Maritime Roundup: Experts Detail the Legal, Journalism, Data, and Merchant Mariner POV
Episode Transcript
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In this episode, we’re going to examine the maritime sector’s impact on global trade after the Baltimore Bridge collapse.

In this roundup, we’re featuring conversations with a TikTok-famous merchant mariner Gabby Salazar, who defies industry norms; Chris Cook, who uses data to track grain shipments through Ukraine; maritime attorney Lauren Beagan, explaining the complexities of maritime law; and Nick Chubb, showcasing how technology streamlines ancient shipping practices.

Whether you’re intrigued by the legalities, the data, the technology, or the human stories behind the scenes, this maritime-focused episode is for you.



Lauren Beagan: “90% of all goods are shipped via the big cargo ships, there are many issues that pop up all the time.  Navigating through the legal straits that every cargo ship must cross underscores the monumental stakes of maritime law.”

Gabby Salazar: “Working in a male-dominated field, it’s like just another day in the office… our office just floats and is 1,000 feet long.”

Chris Cook: “The invasion of Ukraine… opened up a series of enormously important stories.”

Nick Chubb: “Streamlining this ancient industry is about more than just integrating new technology; it’s about changing the way we think about shipping and logistics.”




Are you experienced in freight sales or already an independent freight agent? Listen to our Freight Agent Trenches interview series powered by SPI Logistics to hear directly from the company’s agents on how they took the leap and found a home with SPI freight agent program.

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Show Transcript

See full episode transcriptTranscript is autogenerated by AI

Blythe Brumleve: 0:05

Welcome into another episode of Everything is Logistics, a podcast for the thinkers in freight. I am your host, blythe Brumley, and we are proudly presented by SPI Logistics. And in today's episode I want to have a maritime roundup with previous episodes from experts to detail the legal, the journalism, the data and the merchant mariner point of view from that specific sector of the shipping industry. Because most of us I would imagine all of us, especially if you're listening to this show we've all likely heard of the Baltimore Bridge collapse that we saw in March of 2024. But when a tragedy like that happens, it shines a spotlight on the shipping industry and the maritime sector within that industry. And because of my experience, I've had the hosting duties for a podcast by Spire called Maritime Means, and so today's episode I want to highlight a few conversations from that podcast in hopes it can create a greater understanding of the intricacies within this sector. Now, this is by no means an exhaustive episode, especially when it comes to time-sensitive news such as the bridge collapse. For that I'm going to direct you to Sal Mercogliano, host of what's Going On With Shipping, and John Conrad, who is the founder of G-Captain, for daily and in-depth analysis within this maritime sector. But for this episode I'm bringing four previous podcasts together for one maritime roundup from the Merchant Mariner point of view, the legal point of view, the data point of view and, finally, the reporter point of view.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:40

Here's what you can expect. So there's Gabby Salazar she is the Merchant Mariner who first appeared on this podcast's. Gabby Salazar she is the Merchant Mariner who first appeared on this podcast a couple of years ago. She's TikTok, famous for showcasing what it's like to be a Merchant Mariner, why she chose that career path and how she manages working in a male-dominated field. Then we have Chris Cook, who's a senior reporter for the Financial Times, and how he used data from Spire to help track grain shipments going through Ukraine during the early days of the war. It was a big story that was in the Financial Times. And then, after Chris, we have maritime attorney and legal consultant, lauren Began, who also hosts by Land and by Sea, and she's talking through some of the common legal issues that arise during the maritime shipping process, which, when 90% of all goods are shipped via the big cargo ships, there are many issues that pop up all the time. And then, lastly, we're talking data and technology with Thedias founder and managing director, nick Chubb on how research and automation are helping to streamline this ancient industry.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:44

Now, hopefully, this episode will give you a better understanding of the industry as a whole and how vital it is for the flow of global trade to happen smoothly, but also reassurance that, when a tragic accident happens, that there are some extremely smart people in the world that are aiming to solve that problem and try to put measures in place so it never happens again. Now, lastly, we also recorded an episode with Sal Mercogliano, the expert I mentioned earlier, on how war affects global shipping, specifically when it comes to not just Ukraine, but also what's going on between Hamas and global shipments trying to make their way through the Suez Canal. That episode is linked in the show notes if you want to give it a listen after this one, because Sal is one of the best when it comes to maritime and shipping insights. So, if you like this episode, that one is a really good follow-up and, honestly, one of my favorite conversations I've ever had on this podcast. So let's not delay anymore.

Blythe Brumleve: 3:40

Here is our Maritime Experts Roundup. Welcome in, gabby. Hi, I'm glad to be here. Thank you for coming on the show. So my first question is why did you choose this career as a merchant mariner. Do you remember what initially sparked your interest?

Gabby Salazar: 4:00

I grew up in the transportation kind of industry a little bit. My dad flew planes for FedEx. He was an airline captain. So I always had this love for travel and I knew I wanted to travel the world and I got recruited to the Merchant Marine Academy for sports. So when that opportunity fell in my lap I just couldn't say no.

Blythe Brumleve: 4:19

Now when you say you got recruited for sports, you were going to play sports for them or maybe at the, the, the merchant Mariner school, like how does that that? How does that, I guess, that process work?

Gabby Salazar: 4:31

Um, it's a D three school, so they just sent me an email saying that they were interested in me coming out and touring the school and I played basketball there for four years and, um, it was, it was great and I loved it, so that's awesome.

Blythe Brumleve: 4:45

I wouldn't. I would have just thought that maybe like a merchant mariner program would just be all about being a merchant mariner instead of like a traditional college. Is that are you? Are you taking, I guess, like traditional classes at you know, a merchant mariner school, or are you, is it just like a regular college?

Gabby Salazar: 5:03

Well, the merchant Marine Academy is actually one of the five federal service academies in the United States, next to the Coast Guard Academy, air Force Academy, naval Academy and West Point, so it is not like a regular school. We get a bachelor's of science either in marine engineering or marine transportation. Obviously, mine is in marine transportation, so you spend a year at sea and then you spend three years at school in order to sit for your either third mate's license or third assistant engineer's license at the end of the four years.

Blythe Brumleve: 5:37

And so when you're done with the schooling part of it I also saw one of your TikToks that you mentioned that when you become a merchant Marine you also have to enlist in any military branch of your choice. Can you tell us a little bit about how that works? Are you committed to a certain amount of training hours or other obligations?

Gabby Salazar: 5:56

Yeah. So since the Merchant Marine Academy is a federal service academy, you do owe back time to the government, since they picked up the tab for your schooling. There's no tuition, so you can either choose to go active duty into any branch as an officer or, like me, I sail. So we are in the Navy Reserves as strategic sea lift officers is the official title of it, and I owe eight years in that five years of active sailing and six years holding a valid license.

Blythe Brumleve: 6:27

Now your official job title is second mate, right. So what are your, I guess, like daily? Is there a typical job day, or do you have like daily or weekly responsibilities that you have to take care of out at sea versus back home? Are you kind of just free to do whatever you want back home and more of the typical day is out on the cargo ship?

Gabby Salazar: 6:50

Right, I do whatever I want at home. I usually travel when I'm home on vacation, but I only work about six months out of the year On this ship. As a second mate. I'm in charge of the navigation of the vessel. I plan, I do the passage plans, the voyage plans. I keep the charts up to date, the publications up to date, as well as stand eight hours of watch every day, whether it's a navigational watch at sea or it's a cargo watch in port.

Blythe Brumleve: 7:16

What goes into, I guess, like planning a passage, like what kind of things are you looking for? Is it more like weather reports or, I guess, like water conditions? Give us a little bit of breakdown of how you actually plan a passage.

Gabby Salazar: 7:33

So it's. I mean there's a lot of things that go into it. I'm checking mostly waypoints, I'm checking to see if there's any dangers to point A to point B, basically one port to another. I'm making sure that all the charts are up to date for that week they get updated weekly making sure there's no dangers. Basically, from point A to point B, ensuring the safe navigation of the vessel.

Blythe Brumleve: 7:59

And so in one of your TikToks you were talking about performing a safety check for every single container on board, but one was accidentally missed and you said your chief made you walk the plank. What does that mean? Because I imagine like a movie version of that, but I imagine they're probably not doing that in real life.

Gabby Salazar: 8:19

Yeah, it's just a phrase that I used. He just like wasn't like happy about it. You know, lashing containers is really important and being secure for sea that was kind of what the problem was was the longshoremen in the United Arab Emirates left all of our lashing gear kind of just like sitting on the deck, and that's a big no-no. Before you leave the port to go out to sea, you got to make sure everything is secure. So it had to be done all last minute. But it was a good learning experience and never did it again.

Blythe Brumleve: 8:47

So so you never actually had to walk a plank in a traditional sense of like walking out on an actual plank and like diving into the water or something with your hands tied.

Blythe Brumleve: 8:56

No no, what kind of traveling do you get to do while you're, because you said you're out at sea for about six months at a time Do you get to do while you're because you said you're out at sea for about six months at a time? Do you get to from port to port? Do you get to actually explore the city of the port that you're in, or is it, you know, kind of dependent on you know how long it's going to take, you know, for the ship to unload or get loaded up?

Gabby Salazar: 9:18

Right, you do get to leave. Sometimes you spend about eight hours doing cargo, cargo and port. I got to go to spain uh, this last trip we were restricted to ship for a really long time because of covid um, so when we were finally able to go out, it was really nice. I got to go see the rock of gibraltar um, on my off time and my captain actually gave me some more hours off and we kind of shifted some hours so that I could go do that. It was really nice, it beautiful.

Blythe Brumleve: 9:44

That's awesome. I imagine that you get to see a lot of gorgeous places. Do you have ports that you go to regularly and you get to kind of feel like a regular there, or is every new place kind of a new place for you?

Gabby Salazar: 10:00

I go to all different places, from the Far East to the Middle East to Europe. I've been all over and every place I mean, I've loved and I've loved learning their culture and the environment, and I just don't think that I could pick one singular place that I love the most, probably northern Spain actually, yeah, I did.

Blythe Brumleve: 10:24

We just showed one of your TikToks and it did look pretty gorgeous there, I have to say. Now, with supply chain, and obviously it went a little mainstream earlier this year when the Ever Given was stuck in the Suez Canal, I saw that you actually went through the Suez Canal. Were you affected by this delay at all, or was that something where it was just kind of like an industry hot topic?

Gabby Salazar: 10:45

No, we were definitely affected. Every vessel, honestly, was affected in their port time. I wasn't on the ship when it got stuck in the Suez Canal, but when the ship came back to the United States it ended up being late to a lot of the ports. So what happened was we actually skipped the entire port of New York and headed over the Atlantic Ocean back to Spain and back to all the ports that we had to get to, because we just didn't have time. We were so off schedule.

Blythe Brumleve: 11:14

Oh wow. So you were maybe one of the ones that were waiting, and then y'all just would just to just go the opposite way and in order to guarantee, I guess, the freight that it was going to arrive on time.

Gabby Salazar: 11:24

Yeah, that was a month later, though, after it got stuck, so that's how much it affected not only us, but I know a lot of other ships that are affected. The Mayor of Stenver was right behind the Ever Given when it got stuck, so it affected a lot of cargo and a lot of ports around the world.

Blythe Brumleve: 11:42

Oh wow. So what do you think went wrong in that situation? So you're in charge? Oh wow. So what do you think went wrong in that situation? So you're in charge of planning passages? So what do you think went wrong with that one? Was it operator error? Or maybe it's too soon to tell?

Gabby Salazar: 11:53

as far as that specific situation, so there was actually a lot of errors mostly a blockchain, actually, of errors in that situation. There were about 40 knot winds that day, so that that'll definitely affect the vessel. Um, the ever given is also, I believe, close to 400 meters, so it was very it's a very, very large vessel. We were next to the everglory before we went in, so I I know how big it is. Um they. So when they went in, they were over correcting, uh, when they were steering to combat that, um, those winds.

Gabby Salazar: 12:30

And what happened was, um, when a ship of that size is in shallow water and it gets really close to those banks, it creates what's called bank cushion and bank suction, where it'll pull the bow in and push the stern. So that's technically what happens in that situation and when that process starts happening, it's very, very hard to stop. You know you can't just stop ships on a dime. So that's what happened. I know that that captain and the pilot, I don't think they even wanted to go into the Suez Canal because of the conditions, but six ships had already gone in and made it through the canal that day. So I'm sure that it was. It was a hard decision to make and um that they were probably pressured to go through.

Blythe Brumleve: 13:13

Sure, I mean, yeah, it's a, it's a roll of the dice, but if you're expressing concerns ahead of time, maybe that that's a little bit to to cover their cover, their butts in the long run, hopefully anyways, especially if they were, you know, expressing those concerns. Now with my next question I know this is anecdotal, but you know, after the Ever Given and with your success that you've seen on TikTok already, have you noticed that your friends and family have started to care? You know a little bit more about what you do. Maybe they're asking more questions, trying to get a gauge of like where you know I guess sort of quote unquote regular people what their care level is when it comes to global logistics. Do you find that they're more interested, or sort of the same?

Gabby Salazar: 13:52

Oh, absolutely. My whole family, especially my father, is just so interested in this industry I don't think they realize how big it is, as you know. You know shipping takes up 90% of the goods that are shipped around the world is by ship and they're just, they're just so amazed at what these ships can do and how important they are to not only the United States economy but the world economy.

Blythe Brumleve: 14:19

And so with obviously there's, you know, speaking of this same trend, of everything that's going on with global shipping, there's a lot of drama that's going out at the port of Los Angeles right now. What is life like for, or what do you think life is like for for those people that are still stuck out there waiting for, waiting to be docked and waiting to be unloaded? Are they kind of, you know, going stir crazy? Or is it just you know the name of the game when you join the industry? What do you think life is like for them right now?

Gabby Salazar: 14:50

As for the seafarers, I think that they know that it's kind of out of their control. I know that there's a lot of ships sitting out at anchor over there. There's ships also sitting out at anchor outside of Savannah, georgia, houston, texas. I mean this is happening at a lot of ports. Obviously, the port of LA is different, um, because the longshoremen there don't work 24 hours. So I think people are just kind of waiting for um to see where the cargo is going to go. I wouldn't be surprised if shipping companies just started skipping LA and going to other ports and figuring it out that way.

Gabby Salazar: 15:32

What do you think that more people knew about the job that you do? Um, honestly, just how important it is? Um, it's a, it's an industry that's so big, yet Nobody knows about this industry and the career path that you can take. And I see that a lot on my TikTok um people saying I never knew that this was a choice, that this was a career choice. Um, you know, no one out of five federal service academies were probably the least known in the United States merchant marine Academy, um, but it's a, it's a amazing career. Um, it's always going to be important, it's always going to be essential and, yeah, I love it.

Blythe Brumleve: 16:08

When did you decide that you wanted to start documenting your career on TikTok? Because that's where I think you hit the nail on the head with a lot of people that are responding that they didn't even know that this was a career option. They didn't know that you could travel the world and essentially get paid to do it and have some downtime to explore different port cities. When did you decide that you were going to start documenting that part of your life?

Gabby Salazar: 16:31

My last ship that I was on the mayor's ship, I decided to just start showing people what it was like. I didn't expect anyone to care, but for everybody to see it and be so interested in it was really nice, because to me and to other seafarers it's just another day in the office. Our office just floats and is a thousand feet long, so I was just really happy to see people engaging with it and it makes me really happy to bring more awareness to the industry and especially to women in the industry. We're such a small percentage and I see a lot of support and it just it's the best and I hope to keep spreading awareness and keep teaching people about this, this vital industry.

Blythe Brumleve: 17:18

Let's talk a little bit about that with with women in the industry. I would imagine it's a small percentage, like you just said, of of mariners that are out on the water. What do you think are some of the stop gaps of what currently is keeping more women to join the maritime industry versus, or maybe what the maritime industry could do more of to encourage more women to become merchant mariners?

Gabby Salazar: 17:42

I think, just in general, most people don't know that it is a career path. You know what I said before Um, it has always been more of a male dominated industry. Um, dating back, you know, years and years and years, um. But I know that my school has been trying to get more women into this in there and as well as the other maritime academies around the United States. So it really is just like what I'm doing spreading more awareness that it is a career path and accepts all walks of life, all people. But yeah, it's, it just needs to be talked about more honestly, I think.

Blythe Brumleve: 18:23

And you're doing a great job of it, obviously with your TikTok account. So what do you have? Do you have plans in the future of how you're going to cover, like you're, the next time that you're going out to see, or do you have, you know, different plans of? Oh hey, I should probably talk about this. I should probably show this side of it. How are you planning your content for that side to bring more awareness to the industry, or are you planning that that far in advance?

Gabby Salazar: 18:48

I don't really plan it too far in advance, mostly because I go to different ships all the time, so it just depends on what ship I go to. Sometimes I get on government vessels where I really can't talk too much about it. Sometimes I get on container ships, sometimes tankers, you know. So it just depends on the situation and I mostly ask my followers what they want to see, and whatever they say is usually what I go with, if it's a day that I can do it and I can film it. I was a little hesitant to do it on my last ship because I really didn't know how Marist was going to respond, but it's all been good and I'm going to continue to teach people about the maritime industry and all the different ships out there and what they do.

