Many different assets
Norbulk Shipping UK is the Glasgow-based main operating office of international technical ship manager Norbulk Shipping Company. Until the early 1980s, the branch was the third party ship management department for ship owner Anglo-Nordic, which was taken over by Norbulk Shipping Company. The company began with the management of chemical tankers and cape size bulk carriers then moved into the management of reefer ships, VLCCs, aframaxes, product tankers, LPGs and ro-ro’s. In total Norbulk Shipping Company manages more than 80 vessels, 64 of which are handled by Norbulk Shipping UK. It also manages more than 3500 seafarers across the world.
General manager Walter Woodage talks more about the infrastructure of Norbulk Shipping: “We have built teams to serve the areas that our vessels operate in. We have an office in Saint John, New Brunswick, for example where several of our ships are currently trading. We also have a trading office located in Genoa, Italy and our main manning office is located in Riga, Latvia, with sub offices in St Petersburg, Kaliningrad and the Philippines. We have our own integrated management IT network connecting all the offices to ensure management forms are processed accurately and efficiently.”
Norbulk Shipping UK has recently been involved in the plan approval and supervision of several newbuilds that were constructed in China. Following their completion, Norbulk Shipping UK took on technical management duties and looks forward to many years in partnership with the owners. This is an example of the way the company likes to work: long-term relationships and a ‘cradle to grave’ approach that fosters reliability and trustworthiness.
“Our clients come to us because of recommendations, which is what our industry is all about,” comments Walter. “If a good job is done then your reputation can spread and especially in areas like the reefer market where there are increasingly fewer people involved. Two key elements to a good job though are strict budgetary control and crew selection. In a competitive market it is important to have high quality crew. People are the single biggest cost element of any cost budget, sourcing the right crew is critical to maintaining excellent standards. A lot of responsibility is placed on our seafarers. We believe this quality is reflected in the management of our ships and our ability to remain very close to the budgets submitted to our clients.”
Another key to the ongoing success of Norbulk Shipping UK is its choice to straddle several different vessel markets. The shipping market is cyclical in nature, often going through periods of downturn before once again strengthening, but not all sectors experience the same decrease at the same time. By taking on a varied fleet of tankers, bulk carriers, reefers and ro-ro’s, the company is able to balance decreased business from, for example, bulk carriers with strong upward trends in LPG. This is alongside the reliability that comes from working in niche markets: because these are small but necessary, activity is less impacted by external changes. Combined, these have left the company less exposed than many others even during the most recent recession.
“Business has been very stable to be honest,” agrees Walter. “There has been a lot of uncertainty throughout maritime markets but we serve quite niche clients so our business is very secure. From that point of view, ships have come and gone but Norbulk Shipping UK has retained more or less the same numbers. That has allowed our employment to be fairly steady, which is important because people are worried if there’s no security in their employment. This helps us retain experienced, skilled people.”
Ship management is an ongoing business that requires staying on top of constant change not only from clients but from authorities as well. With maritime legislation, Norbulk Shipping UK needs to ensure that every single one of its 64 ships complies with increasingly stringent port state controls as well as oil major inspections required for oil and gas tankers, where safety is paramount.
The major development at the moment is to environmental regulations, which Walter describes in more detail: “By January 2013 we will need to have an onboard environmental management strategy across our fleet. This will ensure that there is a plan in place onshore and offshore that makes sure the ship is running as environmentally friendly as possible. That means reducing consumption and emissions and using as little energy as possible, making our operation much more economically efficient. That’s the plan.”
Norbulk Shipping UK already has a proven track record of flexibility and reliability and new regulations are unlikely to rattle it. As it continues into the future, an ongoing programme of streamlining without reducing quality will be at the heart of the company’s strategy. Walter finishes with an upbeat outlook on the future: “Today we hope that we can just continue for many years to come, always with the safety, security and continuity of our office staff and crew in mind. If a company has a good record for continuity and good natural progression in its business then it will be successful for years to come. That is what Norbulk Shipping UK strives for.”
High quality technical management
Large vessel and crew roster