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  • 2021 February 8 16:56

    SMM DIGITAL: Successful digital premiere of the leading international maritime trade fair

    This year the leading international maritime trade fair SMM was held as a purely digital conference for the first time because of the coronavirus pandemic – and it was a great success. For four days, SMM DIGITAL's two online streams with 60 hours of programming and more than 160 speakers drew numerous viewers to their screens. The multifaceted conference programme revolved around the leitmotif “driving the maritime transition”. Apart from discussions of the current Corona crisis, the panels, sessions and interviews focused on digitalisation and environment protection as general topics. In addition, the featured top-flight industry representatives outlined what the future of the maritime industry might look like.

    In four intense days with 60 hours of online programming featuring more than 160 international speakers and numerous highlights, SMM demonstrated its ability to fulfil its role as the leading international maritime trade fair even in the form of an exclusively digital conference. Bernd Aufderheide, President and CEO of Hamburg Messe und Congress, was highly pleased: "We are enthusiastic about the great response to the first SMM that took place entirely on the Internet. The attractive package we had put together for the maritime community under coronavirus conditions was highly welcomed by the participants. While a digital programme cannot fully replace the physical event with face-to-face interaction between exhibitors and visitors, it could be a meaningful future addition to the trade fair." SMM DIGITAL allowed the organisers to gain plenty of experience in the digital space that can add value to future physical events on Hamburg's exhibition campus, he added.

    In her video address sent at the beginning of SMM DIGITAL German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the honorary patron, found encouraging words for the industry: "In the current crisis it is especially important to look ahead, remember one's own strengths and drive innovation. That is exactly what SMM as the leading international maritime trade fair stands for, whether digital or analogue." The Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization IMO, Kitack Lim, addressed the audience from London. Mentioning the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the maritime sector, he underlined the industry's efforts to support climate protection. His urgent message: "The time for the maritime energy transition is now." He emphasised the need for increased international cooperation for a "more sustainable tomorrow". Lim highlighted the role of SMM DIGITAL as an "excellent opportunity to discuss ideas for a more sustainable maritime future".

    That is precisely what the maritime community did: More than 7,000 viewers in 80 different countries watched the online programme. To make the content available to interested parties in other time zones, as well, both streams including all panels, sessions and interviews were rebroadcast each night. "We are happy that the programme of SMM DIGITAL was met with such a great response. We received plenty of favourable comments on all channels. Another positive aspect was that more participants were able to enjoy the digital expert conferences compared to the physical SMM events in the past. The efforts of our team over the past months have paid off in more than one way; this is a fantastic outcome," says Claus Ulrich Selbach, Business Unit Director – Maritime and Technology Fairs & Exhibitions at Hamburg Messe und Congress. In an effort to support the industry during this difficult period by facilitating the transfer of know-how, the conference was made accessible free of charge.

    Climate protection was a key topic in several of the conferences, especially at the global maritime environment congress, gmec. IMO environmental expert Roel Hoenders outlined the industry's decarbonisation roadmap. Georgios Plevrakis, Director Global Sustainability at the US classification society ABS, stressed that enormous technological progress is needed to achieve the goal set for the year 2050.

    For the first time this SMM provided a discussion platform for representatives of NGOs and the international shipping sector. Spokespersons from Fridays For Future (FFF) and the German conservation society NABU met up with with leaders from the global shipowners association BIMCO, containership owner MSC and the German engineering industry association VDMA. FFF activist Arnaud Boehmann demanded that the maritime industry and politics do more to protect the environment. BIMCO Deputy Secretary General Lars Robert Pedersen pointed out that shipping, represented by IMO, is the only industry to have defined its own ambitious climate protection goals. It became clear that decision-makers at shipping companies, shipyards and suppliers must pull together to reach their goal of implementing climate-neutral shipping but need the support of politics, for example by boosting scientific research into alternative fuels. Bud Darr, Executive Vice President of MSC, indicated that his company aims to become climate neutral "as soon as possible". But there is simply a lack of suitable fuels, he contended. He called upon leading fuel manufacturers to take action, warning: "We have to realise that there will not be that one shiny fuel solution. We need diverse options that we can combine like pieces of a puzzle,” Darr said.

    Another core theme at SMM DIGITAL was digitalisation. How can smart technologies be applied to enhance the efficiency of fleets and optimise the supply chain? How realistic is the vision of ships operating autonomously? At the Maritime Future Summit (MFS) experts such as Pierre Guillemin, Vice President Technology at Wärtsilä Voyage, provided fascinating insights into new possibilities opened up by Artificial Intelligence.

    A comprehensive and varied alternative programme was available on the "Open Stream" which ran in parallel with the conferences gmec, MFS, the Offshore Dialogue, the maritime security conference MS&D, and the Tradewinds Shipowners Forum. Highlights on the Open Stream included the Personality of the Year award ceremony hosted by the Women's International Shipping and Trading Association, WISTA. The recipient of this year's award was Anke Wiebel who heads Hamburg’s international seamen's club "Duckdalben".

    Other highlights included a lecture by Prof Markus Rex from the Alfred Wegener Institute for polar and ocean research. Rex, the coordinator of the MOSAiC expedition, provided a first-hand account of the biggest Arctic expedition of all times.

    Tal Danai, CEO of Artlink, gave a foretaste of the Marine Interiors Cruise & Ferry Global Expo which will take place in September. Together with his studio guests he discussed sustainable travelling and called on cruise customers to make responsible choices, saying: "We can choose when, where and how we travel. It is an important realisation that human bonding and the exchange of ideas cannot be stopped, not even by a global pandemic."

    SMM DIGITAL was cheerfully moderated by Carmen Hentschel and David Patrician who guided viewers through the entire programme, and the Hamburg-based shanty choir Albers Ahoi created a pleasant atmosphere during the breaks between sessions.

    Numerous conference viewers seized the opportunity to ask the panellists questions using the digital Q&A feature. In addition, members of the maritime community were able to exchange views and ideas using the chat functionality, or reach out to potential business and research partners at the MariMatch@SMM event to expand their maritime networks. "Viewers made ample use of the communication opportunities which generated a flurry of connectivity and interaction between participants," says Business Unit Director Claus Ulrich Selbach of Hamburg Messe und Congress.

    In a similarly positive conclusion Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, CEO of DNV GL – Maritime, said: "I want to expressly congratulate the SMM team on turning the leading international maritime trade fair into a successful digital event." Notwithstanding chief of Hamburg Messe und Congress Bernd Aufderheide expressed his hopes that the next SMM will take place in Hamburg as a live event "with real people” again. The maritime community is already looking forward to its launch on 6 September 2022.

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