Blythe Brumleve: 19:32

Yeah, I'm sure they're loving the extra PR, because I mean, especially if nothing is going wrong, like on the ever given but you're essentially giving them, you know, thousands and thousands, sometimes millions of views on their ship and on their products. So that's something that money really can't buy. So you're out here doing a hell of a job of it. Now, as far as your career, do you think that this is something you're going to stick with for a while, or is this kind of maybe a career that you wanted to do some traveling afterwards? What does your I guess your career look like within being a merchant mariner?

Gabby Salazar: 20:05

Absolutely. I do want to stay in this career for a while. What's really nice about it is there's always room to move up. So I started as a third mate, now I'm a second mate, so the next goal is to become a chief mate, and then, after that, captain, and then the ultimate goal, I want to become a harbor pilot. So there's always room to grow in this industry and move up, and I think that's something to look forward to for me.

Blythe Brumleve: 20:29

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Blythe Brumleve: 21:09

Hit the freight agent link in our show notes to listen to these conversations or, if you're ready to make the jump, visit spi3plcom. As we kind of mentioned in the intro, one of the big reasons that we wanted to have you on the show is this concept around dark shipping. This is a maritime-focused podcast, so the concept of AIS, shipping data being turned off, issues around compliance, insurance, potential smuggling, all of that stuff are all areas of importance to this industry. But as a data-driven journalist, I'm curious as to how you got started by using this kind of research for your work?

Chris Cook: 21:50

So the invasion of Ukraine I should say the reinvasion of Ukraine in the beginning of this year opened up a series of enormously important stories for the Financial Times. So not just grain shipping, but also coal and steel, following where oil is going, as the sort of odd patchwork of sanctions that are coming against Russia and in addition, we had this sort of looting problem. So some of these goods, particularly grain, are not sanctioned. But actually, whether the grain comes from occupied Ukrainian territory, which would make it looted, or comes from legitimate Russia, which makes it fine and okay to sell, those are things of enormous interest to us.

Chris Cook: 22:44

And actually trying to unpack, whether or not with grain, russia is successfully managing to loot the land it's occupying, which is a sort of a difficult thing. Right, because we need the grain to get out. We just don't want russia to profit from it and the um. So there's, these are sort of slightly morally difficult and ambiguous, not ambiguous, I think. In my opinion, they're stealing it. It's not ambiguous. But we don't also want the grain to rot in a silo. So it's not quite a black and white story that we'd hope for, but it's really important to understand these flows and understand what's going on so you can understand the grain market and so you can understand, uh, how russia is financing itself, uh, during this, during this occupation now, with all of that said now, being a journalist for so long, you know, you have had the ability to cover a variety of stories, and this story in particular has a maritime component to it.

Blythe Brumleve: 23:40

When, when, did your first sort of fascination with maritime begin?

Chris Cook: 23:44

Well, actually my dad worked at the Baltic Exchange in London and he was a ship finance person. So we've always had I remember him coming home with Maersk tanker models as a child. So I've always had like a. I think my background knowledge of shipping has always been slightly weird because, yeah, he in fact my dad was um, he worked for pno on bulks.

Chris Cook: 24:10

My late father, he worked for pno uh on bulk shipping um for for many years, um uh, but yeah, it's been a um it's been, um, it's been a thing that's been around a lot and actually, as up the the as there's the way of these things, members of my family have ended up drifting into strange shipping things. So one of my sisters is a shipping lawyer. So, yeah, it's a strangely hereditary not related to Captain Cook, but a strangely hereditary otherwise.

Blythe Brumleve: 24:42

It's pretty fascinating it's one of those industries, especially just shipping in general that once you start learning the nuances of it it kind of just sucks you in and then you can't really ever escape it. You notice it, I think, in all assets and and facets of life.

Chris Cook: 24:54

Is that safe to say for you, yeah, and also I think there's a as a reporter, there's a. There's particular interest because it's um, it's both undercovered, so there is, there are, uh, there are big stories about shipping which or that could be told through shipping that get generally undercovered, and there's also enormous amounts of of information that's, if not published or public, um that's available, whether that is um, you know, talking to um port agents and trying to find out what they know, talking to ship spotters, of course, ais tracking and increasingly these days, satellite photography as well, and the thing about working for an organization like the FT. The advantage we have is we have an enormous depth of experience dealing with data reporting. So if you think our bread and butter is, this number has gone up, this number has gone down. That's sort of the core ft story, um, the you know, reporting on stock markets and shares.

Chris Cook: 25:53

But actually there's a and we have a. We have a sort of really comprehensive capacity for for processing big data stories. But actually we've also got a really big foreign correspondence network. In this story we relied on the fact that we have a really good reporter in Turkey in Laura Patel, and we have the other person who worked with me was someone called Polina Ivanova, who is a Russian journalist who is based in Germany at the moment, and the fact that we have people who are around who are able to compliment the if you like, the sort of high level data stuff and plug in holes, meant that we were able to do something that was that went beyond just the sort of if you like, the things that you can get straightforwardly out of the data itself.

Blythe Brumleve: 26:44

Well, that's a perfect segue to get into the story that you co-authored with Polina. Can you give us a brief rundown of what the Russians stealing from occupied Ukraine stealing that grain? Can you give us a rundown of that story?

Chris Cook: 27:02

Sure. So this is, in a sense, it's kind of part two of something we wrote in July, right, and the thing we wrote was really saying, back in July, we're saying it's really important to understand this stretch of water called the Kursh Strait, and I'm sure lots of your listeners will know where the Kursh Strait is. It's been in the news recently because it's where the Crimea Bridge is, is the thing that got blown up. Bridges is the thing that got blown up. And the kursh strait is important because it's, um, where at is one of the places at sea where, if you like, occupied ukraine meets legitimate russia, right. So the kursh strait, narrow stretch of water between crimea and russia, occupied crimea and russia and the. If you're sitting to the south of the kursh strait, looking north, it's on the black sea, looking north to the kursh strait, to the sea of Azov. On your left, broadly speaking, is occupied Ukraine and on your right is legitimate Russia, right. So if you're a ship and you pick up grain from a left-hand port a port on the left-hand side of your ship you are probably stealing from Ukraine and its looted grain. If you get the same grain, you know, but from the right hand side of your ship. It's probably fine. It's probably come from a legitimate Russian port, and so it's a place where whether you have turned left or right when you come out of the Kursk Strait is really important, and that is why Russia uses it. And Russia has a particular role for the Khrushchev, which is basically, if you have stolen a load of goods from Ukraine and then you go and park up in the Khrushchev, you turn off your AIS right, you go off to an occupied Ukrainian port and then you turn up at the Khrushchev and turn your AIS back on. It's very difficult to know from that whether what you've got is a legitimate good or an illegitimate good.

Chris Cook: 28:46

Um, it's the place where the, where the two bump up against each other, and there's a port on the kursh strait called port kafkas, and if you look at the statistics, the um port kafkas is incredibly busy, like it's shipping. In the midsummer it was shipping something like a fifth, a quarter of all of the grain out of russia you, the world's largest grain exporter. Port Kafka is like two dogs and a pony it's got one key next to a grain elevator and it's got a transshipment area. It's two transshipment areas, bigger transshipment areas at sea, which ostensibly is where all this business is happening, but actually we basically think it was. It's a paperwork factory. So if you've gone to occupied ukraine and you've, you've got a load of looter grain and you want to sell it into turkey, and you know, the turkish customs officials are now starting to ask more searching questions about whether when you, when you went over the kursh straight, did you turn left or right? Um it that that paperwork has become more important? Um, and we had the suspicion, as I say, that people are going to port kafkas getting their their, their, getting the port authorities there to rebadge their stuff as coming from having been loaded at port kafkas and not one of the occupied ports. Um and uh, you know, this is really significant. It's really large amounts of grain coming through this transit.

Chris Cook: 30:12

So what we did was we basically managed to track down the paperwork for one shipment. I say the paperwork. We got two bits of paperwork. We've got the paperwork. We've got paperwork that said it was this shipment, a ship called the Pavel. It's a little tub, right, it's a little general cargo ship. It's only about 3,000 metric tons. So dinky little grain ship. You think the ship's coming out of Sebastopol at the moment at 25,000, right, like this, is a really little tub.

Chris Cook: 30:44

And this ship, the Pavel, is a syrian flagged vessel and you've got paperwork saying it filled in bajansk. Now, bajansk is definitively on the left hand, left, right, it's an occupied ukrainian port and it's also in a region called zaparitsia, where the where which is mostly occupied by the r, not entirely the town of Zaporozhye itself is not, oddly so it's quite difficult to talk about the region of Zaporozhye which is around it is the. We got this paperwork showing that this ship, the Pavlov, filmed in Berzhansk, which makes it a violator, a breacher of the law. We also noted that when it turned up in Turkey, it presented different paperwork which suggested that it had actually filled in Port Kavkaz and the grain, rather than having come from occupied Ukraine, had actually come from Samara, which is like an inland region in Russia. And so we had these two pieces of paperwork. We had these two parallel stories. The Pavel has two biographies for this piece of grain.

Chris Cook: 31:52

Right, it's either come from Bajansk or it's got paperwork. We've got paperwork saying it comes from Bajansk and we've got paperwork saying it comes from Russia. And we had this problem because we could write a story that says well, look what do you think to our readers. But actually that's not good journalism. You should avoid that at all costs, because fundamentally you're saying well, why are these people lying? This has either been forged fundamentally by Ukrainian activists trying to sort of knock this Russian business, which would be quite odd, or it's been produced by these Russians been forged fundamentally by Ukrainian activists trying to sort of knock this Russian business, which is quite odd or it's been produced by these Russians who are trying to pass off Ukrainian goods as Russian.

Chris Cook: 32:34

And our priors are really clear, right. There is very little reason why Ukraine would do that. And also we know how they work and we have a sort of sense at this point of how the Ukrainian authorities behave on some of the stuff. And it was very out of character. We'd never come across that sort of forgery before, and so we were pretty clear to begin with. We were like we're near 90, 10 shore, this is a shipment from Bajansk that has had new paperwork issued for a Kavkaz to disguise the origin of the grain, and our problem was we had to prove it like we couldn't. We couldn't just say it's probably, you know, doesn't make sense the other way around, um, and so we had.

Chris Cook: 33:12

So we, the first thing we did was we then found satellite photograph photographs from planet labs, um, a satellite photography provider and they showed that, basically, bajansk is a pretty awful port these days. It's wrecked, like lots of the cranes obviously don't work, there's a burnt out ship blocking or, but like a damaged ship blocking one of the keys, um and the. It's very, very quiet. So they've only been as far. I think at this point, when we were talking about in august, there'd only been three shipments of grain that come out of Budyansk since the occupation Very like one a month, really, really quiet and the.

Chris Cook: 33:53

When we looked, though and we know, we knew also that the Pavel, the ship had had basically turned off its AAS for five days when we think it made the travel to Budyansk, and in the middle of those five days, in mid-August, we spot a ship of the same dimensions as the Pavel. Now, the thing is, it's a pretty low-resolution photograph, and this presented a bit of a problem for us, because we couldn't get. You know, it wasn't quite where. There were things about it that made us think it was the Pavel, but it wasn't ideal. So that's actually where Spire's clever data came in, basically because we knew from the photograph how long it was and we knew how wide it was right. Those are two things we could definitively say. We knew it was between this length and this length and it's so wide. We also knew whatever the ship was, it didn't have its AAS on.

Chris Cook: 34:56

We were able to do something quite sneaky with the SPIRE data, which is we asked SPIRE to help us by identifying any ship that had been basically in the neighborhood, the whole of the Sea of Azov or south of the Kerr Strait in the previous month, which met those dimensions Right, and that was about, I think, 35, 40 ships met those criteria. And then we were able to say, hang on, a minute of you, 35 to 40 ships, candidate ships, those criteria. And then we're able to say, hang on, a minute of you, 35 to 40 ships, candidate ships, being in that area. How many of you are? Uh, had your ais on at some point that disqualifies you from being potentially that ship. And that got us down to three ships.

Chris Cook: 35:40

So one of them, the ryan, was in romania at time, so, or rather it would have had to really steamed about 20 knots to get, which is, I can tell you, not plausible to get in and out in time. Another one was called the Nadezhda, and the Nadezhda, we're pretty confident, was in Sevastopol at the time. So it was. It was loading, loading up with grain, another occupied ukrainian port, uh. And the third one was a ship called the pavel, and the pavel, um, uh, was the.

Chris Cook: 36:14

You know of the, of the things that were left, it's the only one, only one left, and that was really important to us because it gave us confidence that we hadn't missed some ship coming down from Rostov or some you know some ship coming in from some other angle. And so that, what, what was so important by what Spyro was able to do is two things the first is because of the satellite coverage of the Black Sea. It gave us confidence that we hadn't just missed some ship that was that was pottering around just out of out of range of a terrestrial ais receiver. And also because it's it's um, because, uh, the it's a simple thing actually, but basically almost no one else can do it um, being able to say can you tell me which ships were in this area over this for like a month, in this polygon, in this area of sea, is a surprisingly difficult task for most providers, and Spire are able to do that.

Chris Cook: 37:13

The combination of those two completeness and the ability to ask a sort of sophisticated, complicated historical query on the database were really important, and it let us, as I say, narrow it down basically. So there's actually really only there's really. There was only two ships than the deshja and the pavel, and the nadezhda was in, was in crimea at the time. Um, and in fact, the nadezhda is also the wrong color. I should also point out um, whatever this mystery ship was in bajansk, if it wasn't the pavel, it's you know, um, it's blue, um, and like the pavel. So so, yeah, that was how we were able to use Spire to piece together this thing, and it gave us confidence to say, rather than saying, oh yeah, well, there were these two accounts of where this grain came from. It enables us to say this is stolen Ukrainian grain and you know what? They cooked up new paperwork for it. In all likelihood, that's the likeliest, by far the likeliest account of what's going on here.

Blythe Brumleve: 38:06

And so it's really through, like the process of elimination, that you were able to confirm this story and ultimately feel comfortable with going forward with publishing it. I'm curious as to how, what alerts or what kind of system were you using to even alert you that this was a possibility, that this could be happening? Are you sorting through? You know port data or you know ship data? Um, you mentioned earlier about being able to comb through. You know various amounts of you know shipping records and things like that. What, but what first alerted you that there's something going on here?

Chris Cook: 38:39

so that the, the, the first we heard was someone said to us oh, there, there's a ship in Bajansk which is rare and it's this combination of human intelligence and this sort of data-driven stuff. So it was someone said to us yeah, there's a ship in Bajansk and it's filling the grain and it's come from, in fact, the person selling the grain come from, in fact, the person selling the grain is quite interesting. The person selling the grain is basically a state-owned russian entity, um, that. So this is not some oligarch making money out of the occupation ukraine. This is ukrainian goods being looted, stolen, sold, uh, and the money going back to pay for the occupation of ukraine. Um, and so you know the, the um, uh, so that that that was our first sort of tip. This is going on.

Chris Cook: 39:30

And then we sort of watched the ship, um, and we, we at that point have been told yeah, it's this ship, the powerful decision, the powerful um and uh. Ukrainian activists have told us subsequently um, it's a um, they, they, you know they, they were, they sort of lost sight of it because it's normally apparently running gypsum into sebastopol. That's its normal big part of normal trade. Um, the, the um, like it's a. It's, in their view, a sort of serial offender, on on calling it the occupy ports, um, but the yeah, yeah, we waited for it and then it sort of turned up. Then we saw it turn up in the Kerr Strait, wait around for a few weeks and then it headed south to Turkey where it claimed to have come from Kavkaz. And at that point we were able to piece the whole thing together and go into the databases and when we rang the consignee of the, the of the shipment, he said, oh yeah, well, if you go and ring the town hall in samara, you ring the jim mccomber's in samara, where the grain is purportedly from, you'll get, you can get an origin certificate for it, and we did and you can.

Chris Cook: 40:39

They're genuinely they've like, they've got, they've got, they've done all their dotting their I eyes and crossing their t's. If you're just looking at the paperwork, it looks fine. There are errors in the paperwork, um, which are, which, if you know what you're looking for, reveal that there are. They've got. They've got issues which I'm not going to go into because, um, I think they'll do it again. Um, but the? Um, I don't want them to fix their, to notice their problems. But the, yeah, they did a lot of work to make this paperwork look legit and if you're a Turkish customs officer, it's a lot of work to figure out. You know you've got to start looking at your satellite photography and comparing notes and doing all that and querying giant databases of historic ship movements to figure out that they're lying.

Blythe Brumleve: 41:29

So it really feels like this sort of culmination of the journalists or the tipsters that are on the ground and sending you this information and then queuing it up to you and then it's up to really you and the FT team in order to really keep your eye on it and move the investigation sort of further. Were there any moments where you felt like it was going to be a dead end?

