Forward thinking

The last time Shipping & Marine spoke to UniSea Shipping BV – at the end of 2010 – the Dutch company based in Sneek had projected a difficult time securing financial funding due to the economic climate. A year on, despite the markets being as turbulent as ever, UniSea has managed to succeed both in securing financial investment for three new vessels and even growing its business by a significant amount.

UniSea Shipping was originally established in 2005 and has grown into a small but trustworthy shipping company offering an all-round selection of cargo and maritime logistics services, particularly for European and trans-Atlantic trade routes. Currently the company possesses a fleet of 13 vessels at the smaller end of the spectrum, running from 3800 deadweight tonnes (DWT) to 8200 DWT, offering multi-purpose capabilities. Most recently it introduced two 8200 DWT cargo ships, the Beauforce and Beauforte. Company owner and general manager Gerald Jager talks about these further: “They both went into service at the end of May and are currently sailing on trans-Atlantic contracts. They’ve been operating successfully, with some small error but no significant technical problems.”

In addition to these two newbuilds, UniSea Shipping is about to secure a deal with a major investment group to take over ownership of three new vessels. “Two of these are 4000 DWT and one is 4500 DWT, and all three are multipurpose vessels,” Gerald says. “The investors actually approached us with the deal as the present owners are unable to manage them sufficiently. Once they enter our fleet, we expect the three vessels to perform superbly and add to our existing capabilities.”

These three new ships continue UniSea Shipping’s trend for small vessels. Though once upon a time this approach may have been seen as a hindrance for growth, the present financial climate has in fact made it one of the company’s key strengths. Previously average cargo parcels averaged 10,000 pieces but today this has fallen to just 6000, thereby making multipurpose vessels an economically sensible decision for clients. It is reflected in UniSea Shipping’s impressive growth over the last 12 months, having gained 20 per cent more contracts than during the same period in 2010.

Favourably sized vessels mean nothing if they are not running efficiently, however, and it has been a priority for UniSea Shipping to ensure that its fleet possesses the best possible onboard IT and communications systems possible. “A lot of effort has been put into creating a functioning system with minimal cost,” Gerald explains. “If you approach a supplier for pre-built systems it often requires a lot of money for a programme that is way too big and unsuitable for our ships. We have developed something simple but functional.”

This includes the latest ECDIS charts and global maritime distress safety systems (GMDSS), a custom-built solution that monitors the health of all technical and deck components on board and then creates a maintenance schedule based on the age and operating time of each vessel, as well as onboard satellite internet connections for work and leisure. Parallel to this, investment has been placed into developing the company’s shore based IT systems, specifically for its financial accounts and administration network, to improve cost efficiency throughout the whole organisation.

Business for UniSea Shipping has, as previously mentioned, been incredibly pleasant and the company credits this not only to its own strong business decisions but also the quality of its partners. “We have dealt with challenges that face us by keeping very good partners by our side,” claims Gerald. “We recently re-signed contracts with some of our longest-term suppliers because we know that sticking with them means everybody will benefit. If we were to just go for one year to the top competitor then we would lose this strong relationship. By remaining loyal to our existing suppliers and returning to them every year we can remain flexible in terms of delivery and payment.”

Taking this forward, UniSea Shipping is excited about the delivery of its three 4000/4500 DWT ships and the new opportunities it will present, particularly on a more global scale. Despite primarily operating European and trans-Atlantic trade routes, the company’s recent first contract to China suggests its market may be expanding into the economically significant Far East region. UniSea Shipping is also looking toward the world’s other major growth region, South America, though has yet to establish any sort of presence there.

Gerald looks toward the future with quiet confidence in the success of his company: “In the future, and like the current three vessels, our new investors will bring vessels to us so that it doesn’t have to auction the ship, which actually means a big loss of money for everybody. This will help us expand further into the cargo shipping sector but also the offshore supply sector, where there are a lot of big companies able to offer small contracts. Because we already have all the technical knowledge in-house, it would be easy to accommodate this. We are in a strong position to grow although we are not concerned with expanding our fleet. Every single one of our ships is important and in 12 months we might have five more or none more at all – we are not getting anxious about it either way. We know what we want to do and that’s grow organically.”

Two new ships recently added with three soon to arrive
Fared well financially despite rough markets
Strong, long-term partnerships with clients and suppliers