Wooden stars

Grieg Star Shipping is a ship chartering and operations management company today based in Bergen, Norway, and is the commercial division within the fully integrated shipping group Grieg Shipping Group.

It began however in 1961 in British Columbia, Canada, as a joint venture between Grieg Group and Masterbulk to service the wood products market, with Star Shipping at that time handling all of its commercial operations. Latterly, Masterbulk decided to divest its shares and with Grieg Group having had a long history within the maritime industry – the company was initially founded as a ship broking business in 1884 – the addition of a new subsidiary made immediate sense. It became part of the Grieg Shipping Group, one of many companies under the umbrella of Grieg Group.

Whilst the name has changed, many things have remained similar. Wood products including pulp and paper continue to be the company’s main commodity although its share of business activity has fallen from more than 90 per cent to approximately 55 per cent, with project cargo and steel industry shipments having grown massively. When Star Shipping began more than five decades ago its primary vessel type was the gantry crane ship; whilst individual vessels themselves are different, Grieg Star Shipping’s standing fleet of 26 gantry crane vessels highlight the essential role this model has played in the company’s work. These vessels also continue to be handysized cargo carriers, offering an excellent marriage between capacity and flexibility.

A project is currently underway, however, to make this fleet even more extensive in its capabilities. Vice president of project development Jan Svardal discusses the collection of newbuilds that are arriving soon: “We decided to bring into our fleet ten new open hatch special crane (OHSC) ships built at the Hyundai Mipo Dockyard in South Korea. The biggest change from our previous vessels is they will each possess four 75-tonne slewing job cranes that can handle not only wood products but project cargo and breakbulk as well, meaning we won’t have to use shore cranes. This will be the biggest single investment in the company’s history and is part of a bigger fleet renewal programme that looks to expand our overall capabilities and deadweight tonnage (DWT). In addition two larger, Supramax-classed vessels will join the fleet next year as well.”

The current fleet consists of 26 conventional gantry crane open hatch cargo carriers ranging between 25,000 and 50,000 DWT, but the new vessels are similar in their specification. With each of the four slewing jibs offering a reach of 30 metres at 60 tonnes, maximum lifting load of 75 tonnes at 26 metres or tandem lift limit of 150 tonnes, independent movement for each crane and unlimited longitudinal movement, the fleet’s new additions certainly promise a lot. “One of the main differences from a conventional slewing crane is the power swivel below the hook, which enables the cargo to turn 360 degrees during cargo handling. This is a main feature that obtains competitive production capacity during cargo operations for wood products and project cargo,” Jan explains. The vessels themselves will be 50,500 DWT handymaxes offering 67,700 cubic metres across nine cargo holds.

“The addition of these vessels is the result of a long process aiming to diversify our business and can be seen as a supplement,” Jan explains. “It’s a niche market that Grieg Star Shipping operates and we are not changing strategy in terms of our market but supplementing core activities with additional work. The gantry ships will still be operating primarily in the product market because of the production capacity and rain protection they offer, making them ideal for rainy regions such as British Columbia, whilst the slewing ships will be used as better competition in the commercial breakbulk sector in areas such as southern Brazil and the Far East.”

Another major component of the company’s fleet renewal programme is a focus on energy consumption reduction for both environmental and financial reasons. Already a number of energy techniques involving more efficient vessel docking has been have been undertaken with initial results showing up to 20 per cent lower consumption of fuel. Mewis Ducts, which improve vessel propulsion by shaping water flow, have been installed on four vessels and improved energy efficiency by six per cent. Weather-routing systems have also been implemented, helping ships choose best route based on tides, wind and overall weather conditions.

This commercial breakbulk sector represents the other 45 per cent of Grieg Star Shipping’s contemporary business, delivering steel coils, windmill products and other project cargo in trade routes across the Atlantic and Pacific. These industries have grown increasingly favourable of Grieg Star Shipping’s services in recent years because the company’s fleet is highly competitive with standard multipurpose (MPP) due to its greater carrying capacity and its fixed and continuous sailing schedule, with clients having come to rely on this regular timetable. Furthermore, being part of the wider Grieg Group gives customers the opportunity to integrate additional services from sister subsidiaries – such as logistics or technical management – into their solution, adding an extra dimension to Grieg Star Shipping’s services.

“Our strategy has always been to be a long-term player in the market,” Jan says. “If this means we lose out a little when the spot market is peaking then that doesn’t matter. We are contract players and our customers appreciate our dedication to giving them a good product. That’s why we have been able to make it through the financial crisis and dip in the market without too much trouble, and actually have been very well off in terms of market shares. Nonetheless, going forward, our plan remains to strengthen our position even further. We have ten new ships coming in plus two new supermaxes on charter that we can bring to the market to help ensure we make money on a solid and profitable basis over the next three to five years.”

With fleet expansion on its way and strong business behind it, Jan is positive about Grieg Star Shipping’s future: “The new ships will help us build a name and presence in the project market, but we also want to keep our current position in the wood products sector as well. This growing diversity will not, however, stop us from maintaining good relations with customers. We don’t want to change trading patterns of fleet scheduling, just pick up more project cargo and top up cargo wherever else we can find it.”

Adding ten new vessels to fleet
Dedicated to wood products market
Expanding into project cargo