Chris Cook: 41:53

Well, no, so we were. The worry was always going to be we're going to have to write the story that said well, on the one hand, maybe it's Russian grain and the Ukrainians are forcing documents hand, maybe it's Russian grain and the Ukrainians are forcing documents. On the other hand, maybe it's Ukraine, you know Russians, and they would be very unsatisfying. And also, it wouldn't tell us. It wouldn't. If you're a reader like, well, hang on a minute. So you're telling me someone's lying, that's not helpful. Tell me who's. Give me some more evidence. We did have quite a quite funny thing where we didn't use spy. We're on the verge of it, but I spotted. So we are. We have a. We've got a guy in northern turkey, um, to go and visit the shoreline where the, where the pavel was moored, because actually, um, the ukrainians managed to put about that this was ukrainian grain among the turkish buyers and they really shocked her sell it. So actually was moored and unsold just off the Turkish coast for ages, for weeks, hanging around. We got a guy to go over to to take a photo of it and he sent a drone up and from the shoreline and sent out to sea and took a photo of it pottering around at sea and the, the thing we we were sort of struck by was that we think it got damaged in the journey. So we we noticed, um, that the, the sort of covers on top of the hold, had changed color, or rather some of them had. So the middle of the ship had an enormous red strike. It's a blue ship normally and on the way up it seemed to be a blue ship, um, and then, but actually we think it's possible that the um, at some point during its journey it may have got damaged because it acquires this red stripe. They've had to change the, the, the whole covers, um, and we thought that's, you know, sort of odd, fine, um.

Chris Cook: 43:45

But then the ship disappeared, turned over to AOS, and then about a week later, I was like it turned on its AOS and it was heading west across the Black Sea, so it deposited, we could see its draft, we could see it sold its load and it was somewhere in the Black Sea. So I was like, okay, so we've got to, we've got to try to complete the story. It'd be nice to know where they eventually get rid of this load. And um, I stopped, I think, right, okay, I'll start in georgia. It's very unlikely you go to georgia, but that you know that was the trajectory.

Chris Cook: 44:15

And then I started moving around the sort of turkish coast and I spotted um on a very blurry photo, a blue ship with a red stripe on the top, and so this damage to the ship appears to have made me think. Actually, I think that might be it. I think that and I measured it out it was a very it was the worst photo. It was a really terrible photo, but I measured it up and I was like, yeah, it could be, it could be.

Chris Cook: 44:45

And I thought and I thought, okay, well, I'll get in touch, inspire again, and we'll, we'll, we'll get, we'll do the same thing again. Right, we'll work out how many ships of this dimension are in the neighborhood who could conceivably have done it. And I mentioned it to one of my colleagues and she said, oh, yeah, yeah, we should do that, we should do that, we should do that. So I mentioned this, laura, and then laura went on the port facebook page and it turns out that the port authorities just photograph every ship coming in, and so so we didn't really we didn't bother, um, because we had a photo of it sitting at the grain terminal attached to the grain elevator. Um, actually, that's pretty definitive, we don't need to bother with the checking the spire.

Blythe Brumleve: 45:27

Yeah, because it's really all of these data sources coming together to really formulate this story. It sounds fascinating.

Chris Cook: 45:31

Yeah, and actually it was the photograph that I identified it from. In Hopper was really like aerial photography is really interesting because you can get loads of information from a really terrible photograph and so, for example, I knew that this shit ship, whatever it was, it's a blue strip with a red stripe across the middle. Weird, right, I'm distinctive from the air. I know it's about 90 meters by about 10 meters long by about 10 meters wide, right, okay, that that helps me narrow things down. I could see I looked up where it was in the port and I could see it was standing at the grain elevator. But, okay, that's, you know, this is all data points. The point to it maybe being our, maybe being our ship.

Blythe Brumleve: 46:08

Um, uh, but, yeah, but nothing beats someone walking up to the camera and putting it on facebook now you you had mentioned you know the ship had turned off their, their ais data for for five days and, and typically when ships do this, it's probably to conduct illicit activities. Were you surprised at how, I guess, bold they are with this kind of strategy? We're turning off just a simple tracking data.

Chris Cook: 46:38

So there are good reasons to turn off your AIS in the Black Sea, right In that it is a war zone and we can all think of ways that times and that might be appropriate and the, but the that one of the things about it was, when we spoke to the ship up, the ships um, the consignee about it, in fact not the ship's owners deferred all referral questions onto onto him, um, or the. Let him speak for them all. Um, um. I think the ship's owners actually didn't reply to us at all, but we know that they spoke to the consignee about it. The ship's consignee said to us well, the reason why you didn't have the AAS on for five it was at four days, 22 hours, I can tell you was that it was standing still, and you don't leave your ais on when you're standing still. You claimed um. I have to say, what was odd about it was it was basically standing still for a bit before and a bit after, and it had its areas on. It was um. It's also the case that it moved quite a long way between when it turned its aes on and when it turned it off.

Chris Cook: 47:52

He later claimed that they'd actually visited another russian port, um, and so you know his story went from where we were standing still to oh well, we were actually in a different port.

Chris Cook: 48:02

The reason you couldn't see us on the photographs in in kersh straight at that point was because, um, we were in this port, over here, um, again. But you think, hang on a minute, I thought you was. You had it off because you were standing still. Now you had it off because you're going to another port. You know, you're really gonna have to pick a lane on these, on these lines, here, um, but I mean, it's the ships that when you do this sort of exercise, so the, the, the names that come up as ships that have turned off their areas, is suspiciously always the same ships, like it's the same, like it's a really familiar crowd. So the Nadezhda, the ship that was in Crimea at the same time, in Sevastopol at the same same time, was um, was a, is a name that's really familiar I was like all right, oh yeah, yeah, oh, pal, I know, I know what that looks like from the air without having to look it up like they come up all the time.

Chris Cook: 48:56

Um, the, the, um, there are, you know, the repeat offenders, uh, who do this stuff, and they're all like Syrian or Russian ships. They are dealing either with small Turkish ports on the north coast of Turkey who are getting it has to be said, to be fair to them better about turning away dodgy shipments and tougher on ships with incomplete AIS records and the, or they go to Syria. Right, you know and you know the. They're sort of the other side. They're like they, they stay out of, if you like, like the western financial system, um, these are people you know they're. As far as they're concerned, there are no sanctions. They're operating in a world where, as long as the bosphorus is open to them, they don't care. That's the only bit of, and actually the the.

Chris Cook: 49:44

There's an alternate parallel universe where, if Turkey was a bit softer on AIS stuff, um, and wasn't so insistent that people were like turn on their AISs, um, on the Bosphorus, for example, and um, greece going through the islands the other side of the Bosphorus, um, wouldn't know about any of this stuff at all. Islands the other side of the bosphorus? Um, we don't know about any of this stuff at all. Like they, they would, they would never have to turn on their ass. You know, it's only because they're winding through other people's uh territorial waters and through busy ship lanes that they, that they, they do it, uh. We do actually know of cases where they've gone through the bosphorus with their ass off, uh, which I think it must be amazing, like you know how, but anyway, it's all so with you know the, the ais data and with this particular area of the globe.

Blythe Brumleve: 50:29

You know, just going through so much, you know sort of turmoil, what. What kind of consequences happen when a region like this that's responsible for, you know, grain, for you know, a good majority of the world? What kind of consequences come from, you know, I guess, smuggling expeditions like this? What kind of consequences globally does this result in?

Chris Cook: 50:50

so that I mean the first thing was this huge spike in in? Uh. Well, the war itself led to this enormous spike in in food prices. All grains, pulses, lentils, everything um shot up and the? Um. The real uh sort of what part of the sort of poison of this was russia? Um started making it found much more profitable to export grain. Great, so it was able to steal and export more, even more profitably than before.

Chris Cook: 51:17

Um, it also is going to have and it's really hard to see inside this stuff, because this is all black economy stuff but we also know that they're shipping um large sums to syria and syria uh has like a pre-existing, a long-standing contract to receive grain from the crimean ports um, which was, you know, the russians are very proud of and publicized prior to the war.

Chris Cook: 51:39

Um, but they we think they're going beyond that and it may be that part of the story here is that basically they're supporting beyond that and it may be that part of the story here is that basically they're supporting russia, supporting its sort of allied states, by giving them ready access to grain which they can, you know, use them, keep themselves or sell on um the. We will see whether what they've been doing is refilling their silos for the winter, and you know, and it's all for domestic consumption or whether they are trying to become an entrepreneur. And there are people in turkey who believe that that, um, syria is is, uh, trying to re-establish itself in the sort of center of a, of a, uh, a milling trade, the milling trade and so, shipping wise, this is probably and.

Blythe Brumleve: 52:21

And. From a shipping perspective, and then also from a story perspective, is it safe to say that this, this is an area of the globe that you're keeping a closer eye on, you know, using these various different data points, or is it, you know, really driven by the people on the ground, plus the data points?

Chris Cook: 52:36

So I think the thing where we can add value and where we can piece things together is combination. So it's like having access to people who can say so. You know, being told that ship over there is in at the moment and it doesn't have an AIS pinger on, that's really important. This is sort of to help us piece together the story. It's also like worth noting that, like Port Taman, which is next right on the Kursh Strait, it's a legitimate Russian port. Right on the Kursh Strait is an enormous coal terminal that's all sanctioned by the EU.

Chris Cook: 53:19

At Mariupol you might remember the terrible I mean ferocious defense of the Avostal steel plant in Mariupol where defenders were crouched in bunkers underneath the steel plant. But that steel plant produced a huge amount of steel and it's been stolen. It's all been robbed. And so I say, oh, I haven't checked recently. It was being stolen the last time I looked and we think it's being taken back up to Rostov-on-Don where it's going to be, have its sort of distinguishing marks cut off and be resold as Russian. And these are tens of thousands of tons of steel there's.

Chris Cook: 54:02

The coal and steel are sanctioned Russian. Coal and steel are sanctioned by the EU, but the stolen steel is sort of double double bad. So we've got lots of things that can come through the Black Sea that we have to keep an eye on. We're sort of lucky if that's the right word, that um, that russia is surrounded by these pinch points. So the baltic and the north, the, the and the um and the black sea both have have these natural pinch points that mean they have to be observed. It's very difficult to run the gauntlet. As I say, it does happen, like we have. We have found um illicit grain ships running without AIS through the Bosphorus, in fact without AIS at all, throughout their whole journey, all the way from Crimea all the way to Libya.

Blythe Brumleve: 54:54

So yeah, Is this exclusive to only you know sort of the Russian and Ukrainian surrounding territories, or is this more? Are these issues happening all over the globe? Are you covering any other stories or, I guess you know, paying attention to any other areas around the globe?

Chris Cook: 55:17

Yeah, and there's a very healthy smuggling trade around Iran, obviously around Venezuela, and we're keeping an eye on how the trade flows from Russia are diverted and move around in the next months.

Chris Cook: 55:36

The sanctions environment, basically the dial has continued to turn up on Russia over the next few months.

Chris Cook: 55:48

Russia itself, the routes toia are really important too, um, like, we're seeing so lots of traffic that way, um, which is um a consequence of the war and of the of the sanctions environment, so it's already itself spilling out into other things, uh. But we're interested more broadly and the there are, um, there are sorts of um, um intrinsically and permanently interesting places around the world. For some of the stuff, like north korea is the obvious, obvious place and you know what's happening um in there, uh, with their smuggling operations, um, but uh, yeah, it's um, it's a really interesting, strange area of the world and actually it's really changing at the moment, like in terms of what we can and can't do. So actually, to give you another war-related example, a few weeks ago you might remember the Nord Stream pipelines, the explosions in the Nord Stream pipeline, and so I did what we all, lots of us, did what a journalist went and look to see if there are any ships that had visited the pipelines and we did not use spies coverage.

Chris Cook: 56:58

This is pretty no, this is predates our current relationship, but the we used one of your competitors and so did basically all news organizations, and we couldn't find any ships that had made the journey, and in fact there were lots of people who started saying, oh, hang on a minute, this ship had its AIS on for ages, and it turns out it didn't. It's just that the middle of the Baltic is a black hole for terrestrial areas, and then a Swedish publication spotted that actually there had been a Swedish warship that had visited all of the sites of the explosion about a week before the explosions, and then it had turned tail and run at speed to Kaliningrad, the Russian port on the Baltic. And so there are three explanations of why this might be so. The first is it's just coincidence. The second is the Swedish did this, which is quite unlikely.

Chris Cook: 57:59

The third is yeah, I mean, sweden's an unlikely candidate for this. But the third is they were tracking a russian submarine and when the reason they raced off to kaliningrad is they weren't going to the pipeline, they were, they were, they heard something and went to each of these places because they were, they were tracing a submarine and they steamed off to kaliningrad at the end of all of this because that's where the submarine port pens are like that is a, that is a russian submarine base, um, and so the the swedish paper is a switch paper, able to get this, because they had good ais coverage over the baltic and no one else did. Um, and I have checked and that if we had used spire at the time, it would have, we would have found that too. Um, we would have spotted that, oh wow, but they, it's been these black holes you don't kind of know they exist until they're quite important. Um, so the I mean first of all, a few years ago the satellite coverage would have been, you know, much, much lousier and would have been there'd be more of those black holes where we'd be able to see what's going on. The uh.

Chris Cook: 59:00

Second, uh big thing is the satellite photography stuff, which is the combination of satellite photography with with maritime aas data is a is really powerful, not least because actually, when people are spoofing um aas signals and they're messing around with a signals, the way you check is is you know, you go off and you look it up on the um on the camera. So when the when um, I don't know if you recall the Russians went through, have gone through a period of occasionally spoofing the movement of NATO ships we assume the Russians are doing this and it was going and looking on the satellite photos and proving that there was no one there where they claim they were. That's how that was uncovered. But also the ability to sort of track in the holes between when chips go dark is going to be really powerful and important and that will get stronger as the satellite constellations for photography get bigger and more frequent.

Chris Cook: 1:00:01

There are already. I know that spiders work with black sky. God, I'm sorry You're going to have to cut this. Have I got their name right? Uh, hang on a minute no worries oh, yeah, I've got the right.

Chris Cook: 1:00:15

Uh called I don't. We don't do anything with them, but I know that they are black sky. Yeah, sorry, yeah, um, where have you? Where have you got? Sorry, I've lost you uh. I've lost you. Hang on a minute. There you are okay um, I know.

Chris Cook: 1:00:32

So, yeah, so, so I know that, um, spiders work with black sky, which is a satellite photography provider, which, um, and tying up that stuff together is going to be really important and powerful. Sorry, hang on, I'll say that again, I've lost the thread. Let me go back one step. Sure, so one of the things that's going to happen in the coming years is we'll get more satellite photography at higher frequency, and already there are people like Black Sky who can do returns, to return trips, to take multiple photographs in quick succession.

Chris Cook: 1:01:06

So if you imagine, in a scenario where we think, oh, we think this ship is in bajansk and we think it is the pavel, we might be able to say, uh, can you, uh, go and check them out for us and take, say, a series of 12 photographs over a day, and doing that will give you a course and a speed.

Chris Cook: 1:01:23

And then we can say, hang on a minute. We know from the course and the speed here that you're, you would, whatever this ship was, it was definitely where you were standing, you know, six hours ago. So we think, we think that's you. Um, that stuff will become much more easy and much more much firmer foundations for doing this stuff, um, and so actually it should mean that we can we secure safer seas. The other stuff like the fisheries and sea dumping as well, things like that I think we'll be able to pursue with much greater vigor, because that's the deep sea stuff is like the Wild West right, that's where it's easiest to switch off your AIS and disappear away from when you're not going through the Bosporus it's pretty simple to go dark.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:02:10

Yeah, it's easiest to switch off your AIS and disappear away from when you're not going through the Bosphorus. It's pretty, pretty simple to go dark. Yeah, it's pretty fascinating Sort of the modern day piracy that goes on out in the middle of the oceans where you think no one is paying attention to. But now with access to you know AIS data and you know satellite imagery and things like that, it really feels like it all sort of comes together and helps you with your job and to find these stories and to tell these stories. Now, with you being a journalist for so long, do you find that technology and these data sources is making your job easier or more challenging or kind of both?

Chris Cook: 1:02:42

Yeah, both for sure. Like it's really exciting though. And I think one of the challenge for reporters yeah, both for sure, it's really exciting, though I think one of the challenge for reporters is to stay on top of these developments and how they can work. But it's always the case that there are no silver bullets and everything comes from combining different sources of data. So the that's where our that's where our competitive advantages are as reporters.

Chris Cook: 1:03:11

So the our ability to say, uh, we don't know, let's go and send someone out and look at, you know, maybe talk someone in a doc or whatever and pair that with this data um is where, is where we can sort of crack codes, the thing thing, the sort of the what's great about the AIS is it's kind of so it was nice, objective, neutral source. You know it's a GPS bearing and you know, with the other bits and bobs attached to it, we know it can be faked and I think half waiting for more sophisticated spoofing and faking to come along to that. The maybe man receivers um as well, I mean the oh, that's interesting, like it's if you were.

Chris Cook: 1:03:56

Do we think that the? You know the? The kersh straight we know about for the most part, for most people, because there's a big terrestrial station in in the port of kersh itself. Um, do we trust it? It's run by the russian state. You know the? Um, the? What? What can people do? And and one of the good things about satellite is removing all of the layers of people for to turn things off and turn them on again, or, you know, mess with the with the receivers, is be really valuable is that a way for you to sort of verify that the data that you're working with is actually trustworthy is is having these different sources and being able to have somebody on the ground to verify?

