Shipping concerns attract diverse countries to Houston conference

Diplomats from Korea, Norway and Brazil gathered in Houston this week as they made plans to promote their interconnected shipping industries — mostly devoted to moving energy — at an October conference in Houston.

The third annual Houston Shipping & Offshore Conference, to be held at The Houstonian Hotel on Oct. 23, will focus on new international shipping routes and the expansion of offshore projects around the world.

As one of the largest U.S. ports and a global energy leader, Houston is a natural location to discuss the future of shipping in offshore production, said Jostein Mykletun, the consul general of Norway based in Houston.

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“This conference captures many of the implications of the energy revolution taking place in America, and how that pattern of changes in America will impact offshore and shipping issues,” Mykletun said.

As the offshore industry grows and liquefied natural gas production increases, new issues are arising on the transportation of these hydrocarbons, Mykletun said.

For example, policy decisions on shipping routes, such as the opening of the Northeast Passage in the Arctic, can affect transportation time significantly and dramatically influence the profitability of energy exports. And the widening of the Panama canal, which could allow wider ships to pass by 2015, will reduce the distance from Houston’s port to Asian markets by 7,000 miles.

It also will open up potentially lucrative shipping routes for Brazil, making the policy change beneficial for the cost reduction in exports.

“If we aim to become an international player, this creates a new opportunity for us,” said Deputy Consul General for Brazil Roberto Furian Ardenghy.

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But the widening of the Panama Canal also will impact Korea’s shipyards, said Suk-Bum Park, the consul general of Korea.

“The size of the ship allowed to pass through the Panama Canal will at least be doubled,” Park said, explaining that Korean shipbuilders want to be at the forefront of providing the new offshore ships that are sized to take advantage of the extended canal.

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