dives into its major topics.
The annual conference, organized by the city’s Hellenic American and Norwegian American Chambers of Commerce (HACC NACC), is now in its 30th year. It always delivers an exceptional event looking at the maritime markets, but now also the geopolitics that have steadily moved into the foreground. Attendees heard different views on the commercial and technical challenges facing an industry trying to find its way through a sea of green, and also gained perspectives on shipping’s problems as it tries to navigate through, or around, the dangers of missile and drone attacks.
“With all the Ridgebury ships gone, I have to make some decisions,” he began. “I haven’t decided if I go on standby, or find some new pursuits- maybe it’s a fork in the road,” he pondered. Quoting the rock band The Clash, he asked, rhetorically, “Should I stay or do I go?”
After noting the shipping industry’s occasional feasts (such as the “present euphoria” in tankers) and mostly famines, and the industry’s terrible public image, he wondered aloud, “Why haven’t we all gravitated towards something more respectable?” Tech and banking were some of the choices he mentioned.
Ultimately, it comes down to the people and the international aspects, he opined, noting that “they are combined- you can’t have one without the other.“ He added that “the camaraderie, the banter, the characters,” along with “the lifelong friendships across continents, cultures and religions,” including during times of wars, panics and pandemics, and the ability to gain perspectives from across the globe “from people that we know personally, on a daily basis,” were powerful attractions that held a powerful grasp on industry participants.
“Having a front row seat on world events- every day” was the vantage point offered to men and women in the business, he said. “We live international lives; we get our news from people that we know.”
“In our wildest dreams, we could not have anticipated the experiences that this industry has provided us with,” he said towards the end of his remarks. “So, I think I am going to stay in shipping, where else am I going to go?”
“I’ll stay here, in this little understood but highly exciting shipping industry,” he concluded.
Weekly Insights from the Helm
Dive into a sea of information with our meticulously curated weekly “Dispatch” email. It’s more than just a newsletter; it’s your personal maritime briefing.