Chris Cook: 1:04:33

um, yeah, yeah, basically yeah, exactly, that is legit, exactly, and it's and it's going to get more and more of a challenge as the coverage of aas improves, like the satellite satellite coverage improves, as we get more satellite photography, it will be harder to sort of fake up some of this stuff. But actually, the, the stories about this stuff are almost always about what's on the ship and who's selling it and who's buying it and the the. It's quite hard to work. This is quite a rare thing. Right, where the story fundamentally is you went to the left-hand side of the sea of azov you are a criminal rather than the right-hand side, which is fine. Right, that's really, from a journalistic point of view, that makes things really easy.

Chris Cook: 1:05:16

Um, the but for the most part, you still actually most stories stories still gonna need someone to tell you actually, this ship here, we think it's full of Chips that are going into the Russian military, or you know, we think this is full of stolen coal from Donetsk, or we think this is full of you know, whatever. And the um, the. That is that is the challenge. Um, you still gonna need normal conventional human intelligence sources to do lots of the digging on that stuff. Even if we can, then it's harder to hide things at sea Ports are still murky places.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:05:57

You've made a career out of using data-driven storytelling techniques. Do you see more journalists taking this approach in the future, or is there still much room to be desired when it comes to that storytelling approach? Well both, I think.

Chris Cook: 1:06:16

So it's definitely become much less weird to do what I do now, become much more, much less weird to do what I do now. And they, every um, every newsroom has every large newsroom these days has people who do this sort of thing. They're not. We are more commercially minded, more we're more interested in, you know, commercial flows than other people, because we're a business newspaper. But the there are other people who you know it's a common thing. There are other people who it's a common thing.

Chris Cook: 1:06:41

The thing I would be wary about for our industry is this stuff getting siloed. There's a real danger, rather than asking what is the issue here we need to solve. So we had this thing that we were like we think there's something funny going on in the Kirstra and we were sort of puzzling over how to get to it. And then we worked out we could. If we follow one shipment from the Jansk, we, you know we could. We could unpick the whole thing, the.

Chris Cook: 1:07:11

It's quite easy to drift in Like what are? Uh, I don't have a, I don't have a? Um sort of objective in mind, but I will tell the stories that easily fall out of the dataset. So you end up reporting like this many ships have made this journey, which is fine, but it may not tell you very much and it may be new but not very insightful. And actually the challenge for journalists is to integrate the use of these new technologies with the existing reporters, who have a much clearer sense of like.

Chris Cook: 1:07:41

Here are questions, here are the things we need to know, here are the things we don't understand and we need to run at and um, the yeah, there is a danger that you end up with sort of slightly quixotic report, like very elaborate, beautifully illustrated reports about ship movements, when you're at the end of you think well, this is all very, very pretty, but I don't know what you've told me, and the way to guard against that is to make sure that conventional journalists, as it were, are like in the room and they're saying no, no, no, no. What you need to figure out is this. This is the question.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:08:11

Um, uh, yeah so it's almost like a tool in in your arsenal, and not just the sole tool. That's where you know some of the the dangers might exist in the future, but just using it to fuel your investigative yeah, it's one, it's one source amongst many, and the, the, the things.

Chris Cook: 1:08:28

It will be, uh, at its most powerful and at its best when it's combined with other things. So the, the story of the, the pavel, like you can. You can kind of tell a story of like, hang on a minute. This ship disappears for five days, rip is full, um, but you know, and it may be, went to bryansk, uh, because the ship of the right size, you can get that off the satellite photos and the and the um ais. But you can't go further than that and the you don't know who, this you don't know, for example, that the cell you don't know. First of all, that's, you have to be quite tentative because you don't have the paperwork that proves that humans give you the paperwork that prove that sort of make the whole thing definitive.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:09:09

But also the, the um, you also have a um, uh, you also have real difficulty in um, sorry, I've lost my throat it's almost like uh, for for journalists, there's still a level of expectation that you have to have, you know, feet on the ground and being talking to people and then using data to you know sort of confirm your suspicions. That is that a safe assumption?

Chris Cook: 1:09:41

yeah, and you or you um, the worst, the, the. There's two. I have two particular bugbears about data journalism right in general. One is there are data reporters who think that the interesting thing is, um, the very clever and elaborate work they've done, rather than the story. And so they'll write we've come through 98 million records, we've done 600,000 lines of code and da-da-da-da-da-da, and then paragraph 96, and they discover that the Queen of England is rich or something quite banal, but they've done it very elaborately, and there's a sort of danger of that right that you invest. The queen of england is rich or something quite banal, but they've done it very elaborately.

Chris Cook: 1:10:24

Um, and there's a. There's a sort of danger of that right that you invest loads and loads and loads in the infrastructure and then you basically feel compelled, even if you don't really have a story. Um, and actually the again like being linked to, if you like, the conventional reporters who are continually asking hang on, what is the story? What is the story? What is the story here is really, really important. Um, I've said there are two things that annoy me and I forgot what the second one is that's maybe the second one yeah it's been um, damn it, are they?

Chris Cook: 1:10:52

um? Yeah, that that's one of my, one of my major barriers, and the and the, um, the. But you have to, you have to treat um, uh, hang on, I'll go back. I'll go back so that you can have a version that doesn't have me saying that, oh sure that's the beauty of recording and not being live is that we can just go back and just chop all that off so that, yeah, so some of the things that annoy me as a data.

Chris Cook: 1:11:23

One of the things is people treating data as a sort of magical thing that will automatically and necessarily reveal new stuff. But actually it's just like any other source. You go to a bar and you meet someone well-connected, but they may not tell you anything and they may not know anything. And you have to see how you do and if you don't treat it like that, as just one source in your, in your arsenal, one part of your toolkit, you end up with these slightly. You see them in lots of newspapers hopefully not the ft, but lots of newspapers where people write these data stories that start off by telling you how much work they've done. So they're like oh, we've, we've combed through 96 million records, 64 000 data sets, and the big reveal at the end is someone you already knew was very rich is still very rich, or you know something really banal and boring and it's because you know the stuff you can get.

Chris Cook: 1:12:14

Usually, for one thing that you can reliably write up is usually a bit rubbish, um, and you actually need a variety of sources of information to get stuff.

Chris Cook: 1:12:24

The other thing like if you, if you're a pirate, right, or a smuggler. You're aware of some of this stuff like you, you, you can, you know you can hide from the air stuff by switching it off if you're at sea and the the you might, if you're really canny, um, if you're like the russian navy, we think does this they're canny about when there are overflight by satellite photos, uh, photography, and they hide from it like we, we think they're, they're careful about ship movements to avoid to 10 30 am. Basically, each morning the satellites go over. We think they're very careful about their movements around 10 30 am. You could do that too, but actually it's really hard to do. Remember to do both of those things and hide from the guy in the pool and hide from the person over there, and actually your lies are more likely to unravel um, the more sources of information that we can get about you it's like what they say you have to have a.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:13:17

If you want to be a good liar, you have to have a. Really, if you want to be a good liar, you have to have a really good memory and I think that that's still at the crux of you know how you are discovering these stories.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:13:26

It's kind of like the you know the scientific theory, but for journalism, where you have this hypothesis and then it turns into a theory and then you use data in order to back up that theory and hopefully turns into, you know, a nuanced story that you're, you know, providing that insight into in order to make it a good story, using those data sources and then using still the feet on the ground and talking to people and bringing that story to life. Now for the rest of you know, sort of 2022 and going into 2023, are you watching any stories around?

Chris Cook: 1:13:57

you know sort of global shipping or anything like that yeah, I think the, as I say, I think smuggling is is going to be one of the big things, and the it's not just looted stuff, it's sanctions. It's also not just, uh, exports from russia, but also imports. So the, the and not and like there are things that that um to be of their interest at the moment, like there's been some stuff around shipments across the Caspian Sea into Russia from Iran. But also, I think one of the puzzles that have been sort of I and other people have been staring at is about the flow of goods into Russia from the West and from Western countries where they perhaps shouldn't be going in, and the. Some of this is about, you know, sanctions busting, but some of this is also about um, goods that aren't sanctioned, that probably should be, and the, the, which is sort of interesting board.

Chris Cook: 1:14:59

There's some interesting edge cases around things that aren't classified as military dual use technologies but um, they are in, like, in reality, um, so the, the that's going to be a thing that's going to grow, I think, over the, over the winter, as a, as an issue, so that whether we've got the definitions on the um, on sanctions right, um, yeah, and that the they'll also, they'll just be more grain. They're gonna be more grain. I think the um the sophistication of the russian operation built since 2014 in the black sea for moving grain from the occupied regions um is sort of we've kind of done a lot exposing how it works now, but actually it's still going and it's a very troubling and significant factor in the war.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:15:52

Lauren, welcome to the show.

Lauren Beagen: 1:15:55

Thanks so much for having me, Blythe. This is so fun. I'm so excited to be here today.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:15:58

This is so fun. I'm so excited to be here today. Likewise, you are one person on this list. When we decided that we wanted to start up this podcast, that was high on my list of getting on the show. So I'm super excited to have this conversation with you because I think it's really timely. I think it's a lot of important issues facing the industry, both now and in the future. But before we get into all of that and as I mentioned in your intro, you're a lawyer, you're a business owner and you're also a maritime creator. But take us back to Little Lauren. How did you get drawn into the maritime industry?

Lauren Beagen: 1:16:30

Yeah, so I'm from Michigan originally. So even though I'm out in the Boston area now, I'm from Michigan originally and grew up on the lakes. So I just found an affinity for sailing. With my dad we would sail. I'm from Traverse City, so it's up north, so it's beautiful, there's always sailing around, and just found that I really took to it.

Lauren Beagen: 1:16:51

So then I started to kind of figure out, okay, go to college. I went down to Hope College, which is in Holland, michigan. I was international political science and international studies, because I kind of figured, well, I was really into languages, because I'm just a communicator. I just figured if I knew languages I could talk to more people out there. And so I was kind of trying to pull everything together. But then I joined the sailing team at Hope and I mean, gosh, I was just so. Nothing else mattered. All I wanted to do was go sailing all day, every day. And so I figured, well, how can I combo that with like this international thing? And I was like you know what? Maritime transportation is inherently international and maritime right, like the ocean is what connects us all.

Lauren Beagen: 1:17:38

So it kind of I kind of accidentally bumped into maritime law as where I wanted to go. And so I was international political science, international studies, like I said. But I was like, oh, you know, I don't want to go to DC. So I was like, well, maybe I'll go to law school for a little while. But my sole intention going to law school was to stay in maritime law. I figured, you know, maybe I won't hate what I do if I stay on content or on the topic that I like. So I did that. I found a law school out in Rhode Island, roger Williams University School of Law. They have a joint degree program where it was a master's of marine affairs and a JD, a law degree. And so it was. It was maritime all throughout. So I came out of law school speaking the language of the law, all because I used to like to sail with my dad on the weekends.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:18:25

Oh wow, so you not only have the experience of running a business and being a lawyer on, I guess, quote unquote the admin side of the maritime industry, but you also have that firsthand knowledge of what it's like to be out on the lake or the ocean or the sea, and so you have that sort of you know that experience as well.

Lauren Beagen: 1:18:46

Yeah. So you know, I didn't actually go to sea in the same way that, like, merchant mariners go to sea. So I, you know I didn't. I certainly haven't spent months out on the ocean, but I mean, everybody gets a little gumption when you, when you kind of I mean the wind does its own thing, the waves do their own thing you kind of have to like just turn yourself over to the natural elements that you're kind of subjecting yourself to. So you know, sail team did that a lot. I mean, it was bathtub sailing, right, it was small boats, so it wasn't too much of a major thing. But you know, one time I actually had to swim.

Lauren Beagen: 1:19:24

This wasn't what happened in the sailing team, but a couple of my friends and I we had gone up to my Nana's house. My uncle's teeny tiny little sailboat was out on the beach, so we decided to go sailing. I forgot to put the plug in the back and so it was taking on water. I mean, we were sailing, so we were doing okay, but it was taking on water. I mean we were sailing, so we were doing okay, but it was taking on water. It was a beautiful day. It was like, kind of, we were about to leave for the weekend. It was like Sunday, right. And so we get like kind of halfway across the lake and like we're up to our knees in water in the boat.

Lauren Beagen: 1:19:53

It was like I think I'm sinking the boat, like how is this happening? Realize that I forgot to put the plug in. But like in that moment, there's no like reset button, there's no, like you know, somebody can come bail you out, necessarily. And I was like, oh my God, like I don't, I don't want to have to buy my uncle a new boat. You know, like I was in college and so luckily there was some fishermen who like came and saved my friends. But I was like, no, like captain, goes down with the boat, right. So I obviously didn't go down, but I was like how do I, how do I figure this out?

Lauren Beagen: 1:20:23

It's one of those moments, like I said, gumption that kind of gets attached to anybody who's in the maritime industry, and and you figure it out. So I tied a couple of lines on the front and was like it's not that heavy of a boat, I don't have too far to go before I can get to somebody's shore station which is in freshwater. It's like you can lift the boat right up and out of the water. That's kind of how you store it. There's no like salt erosion that happens, obviously in freshwater. So I found somebody's shore station, put the boat on that, lifted it up out of the water, let it drain out. But the way that we got to the shore station was I had to like put the line over my shoulder and swim it in. So, like I said, it was a small boat, but you have to figure it out.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:21:03

Wow, what a great story. Thank you for sharing.

Lauren Beagen: 1:21:06

Of course it's that kind of world that anybody who's in maritime that's actually spent any time in the water whether it's small boats or big boats you have to figure it out, and so that really yields itself well to any industry really.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:21:18

Yeah, I love that because that's really at the crux of anybody who's working in global supply chain maritime logistics, for any aspect of supply chain it's at some point you have to figure it out, and I think that that is a perfect segue. To get into sort of the meat and potatoes of why we wanted to have you on this show and on this episode is because we know that 90% of everything moves by ocean shipping. But I'd like to tackle some big picture questions that are affecting the maritime industry today and one of those things that I think is kind of an oxymoron of a question to ask, but I'm going to ask it anyway. But what does normal look like in ocean shipping, especially after the last couple of years?

Lauren Beagen: 1:22:02

Oh gosh Well. So normal kind of takes a new form every 10 to 12, 10 to 15 years. So the most recent normal that we saw was really the alliance formation. So that happened in kind of the early 2010s, where the alliances were all combined right, so we didn't have vessel sharing agreements of these alliances prior to that, and so they were filed with the FMC as agreements and so that's what they have to do. So let's break it down a little bit.

Lauren Beagen: 1:22:29

So we have these ocean alliances. There's some major ones, there's 2M, there's the Ocean Alliance, there's the Alliance THE, which I think is supposed to be like the high efficiency alliance it's like an acronym actually. So all of the major carriers, for the most part, are in these alliances, and really what they are is they're vessel sharing agreements. So it's similar to airline alliances, and that's probably the best example of how to understand. It is airline alliances. You might book a ticket on Delta, but then you get your actual ticket and it says you know, like Eagle Air doing business as Delta. That's the same idea behind the ocean alliances is you might need to send your goods from Vietnam to Oakland, but the line that you usually work with doesn't service that route, and so you might be on a code share, essentially, or a vessel share with somebody else in the alliance and so you might have booked through Maersk, but really your stuff is moving on an MSC vessel. So it's the same idea, you know.

Lauren Beagen: 1:23:34

So the whole idea of the alliances back when they first started was so that they could help the shipper have more options, have more, more routes, you know, make it a better environment, um, and and honestly, kind of keep the rates down too, because we're, we'll keep the rates at kind of a good level, because what was happening in the early two thousands was some of these Alliance or some of these carriers were. I mean, they were losing money in an entire year. We saw billions of dollars of profits last year, but prior to they might've had a negative year, and so you know, I think nobody was more surprised by the billions of dollars than the ocean carriers themselves. But so normal, you know, normal, like a China to West Coast route, might've been a thousand bucks, maybe 1200 bucks per box at the height of the pandemic and congestion get in, or whatever you want to call it. It ended up being up to $20,000 for that same box.

Lauren Beagen: 1:24:29

So I mean that was nuts and it wasn't. You know, I'm of the mind that there was still competition in the market. It was just crazy demands, crazy, you know, unavailabilities of space. I mean, you know it was just everything was a perfect storm comboing it all together and so a lot of people are calling you know cartels and price fixing and you know collusion and all of that. I mean, it even made it into the White House, the State of the Union. But it really the FMC came out, the Federal Maritime Commission came out and said no, it was competitive. It was competition. It was just the nature of the market at the time. And so normal before was these carriers were competing tooth and nail to try to get your business, try to get these shippers business able to get billions of dollars. And they're buying airlines and they're diversifying their portfolios as well so that they won't get back to that losing money. Their P&L statement had a negative at the end of the year prior to the soul shakeup.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:25:33

And so, moving into the coming years, there's a little bit more balance, especially among that alliance or how that alliance operates. Is that fair to say?

Lauren Beagen: 1:25:41

Yeah. So moving into the, it's a pendulum, right. So the pendulum swang pretty far over onto the carrier side. It was really benefiting them because they had the space, they had the vessels and everybody needed space to move their stuff. People were buying like crazy. You know, all the spending power that used to be going to services like dining out was now going to goods, and so everybody was just competing to get on those boats to bring their stuff over, and so that's what we saw. And then the ports couldn't handle that much volume, so it all came down to reduced capacity.

