A LEADING MARITIME FIGURE the other day addressed the issue of the change occuring in the shipping industry: "There is a myth that the shipping industry is cyclical and that all will one day become right in our world. Well, we feel that this myth has been shattered. Our industry is changing - changing permanently."

That bit of irrefutable truth was delivered by James Woods, Trans Freight Line's vice president for sales, at the maritime conference sponsored by the Massachusetts Port Authority. One thought that might be added, however, is that shipping has always been in a state of change, permanent change. What makes the current phase of maritime history so bewildering, so costly, so shattering for old values, is the speed and magnitude of the changes taking place.It's the kind of thing described by Alvin Toffler in his book "Future Shock."

Those who have devoted a career to the shipping industry can look back on what are remembered as more tranquil years when operations seemed stable, when breakbulk freighters - many of them as handsome in their way as the passenger liners - traveled their appointed rounds of ports in this country and overseas. There were economic cycles, which raised and lowered earnings, but shipping's way of life seemed unchanged.

Yet, in all such stages in shipping's history, the seeds of lasting change were there. Who can name a time when shipping simply slipped back to what it had been? There always have been demands for faster and more efficient ships, better and faster cargo handling in ports, more effective routing of cargo. For the most part, these could be accomplished with minor variations of old systems.

But not today - nor, it might be added, at any time since the late 1950s, when the rush of shipping needed to rebuild the western world after World War II tapered off. Over recent years, one ocean carrier after another has enthusiastically built new ships, only to find - practically at the time of delivery - that they were too small or too large, too fast or too slow. Ports have built costly new waterfront terminals, only to find that they were obsolete or unwanted.

There's the other side of the coin, to be sure. It's a time of great pioneering and some great success stories in shipping, port development and intermodal transportation of cargo. Men tioning some of them would would be too risky, in these times when unforeseen reverses can overtake the most venerable names in shipping, here and abroad.

Yes, it's a time of permanent change in shipping. Mr. Woods also had sound logic on his side when he told the Boston conference the most effective means of change is proving to be such devices as joint ventures and combinations of lines to rationalize sailings in order to reduce costs and avoid redundant services.

This is, above all, a time in which the industry is feeling its way into a future that is only dimly outlined. There will be no cyclical reversion to the past, to be sure. But this should never be taken to mean that there can be no return to stability, to economic health, to the opening of new markets in world trade. Some bad guesses have been made in the shipping industry in these times, and they have been accentuated by endeavors to achieve huge economies of scale and by a prolonged depression in world commerce. That should not persuade anyone that the changes in shipping must be in the nature of shrinkage and retreat. The permanent changes will be in the opposite direction.

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