Lauren Beagen: 1:26:15

We're shooting out the rates Now. We're seeing it swing back over. I even saw a report basically said that some of these shippers are saying don't ship any more stuff, our warehouses are full, we're good for Christmas, leave us alone. So if you start moving into that world, you're going to have too much capacity, right? A lot of the carriers were buying new vessels throughout all of this when they were making billions of dollars, which only adds more space, more capacity, which in turn is going to drop those rates. So we're seeing that pendulum swing over to the shipper side right now, where the shippers are king again.

Lauren Beagen: 1:26:50

I think we're going to see the pendulum move back. I think it's going to go back and forth until it evens out. It's gotten such a whiplash that I don't think we're going to even out, for I mean, unfortunately, probably not another year or two or maybe I mean we've even heard maybe five years. I think probably in the next two-ish years we'll get back to normal-ish. But I also don't know if we'll get back to pre-pandemic normal, because the game's changed a little bit right. I mean, people now know a little bit more about ocean shipping. Where previously they might have been happy to just say, cool, it's showing up at the door. You know, people are a little bit more engaged in the specifics of the maritime side.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:27:33

Maritime Means is powered by Spire Maritime. See how weather and maritime data can solve shipping logistics, port operations and sustainability challenges. And so, when we're seeing these issues as the return of the shipper or the shipper's market in this case, what is going on, I guess, on a global scale? Are these problems only specific to the United States? Are there other? You know countries all over the world that are experiencing the same level of you know, consumer buying habits and port congestion and not able to find carriers and things like that. Or is this mostly isolated to the United States?

Lauren Beagen: 1:28:14

No, it's certainly happening all over the world. Yeah, it's definitely happening all over the world and really I mean it's kind of a perfect example of how one area can affect another. I mean, so the zero China or zero COVID policy of China was shutting down those ports, and so I mean that's where, you know, we, at 90% of everything moves by ocean transit. I don't know what the number is of coming out of China specifically, but it's a very high number, and so all of those goods aren't only coming to the US, right, they're going to Canada, they're going to, you know, anywhere else in North America. They're also going to Europe.

Lauren Beagen: 1:28:48

Europe saw some significant, I guess, stoppages and congestion moments as well. They also Europe also has labor struggles. So I was just reading this morning a report on Port of Rotterdam was having some labor negotiation struggles similar to our ILWU, the International Longshore Warehouse Union, that's happening on the West Coast Within our in the US system. The contract expired July 1st and so they're currently going through negotiations for that. They're seeing a similar type thing happening over in Rotterdam where they're trying to make contingency plans for how do we kind of move away from some of these terminals that might have stoppages or might have labor-related delays, similar to kind of how the US is dealing with it.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:29:34

And I'm glad you brought that up, because I heard you say in one of your interviews that it's more or less trending towards, you know, the concept of the empowered employee, and it's not just a United States thing. But you know, port strikes are, you know, and rail strikes are happening all over the globe. Do you think that this is more indicative of the you know, maybe laws or legal ramifications? You know things like that that need to change within the industry itself, or is this more or less outside pressure, outside purchasing habits that are affecting the role of those jobs today?

Lauren Beagen: 1:30:04

Yeah, I mean I'm, so I'm pretty pro business in general, I mean you know I'm, but I want to see fairness across the board and the thing that's happened in the past two years is there wasn't a lot of fairness for, kind of throughout the employee side of it, right? I mean we had emergency workers, who are essential personnel, who were working every single day throughout the height of the scariest parts of the pandemic and yet they never really got a break. Everybody just kind of came back to the office or came back to help them, but they never really got a break. And then you kind of pair that with maybe they're a little bit disenchanted by the fact that they never got their moment of a pause, of a relief or even like a true appreciation for the dangerous situation that they were in side. One of the main sticking points with the real discussions was that they were basically on call seven days a week. They might not be working seven days a week but like, even on their off days they could be called in. I mean that's you never get a break, right? I mean, like, like doctors, I don't like I feel like doctors that are on call, like they might go out for dinner and they're like I can't have a drink because I'm on call. Right, like the same thing would probably happen on the rail side. I can't have a drink, I'm on call, like I mean, so can you never relax, are you never off? And so to me that feels like that's unfair, right, like that's a moment of like well, that needs to be corrected.

Lauren Beagen: 1:31:33

And so I wasn't surprised to see the rail workers really kind of standing their ground on that, because they were required, similar to port workers, similar to healthcare workers, to be there throughout the entire pandemic, but then they weren't really given. Wouldn't you think that that would be a first starting point of like look, you guys have done great. Also, let's correct this imbalance that's always been there. This is the moment let's give a little bit here, because I mean, look, it's always going to be difficult. Labor is always probably going to be the highest cost of any business Salaries, whatever it is.

Lauren Beagen: 1:32:07

But it also has to be fair. I mean, people still need to live their life, and I think that's what we saw. The hustle culture was reduced a little bit, or at least muted and kind of that return to family which I think everybody liked to see. Return to family and friends is, I guess that's what I call the empowered employee, or the empowerment of the employee that we're seeing right now is, you know, trying to just make it a little bit more fair so that you can balance it out. It's not an overreach by the employees from what I'm seeing, but it is trying to balance it out and that's not all the way true. Trying to balance it out, and that's not all the way true. I mean, ILWU is talking about some other issues, not only some of that. I guess time off. There's some larger issues that have been looming for quite a few years there.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:32:51

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Blythe Brumleve: 1:33:26

For more info, go to tai-softwarecom backslash battle stations and we also have a link for you in the show notes to sign up for a demo. As we talk about, you know, sort of the growing, I guess, labor struggles and with the empowered employee, and then couple that with a holiday shopping season that wasn't really the boom that I think a lot of retailers expected. What does the story of, I guess, global shopping or ocean shipping tell us about the holiday shopping season and what you know? How that sort of ties into all of the other things that are affecting the maritime industry, you know, in the coming years?

Lauren Beagen: 1:34:05

Yeah, I mean, I think this is part of the pendulum swing. So I think this is why the shippers are going to be king for a little bit, because you know, if they're not asking for more goods to be shipped, the carriers are going to have to start playing the game of well, how do we, how do we convince them to ship it? How do we drop the rates so that they want to ship, to put it in these overstuffed warehouses or to replenish these warehouses? That they probably figured some things out where they were able to take on extra warehouses during the pandemic, when everybody had too much stuff. But I think that's the game is like we had such a high movement of goods for so long, but then we're seeing not a connection of the demand for those goods, and so with the demand lower, we're going to have this like offset of just too much stuff hanging around, and so with too much stuff I mean I'm not an economist, but you know, with too much stuff people aren't going to be shipping as much, and so that's going to keep those rates lower. Yeah, it's going to be interesting. Usually there's a peak season right before Chinese New Year of all the shippers trying to get their stuff in. So the Chinese New Year means that the factories over in China will shut down for two weeks, sometimes a month. I mean they shut down for a while and so during that time, usually we see a big bump right before and we're not seeing that bump happen, and so again, this just all kind of shows me that it's going to be in the shippers favor for a little while.

Lauren Beagen: 1:35:31

And unfortunately, a lot of shippers felt burned by carriers for some time, because the carriers were also trying to be smart about getting their profits and so, you know, they were trying to make it so that I mean, rightly or wrongly, but they were trying to get people to pay the $20,000 per box instead of their pre-negotiated rate of maybe it was $3,000 or $4,000, you know, whatever it was. And so that's where they were having trouble, and hopefully I just keep saying it's the long game here, right, like? Let just keep saying it's the long game here, right, like it's, let's keep these relationships. You know, I hope people don't feel too burned. It turned into a very emotional thing, you know, because there's millions of dollars at stake here and they felt burned by these otherwise partners. There's only so many carriers out there and so I don't know. It sucks, but you know a little bit. You want to figure out what happened. You happened kind of get some resolution, but then also figure out a way to move forward 100%.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:36:25

Very well said. And getting into the legal side of things you mentioned negotiations let's get into the legal area of your expertise. I know that I have a few loaded questions here and it might take up the majority of the rest of this interview, but I'd love for you to be able to break down some of these bigger big picture legal issues that are facing the maritime industry. And first I'll mention a few of them. So the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, the Jones Act, the FMC, open Rulemaking, then also the Detention Demerge Rule. So all of these things Give us sort of, I guess, the backstory and ultimately why changes were made to each of these. So let's start with Ocean Shipping Reform Act.

Lauren Beagen: 1:37:05

Yeah, so the Ocean Shipping Reform Act is a reform of the Shipping Act, and so the Shipping Act of 1984 is what the FMC gets their authority from. It basically sets out like how the Federal Maritime Commission regulates and provides limited antitrust. So basically, you know, these alliances were able to form, or service contracts are able to be filed with the FMC. Basically these kind of secret negotiations that otherwise might have been considered monopolies, are allowed to be kind of monitored to make sure monopolistic behavior doesn't happen. And so that's what the Federal Maritime Commission in part does is make sure that, like in the interest of the global shipping world and certainly the US consumer, importer and exporter, we want these relationships to form, but on the other hand we want that we don't want to make it so that they start, you know, monopolizing the whole thing, and so, as you can imagine, they keep a close eye on China and some of the behaviors there, because China is often backed by its government, and so that's where you get into controlled carrier, and so when you have kind of I mean when you have oodles and oodles of money to put behind a business, that's not a fair environment, right, and so that's kind of why that gets watched a little bit more. But so that's the Shipping Act generally that gives the FMC its regulatory authority. So it was first amended in 1989, actually. So previously it was conferences that these shipping companies, these carriers, were forming into, but they were member based and they were setting rates and so or kind of setting rates, and so they were conferences. 1998 deregulated a lot of that and basically took a shift of now these conferences. It was no longer beneficial to have the conferences, and so we saw conferences go out, and so that's when we saw all the carriers were kind of doing their own thing. And then it wasn't until, like I said, the 2010s. They decided, ok, well, let's form back together, but now it's, I mean, illegal to be setting rates and so that's why it's vessel sharing, but they're not allowed to talk about rates. And then flash forward to 2022, we had the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, which was now trying to put a little bit more regulation. So 1998, it was eight years of negotiation to get ASRA in 1998, the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 1998. It was eight years of negotiation to get OSRA in 1998, the Osher Reform Act of 1998. And, like I said, it deregulated a lot of the industry. And then here we flash forward to 2022.

Lauren Beagen: 1:39:29

It was maybe six months, maybe a year of negotiations and they came out with this new set of what they wanted a little bit more prescriptive control over the industry. Prescriptive control over the industry. Some of the things that came out in there were Congress set out 13 different items that they wanted included in all invoices for detention demurrage, which was good, because previously I kind of use as my example it could be a bar napkin that says 5,000 bucks D&D and like it gets slid across the table and you're like what is this for? Like what container, what time period? Like there were no rules over what needed to be on that invoice and so under the old rules, you probably could have slid a bar napkin with a number on it.

Lauren Beagen: 1:40:10

Now, thanks to Congress and certainly kind of thanks to the follow-up work of the Federal Maritime Commission, it's a little bit more prescriptive. You have to have a container number, you have to have the dates that the demurrage or detention were for, you have to base the rules. So tariffs and schedules are where you'll find the rates published and so you have to cite to where you're getting that rate from so that you can actually go and check it and say, okay, this invoice looks good. You're right, it's based on the correct rule. So there's 13 different kind of specific items that are just very basic that you're like, how is this not a rule or requirement before? So those are some of the things. Then there were also rulemakings that were created from Ocean Ship Reform Act as well.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:40:51

When you're talking about detention and demurrage, that is. That's separate from, I guess, the overall. I guess detention and demurrage from the FMC open rulemakings or are all of those kind of all tied?

Lauren Beagen: 1:41:02

together, all tied together, yeah, all tied together. So that was one of the things that came out as a major problem once we hit the congestion. So let's break it down. So detention, demurrage, so, because everybody kind of has different terms for the same things here. So demurrage is essentially the box comes off the vessel and it sits on the yard, and so you might get a couple free days a week, maybe of you don't have to be there right the day that the vessel shows up at birth, but you get maybe five days.

Lauren Beagen: 1:41:30

If it comes off the vessel, it's somewhere in the yard, and then it's supposed to be an incentivization charge and so basically it's OK, it's been here for five days. Look, you got to pick your stuff up, and so then for the next five days you might get charged 50 bucks, 75 bucks a day, cause it's like a little nudge, like you got to move your stuff. It's been here now seven days, eight days, like you got to move it this isn't a warehouse, this is a loading zone, right, like keep it moving. And then after an additional five days, you know, or whatever, whatever the terms are, you might pop up to $250 a day, and so that's where we're seeing some of that hyper demerge, and so if you have 10 containers stuck, you're not allowed to go get them. You know that your trucker can't get an appointment or the terminal is saying we can't get it right now, it's buried in the back underneath 20 others. And oh, by the way, we have a ship coming today so you can't pick it up today. So that's what was happening during container getting or congestion getting. Basically, they were making it impossible for the shipper or the beneficial cargo owner to go get it, but they were still charging them.

Lauren Beagen: 1:42:34

And so we saw a lot of shippers have millions of dollars of demurrage, and detention is essentially the same principle but for the use of the box. So most of the boxes are rented or leased or whatever, basically borrowed. They're not owned by the beneficial cargo owner, the shipper, who's at moving the stuff. So the same kind of principle applies. It's supposed to be incentivizing you to come pick it up. Look, you might've forgotten about it, but I'm going to get your attention so that you don't forget about it. You now have, you know, a thousand bucks worth of demurrage charges because you haven't picked it up yet. That'll kind of spur somebody into action.

Lauren Beagen: 1:43:09

The trouble is there's a balance. At some point the demurrage could become more than the value of the goods inside the box, and so you might have abandonment issues or spoilage issues, especially if it's a reefer. I mean, you might have shrimp that's like packaged and ready to be sent to you know, the local grocery store, but like if, if it gets past that date, then that's worthless shrimp, and now that it's either the terminals problem to get rid of it or you know the shipper might say I'm just going to write it off. I mean, look, I don't need to pick up that shrimp. So that's where you get into some of those problems, and it's less about the spoilage or that's less of what we saw during the congestion.

Lauren Beagen: 1:43:47

People still wanted their goods, they were so desperate to get their goods, but they were having these millions of dollars of demurrage or detention charges and they're like we can't keep going this way. So that's when Congress stepped in and said look, we have some ideas on how to fix this. The funny part was the FMC, the Federal Maritime Commission, was already starting to kind of dive into that, and so Congress was like hey, fmc, you should look into this. And they were like Got it, already doing it, thanks guys.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:44:17

Real quick follow-up question what happens to that kind of merchandise, provided that it's unspoiled, but the demerge fees are worth more than the actual merch or whatever is inside the container itself? What happens to that stuff if the shipper decides that we don't want it anymore?

Lauren Beagen: 1:44:33

Yeah, so I mean, that's kind of what happened when. When Hanjin went bankrupt right, remember the ocean carrier Hanjin? What was it? 2014, ish, 2015. They went bankrupt and their containers were just all over the world. It went through bankruptcy court, I believe in New Jersey, and so basically it made it so that the terminals were able to sell it off, or basically anybody who had ownership or I should say possession of of the Hanjin stuff was able to sell it. But at that point it was like what's in this stuff, like what's in these boxes? So sometimes you might see, you know, like govdealscom or whatever, like they might go up on there. If it's like a quasi public or public terminal, there's a whole different like empty boxes. You can usually kind of find a donation program into the local community of people who might want them, the goods inside. I mean it's always kind of case by case.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:45:37

When you were talking about the shrimp, I'm like, oh, that's disgusting. I hope that they have like proper, you know, disposal requirements. Do they have proper disposal requirements for something like that, if it goes?

Lauren Beagen: 1:45:43

I'm sure they do, you know, I'm sure they do, and so you might even get like I mean, I don't, I don't, I don't know. It's usually there's some sort of like. It's oftentimes prepackaged, you know, and so it's kind of usually. Maybe it might even be pre labeled to wherever it's going, probably like burned up or something.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:46:00

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. What about the containers that are that are lost at sea? I follow a lot of those, you know Mariner, tiktok videos and I see you know random, like containers just dropping off in the middle of the ocean. One TikTok video actually showed, you know, another boat finding a container in the middle of the ocean and they opened it up to find, you know it filled with cigarettes. And so all the you know the people on the boat are taking cigarettes from the abandoned container. What happens to a container out at sea? Is it just, you know, a free-for-all for whoever grabs it first?

Lauren Beagen: 1:46:32

I mean kind of it kind of depends on, like, what the terms of the insurance were. I mean that's certainly something that's part of it. But sometimes it's finders, keeper, like as the like childhood, that's a real thing. That's kind of rooted in maritime, so I love that. Yeah, Sometimes that happens. Actually, right now, I guess there's a container that went offshore off the coast of Alaska and so there's just a bunch of Yeti coolers that are washing ashore and people. I mean it's kind of like I don't know, I guess you could try. It's kind of like does the, the owner, claim ownership and maybe you have a certain number you know? There's kind of how can you prove that that actually came, like serial numbers and all that. But yeah, I mean I think for the most part there's a lot of lucky people that are seen.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:47:19

Yeah, Because I mean I immediately thinking like Alaska doesn't need to keep stuff cold in a Yeti cooler. I wish that thing would have, you know, been abandoned off the coast of Florida.

Lauren Beagen: 1:47:28

I know Right, I know Well. I mean, I guess they have more bears, right? So, like, maybe they do have the very true ruggedness of the Yeti.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:47:40

Very true. The ruggedness of the Yeti Maritime Means is powered by Spire Maritime. See how weather and maritime data can solve shipping logistics, port operations and sustainability challenges. Last one on this list is the Jones Act, which I know is probably one of the more it feels like the most complex out of all of these, but maybe correct me if I'm wrong. Give us a backstory of the Jones Act, because I hear a lot of people calling for it to just be dismantled altogether, and then other people. Sal Mercogliano, former guest of Maritime Means, has debated on this subject as well. Former guest of Maritime Means, has debated on this subject as well. Give us a backstory of the Jones Act and how it's still needed or not needed in today's time.

Lauren Beagen: 1:48:23

Yeah, so the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 is what the Jones Act is rooted in, and so it's been around for quite some time. Obviously, right, merchant Marine Act of 1920. There's a couple of different layers. What it's, in short, known for is promotion of the US flag fleet, and so promotion, said another way, is kind of protection of the US flag fleet, and so that therein kind of lies the trouble.

Lauren Beagen: 1:48:46

Some people see the Jones Act as so it's a requirement for US trade to be US flagged, us owned, us mostly built, because I think that there's some exceptions that can happen. What that does is provides jobs for merchant mariners, right? So we have all of these maritime academies, we have them all over the country, and then we have the King's Point as well, and so we're cranking out these mariners, but then we maybe don't have as many jobs for them. And certainly there's some benefit to the Jones Act as well, because so, okay, you say, well, what does it matter if we have a US flag vessel going? You know we have these foreign flag vessels that are moving, you know, goods from China to LA. Why can't we just have them doing LA to Oakland? Well, they do, but they don't actually move the goods from LA to Oakland. They might transship, but they're not allowed to pick up in LA and drop off in Oakland. That's part of what the Jones Act protects against. So that's where you have kind of a dedicated cabotage is what it's called but basically like domestic trade of just a US flag vessel could do that. So that could either be over the road you know trucking that could either be over the road you know trucking that could be barged, or that could be a US flag vessel, and so we see the US flag a lot like Hawaii to the West Coast or even Puerto Rico to Florida, and so what that does is okay.

Lauren Beagen: 1:50:10

So maybe you kind of start to think, well, what does it matter for that? But would you want a foreign flag vessel traversing up the Mississippi or like having the entire Mississippi just flooded with maybe not so friendly flag vessels coming in? You know there's kind of that like national security element to okay. Well, yeah, maybe I want to protect that. Maybe I don't want these foreign vessels carrying oil up the Mississippi. You know I want them stopped at Houston, okay, so that's kind of one way to protect it In general. I mean, it's providing the opportunities for the mariners, and it provides us this opportunity to have a ready reserve fleet. So we have a litany of naval vessels out there and we have a litany of just general DOD, department of Defense and just general kind of military-based vessels. But if we're in war I mean, you know, certainly aviation has a big component to kind of any modern day war, but also if you got to get a lot of stuff, be it fuel or equipment or whatever, that's probably going to be going over ocean, and so what we need is some of those vessels that are US flagged to be able to flip over and turn into kind of a defense-based vessel. And so that's another reason for kind of promotion of a US flag fleet and building it up.

Lauren Beagen: 1:51:26

And so the trouble is really that it used to be well-funded, we used to have a really robust shipbuilding kind of society, and we've just lost the funding to support this kind of otherwise protecting legislation. And so legislation without that funding is creating this imbalance, or at least I think in part is creating this imbalance. And so if we're going to have the Jones Act, if we're going to stick by it, we have to support it. If we're not going to stick by it, then get rid of it. Right, and I'm certainly not by any means suggesting that we get rid of it, but I am saying we need to support it. We can't have it hobble along like it's doing right now. We really need to have a more robust, a more rigorous shipbuilding society that can handle cranking out these vessels.

Lauren Beagen: 1:52:19

We're seeing it in the offshore wind industry right now because that's something that is going to be Jones Act kind of adjacent. And I say adjacent because they are allowing for a vessel to go from a US port out to a platform and then they're going to have to drop off some of the goods to this platform so that a foreign vessel can come pick it up and install it. Because we just don't have US flagged installation vessels and we can't build them fast enough for all these offshore wind projects that are coming on deck. And so how sad, right, like this could have been a great US flag fleet building up moment, and OK. So what is a cable layer or a turbine installer vessel going to do for this ready reserve fleet? You'd be surprised, right? It's another vessel. It's another vessel that we could potentially be using, but more than that, it would be providing great opportunities for our merchant mariners that we're, like I said, cranking out in the industry in the US here.

Lauren Beagen: 1:53:13

So it is controversial. But I think that it really kind of comes down to the controversy of we've let it kind of float out there with no gas and so we can't just let it become a ghost ship pardon the metaphor but we have to kind of go support it and if we are going to keep it, let's support it and let's get behind that. Keep it, let's support it and let's see. You know, let's, let's get behind that.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:53:42

Do any other countries have a similar sort of Jones Act, or is this?

Lauren Beagen: 1:53:44

kind of like US based or relative to the US only. Yeah, they do actually. So it was, I believe, roughly based off a UK prior law and so I was actually going to be covering that in one of my after the new year. I just came across some information saying that kind of our Jones Act was was roughly rooted in UK previous kind of protectionistic type type activities. But cabotage, so like domestic trade, certainly isn't unique to the US where you know from going from one domestic port to another is required to be without exception. You know a domestic flag vessel that's seen elsewhere.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:54:24

All right. So last one on this list as far as, like the big picture, you know, legal areas of maritime, is this Maritime Transportation Data Initiative. Give us the backstory why it's important. If any you know changes need to be made to it, or if it's fairly new. I believe it's fairly new.

Lauren Beagen: 1:54:40

Very new. Yeah, so this is an initiative out of the Federal Maritime Commission, so it was directed by the chairman, dan Maffei. He directed one of the commissioners, so there's five commissioners at the FMC, and so there's a chairman and then four commissioners, and so Commissioner Carl Bensel is the one who's standing this up essentially. So it's the Maritime Transportation Data Initiative and what he's been trying to do. He's put out that there's three key objectives that he's kind of diving into. So it's cataloging the status quo and maritime data elements, metrics, transmission and access. It's identifying key gaps in data definitions and classification, access. It's identifying key gaps in data definitions and classification. And, third, developing recommendations for common data standards and access policies and protocols. So essentially, I mean to kind of distill all that down. He's trying to figure out what data do we already have available that we're just not sharing with each other, that we have no problem sharing with each other, right? I mean it's just like, oh, you didn't, you didn't know that, that this is when it came in, how, why, how didn't you know? Well, I don't have a password to your system, you know. Like it's kind of. So he's trying to find where we have those missed opportunities, kind of like the I don't know like the classifieds, like you know, redhead looking for brunette on train five to eight, like on Saturday at 10 am. So you know, like he's kind of trying to find those moments. So, instead of having these like lost in passing, he wants to figure out, okay, who has what data and is it cool to share it with each other. So he's trying to find some of those moments. But then also, as I kind of talked about earlier, there's a few different definitions that kind of run rampant in the total overall freight industry, detention, demurrage being kind of two great examples of that, because demurrage and detention are often called per diem or, or you know, like I don't know, dwell fees or there there's all these different things and the FMC is kind of in general coming out and saying look, quack, like a duck, we're going to call it a duck, I don't care what you call it, but we're calling it demurrage. And if it's quacking, I don't care what you're calling it. Instead, we're all calling it demurrage now. And so that's kind of the starting point of where this MTDI, through Commissioner Bensel, is going. They're working with a couple different classification kind of societies out there, some associations that are already creating some standards. So I know that the MTDI has been working with the Digital Container Shipping Association. There was an article that came out on the DCSA's website talking about they're working with the FMC on this. There's a lot of stakeholders that are involved here and really they are trying to kind of come up with those common data standards, those common data moments, to figure out how we can move forward as an industry and really make things faster, right. I mean, if we can at least get definitions in sync, if we can get the data, like what we already know, that people aren't protective over. You know that they don't have kind of business secrets to it. That's I mean, it's a big ask, right.

Lauren Beagen: 1:57:41

This is a big project out of Commissioner Bunsell's office, but that's what this is doing, and he interviewed a whole host of different stakeholders from December 2021 all the way through June 2022. And actually they're all up on the FMC's YouTube if you like to kind of see what stakeholder conversations he was having. We'll see where this goes. I'm really interested. He's been doing a lot of fact-finding. He's still kind of in that research stage, but I think he's starting to turn it into. Well, where do we take it next? What do we turn this into? Is this a regulation? Is this a regulation? Is this guidance? You know what is all this information? How do we use it?

Blythe Brumleve: 1:58:21

I love that, because there's so many different. You know we speak, you know, just within any industry, about the importance of data, but is that data standardized? Is it, you know? Are we all working off of the same definition? So it sounds like this is something that probably should have been. You know, a typical government form. Probably should have been done 10, 20 years ago, but it's finally getting addressed. So that's good news, at the end of the day, that we do have, you know, these types of initiatives that are going on Switching gears a little bit, as we kind of, you know, round out this interview.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:58:50

Let's talk about the creator side of things, because you're a creator, you've entered the maritime industry, or you've been in the industry for a long time. You're the owner of Squall Strategies, and so you're using your different social media platforms and things like that in order to promote whatever's going on in the industry, and part of that is having conversations like this. But I wonder, where did that, I guess, that passion start for you to say? You know there needs to be greater awareness, there needs to be greater education out within the maritime industry. What made you get started with creating that general awareness?

Lauren Beagen: 1:59:26

Yeah, great, great question. So you know, I worked for the Federal Maritime Commission for a while. I was down in DC working there, loved it, just had a great time, but had, you know, had a boyfriend who didn't live in town, you know. So we were doing long distance and so we got engaged and I mean, this is all the personal side of how the business came to be. But we we were trying to decide do we do we stay local or or just do we go up to Rhode Island, which is where he was living, or do we stay in DC? You know, we, we ultimately decided to move up north.

Lauren Beagen: 1:59:54

I was so fortunate to get a job at the Port of Boston so I got to see kind of the helicopter federal regulatory side of the Federal Maritime Commission. But then I got to see the boots on the docks port side, which gave me a really interesting perspective of what it felt like to be a user of the industry. And they say, if you've seen one port, you've seen one port. But to actually see the inside workings of a port was really just so I told anybody who was down kind of on the docks, like, let me know when anything interesting happens If a vessel comes in and just wants to take water. I want to see it Like if they're, if they're, if they're, you know, if they're offloading cargo. I want to see it. I want to see every piece of it, I want to smell it, I want to see it, I want to feel it like. So I, I just became this like okay, someone call Lauren, she wants to see it. You know, um, so I, I just like consumed it and then, and then COVID happened and everybody kind of got sent home.

Lauren Beagen: 2:00:43

And you know, I was, I was also kind of longing for the days of having the national international conversation. So when I was the um federal maritime commission, I was an attorney advisor in the general counsel's office and I was our international affairs attorney. So I was part of the US government team for negotiating international bilateral multilaterals. You know, if the politicals weren't going themselves, I was either prepping them to go or I was the kind of principal from the agency and so it gave me great opportunities at a really young age. But then I kind of found that I was missing that once. I kind of scooted over into regional and then COVID happened.

Lauren Beagen: 2:01:18

Like I said, I wasn't really able to see the docs anymore and just the whole reshuffle of COVID. I'd always wanted to do this consulting thing. I thought I probably was going to have to wait until I like pseudo retired. But I thought you know what, what a great opportunity. Everybody's comfortable with virtual meetings. I wouldn't have to travel. We have a fairly young family.

Lauren Beagen: 2:01:39

So I was like, how do I make this work? So I hung out a shingle at eight and a half months pregnant with my second and was just like let's just do it. And so I kind of sat there and I thought, look, I have the resume, I have the experience, I certainly have the know-how and I have a unique perspective. But how do I sell that to people? How do I tell people? And I was also annoyed at all the LinkedIn promotional messages that people get and I was like I'm a free agent, nobody can tell me what I'm allowed to or not allowed to say. I'm no longer a government or pseudo government employee. And so I was like, oh man, the world is my oyster now.

Lauren Beagen: 2:02:17

So I think I had done a couple podcasts. I think my first one actually was with Dooner and the Dude Dooner had just kind of found me because I think I started to kind of dabble in type and in some you know, putting some maritime content out there, just like here's what I think, what do you guys think? But I was so nervous that somebody was going to come after me saying you're saying it wrong or you're doing it wrong. And I remember those first few months, just through and through my head, I just kept saying fear is the thief of success. Push through it. Fear is the thief of success. Just because you're afraid of it doesn't mean that it's real. So I just kept pushing and you'd get a couple of people being like oh, I want to correct something you said. And I was like okay, but 80% of the people that I'm saying it to don't know anything about it. So like, even if it's a little bit wrong, it's still mostly right and I'm educating somebody.

Lauren Beagen: 2:03:04

So that's kind of where I took it was initially. It became this telling people the things I know to try to get their attention to be like oh, she's somebody that maybe I could hire. But then I found a lot of the questions I was getting weren't necessarily legal. They were like we love you, we think you're great, but we don't really have a reason to hire you as a lawyer. So that's why I created the second company, the Maritime Professor, because I found there was really this appetite for understanding more about, you know a lot of times, the other side of the freight industry.

Lauren Beagen: 2:03:34

So because I had kind of connected with Dooner early, I got a lot of attention from the surface side. So I got a lot of attention from truckers or drayage or shippers that just wanted to know more about this mysterious ocean side of things and kind of they. You know demurrage and detention, these charges were racking up so they wanted to know what the heck does that mean, what is moving right now, what's happening in the federal side of it? And so that's what I started to do, and so I started doing LinkedIn Lives. I started doing some YouTube. You kind of just throw things at the wall, see what sticks, and so some of my initial, my original YouTubes are pretty bad, but I mean you got to start somewhere, right, I love that Mine are too.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:04:17

You got to start somewhere and the only way you get better is by getting those reps in. Now you've mentioned, you know, dooner and the Dude a couple of times for folks who don't know, they're the host of what the Truck over on Freight Waves mostly on the trucking side of things, but I was a lot like them. You know I come a. Really it's been a really fun journey into the world of maritime and being able to talk to folks like you who have that area of expertise where we can continue. You know the learning process of learning. As we kind of close out this conversation and this chat, what do you have on the horizon for 2023? Are there any stories that maritime professionals should be on the lookout for? What are you on the lookout for that we should be on the lookout for All that kind of good stuff Right off the bat.

Lauren Beagen: 2:05:12

I just want to say I'm so excited for Spire to have this Maritime Means podcast because I love the attention. There's so much room for everybody here to be discussing maritime, and the more that people understand about it, the less mysterious the supply chain gets generally and the less likely we are to have these real big problems that we've had over the past few years. I mean, we got to break down these silos and so that's what I kind of always try to do, and I love that this is a maritime focused podcast. So the things that I'm looking for is, I think detention to merge gets cleaned up. You know, maybe not big, big moves, but I think that there are some broad brushstrokes that the FMC is going to be putting out there and we have the 13 invoice requirements that came out from ASRA. But I think we're going to see a lot more of really just kind of cleaning it up. It used to be the wild, wild west. Now there's going to be a few rules and not a lot of rules. It's going to be a light touch, but I think we're going to be surprised to see how fast that cleans up the industry, at least from that side, because detention to merge they're supposed to be incentivizing people, not just leaving their stuff everywhere, you know, getting their stuff out of these boxes. It became a profit line. It's not supposed to be a profit line. It's supposed to be found money, and I think it was relied on to be a profit line, and that's just not how it should be treated.

Lauren Beagen: 2:06:23

I think we're going to see, finally, some movement on the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association, the labor agreement on the West Coast, what it's going to look like, though I think that that's really the big X factor. I think that's why we're seeing New York, new Jersey, as our number one import port in America right now or I don't know if they're import, but the busiest port in America right now. I think because, in part, people wanted to move away from the mystique or not mystique, but the not knowing what was going to happen on the West Coast, and so there's a little bit more reliability. The East Coast ports have met that challenge. They've been investing in infrastructure for years now. I mean, right, they can't just flip a switch and have a new crane. Those takes years of planning and they just happen to be kind of hitting it all at the right time. So I think we're going to see that.

Lauren Beagen: 2:07:10

I think we're going to see a lot more diversification of ports of entry. You know, maybe people are going to be starting to use some medium sized carriers instead of just the big big guys, just because that makes it more more options for which ports they can come into. So if we do have backups, you can still come into a smaller port with with your goods. So I don't know, I think we're going to see and I think a return to normal. I think we're going to see a balance in the power struggles that were shippers and carriers previously. I think everybody's looking forward to that.

Lauren Beagen: 2:07:38

Nobody's going to walk away entirely happy, but I think we're going to have a lot less real bad heartburn that we've had over the past two years. But I'm hopeful. I think that we are. I love the attention on the maritime industry. I think that that's such an important step. I love podcasts like this Spire Maritime Means because I think that this is really really bringing light to the area of the industry that was kind of a forgotten sector for a while. So I'm happy to be here, happy to be part of this.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:08:07

Well, what I think is really interesting about you and your company is that you were a former merchant mariner who saw a lot of the inefficiencies while you were a mariner merchant mariner who saw a lot of the inefficiencies while you were a mariner. So, but before we get into the some of the inefficiencies that you saw, what was sort of the motivation to become a merchant mariner?

Nick Chubb: 2:08:26

Wow, what a good question. I think the main one was travel. So we have a really good system in the UK where if you go to sea you can go straight out of school. So I went at the age of 19. You don't have to pay any school fees, you can get a degree out of it, you get your professional qualifications, you get paid to do it, you get to travel the world, you get to learn the profession, which is obviously a wonderful thing to do, and so it just kind of stacked up really well against, for example, going to university to study music, because I would have come out with tons of debt and probably worse job prospects than I got by going to sea. But mainly you know that's kind of when you look back on it, you apply all those reasons. I think mainly it was just a desire to get out and see the world and have a bit of an adventure.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:09:17

I mean yeah, especially if you don't have to go into debt to do it, which is what so many people nowadays. When they go to school, they rack at least in the States, they rack up, you know, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

Nick Chubb: 2:09:32

They don't get to see the world as you just said yeah.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:09:35

So when you were a mariner, what were some of those inefficiencies that you saw? That that made you say there's something I can do about this?

Nick Chubb: 2:09:45

Yeah, I guess I only really came to the realization that the industry could be improved through technology after I left the sea. I think when you're there, you just kind of accept it as it is and you're learning on the job. Sea I think when you're there, you just kind of accept it as it is and you're learning on the job. But I actually I left the sea and then went to work for a startup that had nothing to do with shipping in London. It was one of my first jobs ashore and that was actually when I saw how much digitalization can make a big difference.

Nick Chubb: 2:10:13

You know, even in heavy industries, how much automation was possible as well, and really the contrast with the fact that none of that was really happening in the maritime industry. This is going back five, six years. It's changed a bit now, but certainly everything from how crew are managed on and off a ship, how the vessel is run from a technical standpoint all of those things when I was at sea was still happening either in Excel spreadsheets or over email and lots of phone calls, all that sort of stuff. And we're now just starting to get to the point where everything's beginning to change in favor of software, which is super exciting.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:10:53

And so, when you were noticing a lot of those things, what was, I guess, sort of that moment, that catalyst that was, like I have to start a company in order to address some of these things that are happening that you're seeing in the space.

Nick Chubb: 2:11:06

So a lot of those efficiencies that you just named, I decided that I wanted to spend some time working either to help startups get into the maritime industry because, as you say, there were all those inefficiencies out there or I wanted to work with more established maritime businesses to get better at leveraging tech, and I spent a few years kind of consulting, kind of across that gap, but I had the same customers coming to me with the same question over and over again, which is really things like what's going on out there that we need to be aware of? Who are the exciting startups, where is investment money going? All of that sort of stuff. We could create a company that would, rather than just me consulting on my own, we could do something that's a little bit bigger and support the industry to both understand tech and then also know what to do about it, and that's really where Thetius came from.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:12:07

And so when you are you know, I guess, maybe starting the company and then you're building your team. What does that look like? Is it only a team of researchers, or do you kind of have somebody who's doing a little bit of marketing, somebody's doing a little bit of admin, and then you're the researcher? How, what does that structure look like?

Nick Chubb: 2:12:25

it's changed a lot, um, from from the early days, but, yeah, so it was just me, uh, doing everything and then, um, you know, slowly we built a team out.

Nick Chubb: 2:12:35

Um, we did that through covid as well, so it doesn't look how I was expecting it to look. I thought we'd be in a London office and have everyone physically come into the office and now, actually in 2023, we're a remote first team. We've got people all over the world, so it definitely looked very different to how I was expecting it. But most of our team are ex-seafarers. What we found is that it's really, really difficult to replace that kind of knowledge, of actually understanding how a ship operates, and it's much easier to train people up in research and analysis and give them the tools to do that than try and do it the other way around take a researcher and teach them about how shipping works. So most of our team have come from ships very similar background to myself. They've either been engineers or navigators and they've come ashore and Thetis, in many instances, has been their first job ashore, which is really cool.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:13:30

Yeah, that is super interesting and I like the point that you made about former seafarers teaching that it's easier to teach them about the research process. So what does some of that early teaching look like to whenever you're a former seafarer?

Nick Chubb: 2:13:48

you're brought into an office to start doing research. What does that look like? Yeah, I mean, for a lot of our team members it's actually it's their, as I say, it's their first job. I'm sure they've never worked in an office before so often a lot of the basic things you know, just about meetings and how to manage calendars, all that sort of stuff, and then kind of when you get into the nitty gritty of the work, really what we try to do is take what can be very complex technology topics and what can be very complex nuanced issues in the maritime industry and sort of translate them back and forth both ways.

Nick Chubb: 2:14:19

So the tech people get to understand maritime and the maritime people get to understand tech. And I think a lot of the emphasis that we put on for people on our analyst team is that actually that's about being clear, not clever, and actually producing research that you know a common audience can understand as well as experts can get some value from. Often, you know, from my perspective, having been a reader of various bits of research for a long time, particularly sort of academic research it's super, super inaccessible to, you know, to a normal business audience or even to an industry or technology audience, and so we just try very hard to be as clear as we possibly can.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:15:04

Yeah, clear, not clever. I like that phrase a lot. And so talk to me about the, I guess, the early research reports that you were creating, I guess at the start of your business, versus what you're creating now. How has that, you know, I guess, focus evolved?

Nick Chubb: 2:15:22

Yeah, so we started with.

Nick Chubb: 2:15:26

So initially, thetius as a kind of the data behind. Thetius started as a spreadsheet of startups in the maritime industry that I thought were cool and over four years now that we've been running, we've evolved that into a full database of maritime innovation. So we've gone from going out and speaking to industry experts and technology end users, technology buyers and having, I guess, really maybe a bit of a patchy understanding of what the whole ecosystem looks like, to now we've become much more data driven. So there's thousands of companies in our data set. We take patent registrations, investment information, contract awards, partnership information and we're still doing all the qualitative stuff, going out and speaking to buyers and end users to understand what they want.

Nick Chubb: 2:16:15

So, yeah, so we've gone from producing, you know, yeah, maybe three or four quite big reports a year looking at the whole maritime market and how that is changing, to now we've become we can produce a lot more, but also in really niche areas. So you know, if you want to understand the connectivity market or the vessel traffic tracking market or the technical management software market, we've got the data to support it and that's where we spend most of our time now is kind of helping ship owners, ship operators, ports and terminals to understand what technology they could be purchasing or sort of bringing into their operation.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:16:53

And so what does that look like? I guess for some of these ship operators or some of these other companies, are they just sort of just, you know, maybe used to used to doing what they've always done, and then you kind of have to talk them into the new research, the new tools that are coming into the market. Or are you finding that a lot of those, those business owners or owners that they are willing to learn about all of the technology, is there kind of a yin and a yang there?

Nick Chubb: 2:17:25

I think it varies. It varies depending on the size of the fleet or the size of the port, but generally, I think everyone recognizes now that the industry is changing fast, that technology is having a big impact, recognizes now that the industry is changing fast, that technology is having a big impact, and I think for a lot of our customers they will make a decision that might have a knock-on impact for the next 10 years. You know what is your fleet management system? What is your voyage management system? What's your crewing system? The switching risk is very, very high If you're going to switch from one fleet management system to another.

Nick Chubb: 2:17:57

There's all sorts of issues with potentially with compliance, with losing track of spare parts or whatever it may be, and so it's very important that you make those decisions and get them right, because you'll be committed to it. For some time is where an operator might be trying to understand just what's out there against what they've got and whether it's actually worth sort of taking the risk of switching to a new supplier. And if you are going to switch to a new supplier, who and every shipping company is unique. Everyone has slightly unique operations, so getting them in front of the right software is hugely important.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:18:40

What is sort of the state of maritime software right now? Is it evolving rapidly? Is it you know a bunch of? Is it almost comparable to like a lot of the AI tools that are out that you know some of them are really really good and then some of them are, you know, just not great at all? Is that sort of similar to what's going on in the maritime industry?

Nick Chubb: 2:19:01


Nick Chubb: 2:19:02

So I would say, obviously COVID had a massive impact just in terms of as soon as everyone had to work from home, you know, the uptake of cloud software and cloud services has sort of skyrocketed and that's had a big impact in terms of advancing um, you know what software is capable of, and also the the ability to integrate different types of software kind of across a business.

Nick Chubb: 2:19:26

So we've gone from usually having you know, one supplier, um, that might have a kind of full erp that would manage the entire business, um, to now actually being able to stitch together four or five best-in-class suppliers that do one thing really really well and have apis that would manage the entire business, to now actually being able to stitch together four or five best-in-class suppliers that do one thing really really well and have APIs sort of speaking between them.

Nick Chubb: 2:19:46

I think if we wind the clock back 18 months, two years and you were outside of an IT department, no one would know what an API is. Now most people on a fleet management team or harbor masters, they they have a you know kind of rudimentary understanding of what apis are, how they work, how you can make one piece of software talk to another. So we're kind of moving away from this monolithic, um on-premises big investment in in sort of capex software into more of this kind of cloud, um, uh smaller services that can talk to each other on a subscription basis. So that will enable, I think, and catalyze more and more change, which is quite exciting.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:20:25

Yeah, for sure it sounds like what's happening in the maritime industry is very similar to what's happening in other areas of logistics, especially in the freight world, where there were so many TMSs transportation management software that were managing everything and now we're seeing so much more of I don't want to say fragmentation, but it's fragmentation, but in a good way, because, like you said, there are certain tools that do one thing really well where it might be challenging for some of these bigger, you know, software companies to you know, be able to handle everything really well, which is really difficult. Yeah, 100%, to be able to handle everything really well, which is really difficult.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:21:00

Yeah, 100%. So out of the years that you've been managing your business, is there one particular report that you guys have put together that really stands out as one of your favorites, and can you tell us a little bit more about it?

Nick Chubb: 2:21:12

Oh, that's a great question. The one that people come to us probably most often with is probably around some of our work on cybersecurity. So there were new rules came in from the International Maritime Organization a couple of years ago that mandated the uptake of or the inclusion of, cybersecurity in safety management systems at sea. About six months after those rules came through we did a bit of an assessment on kind of where the industry's at and actually it wasn't bad. It was the industry was sort of further along than perhaps I thought it was going to be.

Nick Chubb: 2:21:51

But we got some fascinating results back from the surveys and really identified that there were a few, I guess, kind of disconnections between people on the front line who were working at sea to senior leadership in an office. So the more senior you are in your organization, for example, the less likely you are to be aware that a cyber attack has taken place in the last three years. So things like that. And I think the reality of the fact that ransomware is a very real issue and actually a lot of companies are paying ransoms out and that there's a whole bunch, there's a big legal gray area around if you pay a ransom out to get out of a ransomware attack that we explored in the report, so that's probably my favorite one, just for the sake of being a wow, this is quite scary and also just having some really cool insight come back off it.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:22:48

Yeah, it's almost like modern day piracy, where you can hold somebody's data and somebody's goods hostage until they pay the bounty.

Nick Chubb: 2:22:52

Yeah, and we've even seen case studies of where it's been possible to locate where cargo is going to be on a ship and then, when that ship is passing somewhere like Somalia, to be able to send that information out to real pirates and they can go and just steal the most high value goods on the ship, for example. So that absolutely does happen and there's become a big kind of cyber element to all of that.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:23:18

Wow, I wouldn't even put those two together. I would have just assumed that you know a lot of that. I guess traditional piracy that's going on in Somalia. I would assume that they would just, you know, just commandeer a ship and not worry about the freight that's on it. But if they're more targeted, that makes a ton of sense. And you know, I guess you know, with all the data that's available, it would just almost be a lot simpler to take that route instead of trying to go through individually each container and see if it's worth it.

Nick Chubb: 2:23:47

Yeah, and hijacking a ship is, you know, it's very dangerous, takes a long time to get paid, you know, sometimes these hijackings go on for years in some instances. So if they can just get on and steal some really valuable stuff and get off again, the pirates are happier, the cyber criminals are happier and obviously the shipping company and the actual ship is less happy. But yeah, it's fascinating what's possible.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:24:16

Hold on. Did you just say it takes years for, I guess, a pirate to finish the job?

Nick Chubb: 2:24:23

Less so now, but if you wind the clock back when I was at sea, sort of 2012 to 2015, around that period when Somali piracy was a really big issue, yeah, if a ship got hijacked, the ransom to release the ship wouldn't be paid straight away and often they would just go into a stalemate. So the crew would be trapped on board, having been kidnapped by the pirates. The pirates would be in control of the ship and, yeah, sometimes it would be weeks, sometimes months, and there were a few occasions where it went 18 months, two years, before the crew were released. So, yeah, really really serious and a very horrible thing to happen for any crew members, but it's died down significantly recently. We've seen much less pirate activity in the last few years.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:25:14

Why is that? Is there any reason, is there any data to suggest why there's less activity if there's more tracking capabilities?

Nick Chubb: 2:25:21

yeah, well, in east africa it's probably more a case of uh, that the somali state, um has become less of a failed state. Uh, you know, again, sort of looking 10 years ago a big part of what went wrong in somalia was actually that if you look ashore you know there was no government at all, so it became just a kind of lawless state. Nowadays that's changed a bit. And then you've also got things like the increase in naval forces in and around the Gulf of Aden being able to patrol, and piracy is still an issue. It's just less of an issue in East Africa. So if you go to West Africa, places like Malacca, malacca Straits in Asia it's still an issue. It's still an issue, but the aim of pirates is less often to hijack the ship and far more often just to steal stuff, steal supplies, steal cargo, that sort of thing. So it's definitely still an issue.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:26:32

But the big hijackings are becoming quite rare. No-transcript. Yeah, I joked about him at the with him, you know, at the start of our podcast series that I'm going to try to fit pirates in somehow and unexpectedly, you know this is the episode that it happened. So, kevin, if you're listening, you're welcome. Now, you know we've talked a little bit about. You know we mentioned a lot about data. We mentioned a little bit about AI. You know AI has sort of you know, just broken through with so many different you know technology and data usages, different technology and data usages. So where have you seen?

Nick Chubb: 2:27:18

I guess maybe with AI where is it starting to find a foothold in the maritime industry? Yeah, that's a really good question. I think where it's having an impact now and where it's going to have the most impact in the short term is in kind of shoreside processes. Um, so, uh, you know large language models like you know, everyone's talking about chat, gpt and all of that sort of stuff um, taking that one step further and being able to train algorithms on on very specific data sets, uh, and, for example, being able to do work out things like demurrage claims or work out optimal crew rotations or optimal routing per vessel or all of that sort of stuff. I think we're already seeing a big impact there. We're starting to see some really exciting and interesting autonomous technology on ships as well. Sometimes that's AI and sometimes not, but that's definitely a growing area. But in the short term, I would absolutely say it's that those kind of shoreside processes that are being either automated or just the data being used to make better decisions is where we're kind of seeing the biggest impact.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:28:40

Yeah, because I think we had talked a little bit about you know, in the pre-show meeting you had mentioned one thing in particular which I think is related to this. It says why unmanned vessels aren't the biggest opportunity for autonomy and maritime. How are I guess you know some of those issues that what you're seeing? Is that related to AI, or is AI helping to solve that? It kind of sounds like it is.

Nick Chubb: 2:29:05

Yeah, I think when we think about AI and autonomy and maritime, people get really excited about unmanned ships. And you know we're going to have ships in the future won't have any crew and all that sort of stuff. Actually, we're starting to see increasingly that a lot of large ship owners are pursuing a strategy of manned autonomy. So there'll still be crew on board. There might be less crew, but a lot of the navigation, decision making will be done autonomously. And again, sometimes that's done with AI and sometimes not autonomously. And again, sometimes that's that's done with ai and sometimes not. Um. But ultimately the, the job of a seafarer, although they might be doing less driving of the ship will will remain the same. They're there to look after the ship, they're there to intervene if anything goes wrong, um.

Nick Chubb: 2:29:49

But what's really interesting that I think gets talked about much less is it's what's going to happen shoreside, um, you know so, anywhere within a fleet management team or a chartering team or even within a port, if someone's moving data from one place to another. I would be very surprised if that wasn't sort of fully automated in the next sort of three to five years. So that's kind of starting with basic, you know, robotic process automation and then getting more and more towards intelligent process automation using AI in the coming years. We're definitely starting to see that more and more and that is all enabled by what we were talking earlier with, you know the move to the cloud and people understanding what APIs are, systems being able to talk to each other. It's slowly kind of taking people out of the loop of those kind of manual processes, which allows people to focus on, you know, more valuable tasks.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:30:46

And what are some of those, I guess, more valuable tasks that you know, say, a crew on a ship can focus more on with the use of some of these newer technologies?

Nick Chubb: 2:31:00

That's a good question. So if you're on a traditional merchant ship, you will have officers who are working shifts to effectively drive the ship, make sure that doesn't hit anything. They'll usually work something like four hours on, eight hours off or, depending on the ship, it could be six hours on, six hours off, and they might do that for anywhere from kind of four to nine months before they go home. Then you'll also have an engineering team as well who are responsible for maintenance of the engines. I think the most interesting opportunity on board ships is to be able to take those people out of that kind of watch system.

Nick Chubb: 2:31:39

We've done lots of research on fatigue and the risks of fatigue at sea and you know a lot of that comes down to the shift systems that have to be in place onboard ships as soon as you start to automate a lot of the kind of basic navigational functions.

Nick Chubb: 2:31:55

And've crossed, um you know, the indian ocean. I've crossed the atlantic ocean, um, and we've gone 15, 16 days without altering course um and not seen another ship um, and there's really no reason why, particularly with some of the technology that's being developed today, um, why that kind of basic watch keeping duty can't be taken on by computers and by sensors and allow the humans to, yeah, just work. Nine to five on board work on things like maintaining the ship, optimizing the ship, making sure it's as efficient as possible, and then if something goes wrong or if a situation is developing that perhaps is looking worrying, then the humans can come in and intervene. Effective predictive maintenance system up and running that you can just have humans focus on making sure that carrying out maintenance when it's required, rather than allowing the ship to get to a point where it might break down or equipment stops working but definitely kind of freeing people out of that watch system, I think is going to have a big impact.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:33:21

As you were talking. I'm like this sounds so similar because I, you know, in my other job I work mostly in the freight space, so truckload freight, and it is very, very similar, as you were talking, to what's going on with autonomous trucks and where it makes the most sense and it makes more sense on those long haul routes versus, you know, sort of the urban dwellings where there's so many different variables that that will likely never be automated. Sounds like a lot of that. Those same issues are in cargo ships as well, or cargo ship routes, where the long haul routes are going to probably be automated, autonomous, and then where you get closer to shore, they're going to have to take over. Is that a safe assumption?

Nick Chubb: 2:34:03

Yeah, I would say so. I think there's kind of two aspects really. One is how does autonomy enable you to make existing shipping more efficient? And I agree, kind of ocean crossings, all that sort of stuff make existing shipping more efficient? And I agree, kind of ocean crossings, all that sort of stuff not necessarily taking people out of the picture, but at least just making their lives easier for those who are on board and possibly being able to reduce the number of crew that's required to safely run a ship. That definitely makes sense.

Nick Chubb: 2:34:32

What we see makes a lot less sense is taking people off the ship altogether for deep sea, because the economics of it actually just don't necessarily stack up. You don't get that much more cargo space against the risks that you're taking in not having people on board. And then the second aspect of that is actually what can unmanned or remote control vessels do that manned vessels it's either really expensive or very difficult to do. So there's all sorts of things like hydrographic surveying, so making sure that we actually know what's underneath the ocean. Guard vessels for offshore installations, offshore wind farms, all that sort of stuff. We're increasingly seeing smaller unmanned vessels that might be controlled from a remote operation center now coming onto the market for all of these little niche use cases that otherwise it's just too difficult or too expensive to have a human do. So all of that stuff is really cool and quite exciting.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:35:35

And so, as you, with all of the, I guess, the advancements and the new way of thinking that's been happening in the maritime industry over the last handful of years. A couple of big initiatives is decarbonization and sustainability that's coming from the shipping industry. It sounds like some of these data sets, these new tools, these technology that that's coming into the space. How is it affecting those goals as well? Is it helping? Is it kind of, you know, conflicting, or is it maybe a little bit of both?

Nick Chubb: 2:36:06

Yeah, it's a good question. I think it's it's helping and it definitely has an important role to play, but probably not enough. So I don't know when this goes out, but at the time of recording last week, the International Maritime Organization announced new goals and the beginning of a new strategy for greenhouse gas emissions and getting to net zero. So there are now goals in place for 2030, 2040 and 2050 to reduce emissions, which is a big step forward on what we had before. It's still fairly weakly worded, I guess I could say, being polite, very diplomatically worded, and there's a lot of get outs available for it, but there is a clear commitment from international regulators that we need to decarbonize the industry, and I think the big problem that very few people really realize is actually how long it can take to create new fuel infrastructure. So do you remember leaded petrol in cars? Oh, the movie cars.

Nick Chubb: 2:37:17

No. It's like the the movie cars? No, um in, uh in. It's like the disney movie cars? No, just in normal cars. Right, all the listeners might remember petrol being having lead in it and oh okay, unleaded versus leaded, okay, okay, that makes sense so do you? Do you know how long it took from realizing that lead was poisonous to actually taking lead out of the global fuel supply chain?

Nick Chubb: 2:37:45

No, tell us 97 years, oh my gosh. So the link was first made back in the 1920s and lead was finally kind of banned in most of Europe and North America into the 90s. But the last leaded fuel pump actually switched off in 2019. It was in Algeria.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:38:07

Oh, wow.

Nick Chubb: 2:38:08

It finally ran out of the stuff, so it takes a long. That's just one fuel additive in automotive fuel and it took nearly a century to take it out of the supply chain. And we're talking about changing all of the not just the maritime industries, but all of the energy industries, fuel systems, fuel supply chain and it's unfortunately, I think it's going to take some time, and so the question we need to ask ourselves is actually what can we do today to ideally peak and then start to reduce emissions? All of that is in the short term has to be found in optimization. So how do we improve the ton mile efficiency of the global fleet?

Nick Chubb: 2:38:49

And that kind of brings us back to questions about AI. You know, what are the things that we're? What are we leaving on the table in terms of energy that we could be optimizing for? What are we leaving on the table in terms of energy that we could be optimizing for? And, yeah, lots of really cool AI driven systems and big data systems that are sort of coming onto the market that can help support to answer those questions.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:39:08

Is it safe to say that that's one of your, I guess, more exciting AI innovations that's going on in the space? Are there others that we should be paying attention to as well?

Nick Chubb: 2:39:18

I think it's one of the more important ones. Definitely Because I think, as well as you know the climate argument, which is obviously very important, there's also a financial argument. You know, if you can save, if you can use AI to optimize the way the ship runs, you're going to save fuel, which means you're going to save fuel, which means you're going to save money as well as saving emissions. Um, uh, but you know, um, as I say, kind of looking more to the shore side, all of those kind of um shore side operations, I think is actually where um ai starts to get really exciting. You know, know.

Nick Chubb: 2:39:57

Take maritime law, for example. We're not there yet, or I've not seen it happen, but it's a hugely complex area that takes years of training to become a lawyer that specializes in the maritime space. Actually, what can happen? If we take a large language model and kind of feed it the right case law and the right understanding of laws? Can we reduce the amount of time and money that we need to be spending with lawyers when there's a dispute related to a maritime issue? Marine insurance is very, very similar as well. You know there's a huge amount of inefficiency in how insurance is distributed, how claims are handled, how claims are paid out, accident investigations. There's all sorts of things that you could look at, that AI could have a big impact on. But, as I say, they're not normally to do with the ship. It's kind of all of the business stuff that exists around the industry.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:40:53

Yeah, I mean. Even on a previous episode of Maritime Means we talked with a guest about just optimizing the waiting times in order to bring a ship to port, or to call the port. I think is the right phrase to use. I think yeah for a port call yeah.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:41:11

Or a port call yes, but he was talking about how that is so inefficient right now. And if you could optimize whatever port that you decide to go to based on a lesser amount of waiting time, then that could save on fuel costs. It could save on a lot of the crew times and things like that. The AI aspects that are happening closer to shore. These tools can only help that decision-making process be more efficient, help the environment and then also save some money, which, if you can hit on all of those three things, I think that's a home run.

Nick Chubb: 2:41:47

Yeah, the big problem that the industry has is that it's not just a question of technology, it's also a question of sort of the contractual relationships that exist between different stakeholders. So generally, you know, a ship will be chartered by a cargo owner and as part of that agreement and it's a template agreement that we've had, that's gone on, you know, we've had it for hundreds of years the ship owner will have to get the ship to the port at a certain time and that's their contractual agreement that they've agreed to. If the port's not ready to accept them, that's not the ship owner's problem, it's not the charter's problem, it's the port's problem. So what happens is ships go really fast to get to a port on time and then when they get to the port, there's basically a traffic jam and they have to anchor and wait, sometimes for days, and we've seen around the port of LA, sometimes even weeks, container ship congestion happening. There's know, around the port of la, sometimes even weeks. You know, um container ship congestion happening.

Nick Chubb: 2:42:40

Um, there's a really cool startup uh, it's actually a not-for-profit called blue visby. That's worth looking at and what they've done is they've taken a, an algorithm, they've taken a data set, an algorithm, and then also a charter party agreement, um, and they've um changed that contractual arrangement so that if the algorithm says the ship should slow down, that the ship owner is kind of legally protected and in some cases rewarded for actually slowing the ship down and reducing the emissions, rather than having this kind of hurry up and wait scenario. And where they've run simulations, they've seen that, if you know, over the course of 100,000 voyages they've seen emission savings of up to 15% just based on optimizing that arrival time and making sure the right legal contracts are in place to make it possible.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:43:22

I mean 15% has to have a dramatic effect on the bottom line, I would imagine.

Nick Chubb: 2:43:27

Yeah, 100% yeah for everyone involved.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:43:31

Right. I mean, and that's ultimately, you know a little bit of a maybe possibly trickle down to the consumer side of things, where it makes products. You know a little bit of a maybe possibly trickle down to the consumer side of things where it makes products, you know, a little bit more affordable to buy, especially in the current market of what we're experiencing globally, where everything is experiencing inflation. So if we could have a little bit of a break, I think a lot of folks would applaud that effort Now. Now, one aspect of your company that I wanted to ask you about is not just the research side of things, but also from the promotion side of things, because you guys have started sending out a weekly newsletter. That has quickly become one of my favorites. I think it was a few issues ago. Are creating a different propeller system for the ships in order to decrease the amount of interference that happens for whales? That?

Blythe Brumleve: 2:44:23

was affecting whale migration patterns. How are you, I guess, maybe from a marketing perspective? How are you using some of that content for those emails to promote your research side of things? Is there a correlation, or is it simply just finding a cool story that's related to maritime and sharing it with the audience?

Nick Chubb: 2:44:43

Yeah, it's a really good question, I think. So the shameless plug. Go to thetiscom and sign up for the Thetis Tech Brief. It's got a lot better since I stopped writing it and I'll make sure that Fiona, who does write it, hears this podcast.

Nick Chubb: 2:44:59

Yeah, I think it's excellent and I think she does a brilliant job of essentially trying to take what's kind of cutting edge and cool and going on, not just in maritime but in the wider tech world.

Nick Chubb: 2:45:10

And then how does that relate back to the industry and what kind of lessons can we learn from it? And, yeah, so it ends up covering all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Can we learn from it? And, yeah, so it ends up covering all sorts of weird and wonderful things. But what we tend to find is that, you know, from a marketing standpoint, it helps us I didn't even know you read it, I have to admit, but it helps us be kind of top of mind for people and often there is a tie back to, you know, some of our either premium subscription, research or reports that we want to publish in partnership with people. You know we tried to cover the kind of big topics like decarbonization, like AI, you know, like safety and improving profitability of the industry, all of that sort of stuff, and so, yeah, I'm glad to hear you enjoy it, because it's really good fun to produce.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:46:00

Yeah, it's super interesting because it makes you know, based on doing this podcast series, maritime Means, and then also, you know, with the other podcast I produce, it's one of those things that you just keep running into over and over again is these silos that exist in all of logistics, all of supply chain, and so I think when you can take you know stories like the, you know sonars and whale migration patterns and shipbuilding, when you can tie all of that together, it makes it super relatable.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:46:29

It also drives, I think, the interest for some of those the premium data sets, the premium research papers, you know technology and embracing what real world impacts that some of these insights can really shine a light on, and so I found it really interesting. It was kind of the catalyst for getting you on the show. So thanks to Fiona for putting those together. Now, when it comes to some of your research reports, what makes you decide on what topic to cover? Is it essentially just instant reader feedback? Give us a little bit of the behind the scenes insight on how you decide to come up with different research reports and what to study.

Nick Chubb: 2:47:13

We're driven almost entirely by customer requests. So we have on our intelligence platform. If you're interested in a particular topic, it might be maritime connectivity, satellite connectivity, it might be carbon capture and storage We've just done something on that. You have the ability to literally submit a research request, so you can near enough. You have the ability to literally submit a research request, so you can near enough. As long as it's related to commercial maritime and it's related to emerging technology, then it's kind of within our remit and we'll go away and produce something on it. So we have this huge backlog of research topics that is partly driven by the data that we have available, but mainly it's by kind of what customers are asking for, and then we just kind of work our way through them based on what's being requested.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:48:02

How long does it typically take to produce one of those reports?

Nick Chubb: 2:48:05

It's a good question If we've got the data a week, two weeks, and if we don't have the data it can take a bit longer. But we've got a pretty good data set now. We've been collecting data for four years. We're actively tracking something like 3,500 maritime technology developers and sort of seeing what they're building, seeing what patterns they're registering, all that sort of stuff. And then we're actively tracking things like contract awards and partnerships. So you know, usually when someone comes to us and says you know how popular is ammonia as an alternative fuel, we can pull up a data set that'll help us to answer that pretty quickly.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:48:49

That's super interesting, and so, as we kind of you know, wrap up this interview what, I guess what innovations get you excited of what's happening now or maybe possibly down the line in the future for maritime?

Nick Chubb: 2:49:05

I think, if we talk about decarbonization, the exciting thing about it is that it's going to be, you know, historically, if you look back, I think it's going to be as important as the Industrial Revolution was, you know, 100 years ago.

Nick Chubb: 2:49:22

It's one of the biggest transformations, not just for maritime, but for all of society. Our entire energy production, storage and consumption model has to completely transform, and we've got about 30 years to do it. So it's like the biggest economic opportunity that has ever existed. And the really exciting part of that is that it's day zero for everyone. No one knows how to do it. We're all kind of trying to work it out as we go, and so that kind of creates this amazing path for innovators, for startups, for small businesses to be able to come in and have a really, really big impact, and so I get really excited about decarbonization related stuff. Both you know how software and AI is actually helping us to make better decisions and optimize, but also you know what are the fuels of the future going to be and how do we make sure we quickly build the infrastructure that will enable ships to sail alongside, you know, the whole world economy that's going to have to switch to a new operating model. It's, yeah, both super exciting, but also really terrifying.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:50:30

Well, it's big problems to solve and I think that's where the greatest challenges I think in life comes from is trying to work together as a collective unit to solve some of these big, complex problems. And so, as someone who has been on the front lines of being a merchant mariner working in the ship and then someone who has been on the front lines of seeing this emerging technologies taking place all throughout the industry, what advice would you give to somebody that's looking to enter the maritime industry?

Nick Chubb: 2:51:01

That's a really good question. I would say do it first off. It's a really really cool industry. Some people say that maritime isn't, isn't sexy, isn't, isn't exciting space. But you know, we move 90% of everything that's traded in the world and the other 10% relies on maritime in their kind of secondary and tertiary supply chain. So if you take maritime out of the equation, everything shuts down. You know, half the world would freeze, the other half would starve, and so I'm biased, obviously, but I think it's the most important industry. Half the world would freeze, the other half would starve, and so I I'm biased, obviously, but I think it's the most important industry in the world. So so that's first call to action is just just go and do it and get involved.

Nick Chubb: 2:51:44

Um, I would say there's absolutely no replacement for going and getting um operational experience. So, whether that's in a port or on a ship, I'm actually seeing how this stuff works. Um, how we get, get goods, you know, in and out of countries safely and and really really efficiently. Is is an incredible thing to see and it's an even more incredible thing to to learn about. So do it, get some operation experience, but don't feel you have to stay, you know, at sea for 10, 15, 20, 25 years, or in a port for 10, 15, 20 years, as soon as you can get into the tech world, because that's where the really fun stuff is happening.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:52:27

I hope you enjoyed this episode of Everything is Logistics, a podcast for the thinkers in freight, telling the stories behind how your favorite stuff and people get from point A to B. Subscribe to the show, sign up for our newsletter and follow our socials over at everythingislogisticscom. And in addition to the podcast, I also wanted to let y'all know about another company I operate and that's Digital Dispatch, where we help you build a better website. Now, a lot of the times, we hand this task of building a new website or refreshing a current one off to a co-worker's child, a neighbor down the street or a stranger around the world, where you probably spend more time explaining the freight industry than it takes to actually build the dang website. Well, that doesn't happen at Digital Dispatch.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:53:12

We're also early adopters of AI automation and other website tactics that help your company to be a central place to pull in all of your social media posts, recruit new employees and give potential customers a glimpse into how you operate your business. Our new website builds start as low as $1,500, along with ongoing website management, maintenance and updates starting at $90 a month, plus some bonus freight marketing and sales content similar to what you hear on the podcast. You can watch a quick explainer video over on digitaldispatchio. Just check out the pricing page once you arrive and you can see how we can build your digital ecosystem on a strong foundation. Until then, I hope you enjoyed this episode. I'll see you all real soon and go Jags.

About the Author

Blythe Brumleve
Blythe Brumleve
Creative entrepreneur in freight. Founder of Digital Dispatch and host of Everything is Logistics. Co-Founder at Jax Podcasters Unite. Board member of Transportation Marketing and Sales Association. Freightwaves on-air personality. Annoying Jaguars fan. test

To read more about Blythe, check out her full bio here.