Delivering quality and variety

When it began in 1921 Spliethoff started as a cargo brokerage firm for the timber trade across Western Europe and the Baltic but its success soon led it to become a ship owner. During the 1970s, the company began looking toward Japan as a quality shipbuilding nation and, over the next 15 years, took delivery of more than 60 ships from a single Japanese yard. This massively increased its fleet and established it not just as a Baltic-focused company but a major name on the global market.

“Spliethoff is a Dutch maritime service company that specialises in solving transportation problems for its customers and, in doing so, adds value to their business,” states Michel Fransen, chief financial officer, who together with Frank Louwers forms the executive board. “We are a reliable long-term partner for world wide transportation.” With a history of more than 90 years, Spliethoff can be confident in standing by this statement.

After establishing its own name, Spliethoff then went on to acquire other companies to improve its capabilities. Michel explains: “We took over Mammoet Shipping, now known as BigLift Shipping, because they are the number one specialist in heavy lift sea transportation. We also acquired Transfennica, a ro-ro liner service between Finland, the European continent and the UK from its former shareholders and customers in the Finnish paper industry. In 2003 we procured short sea shipping company Wijnne Barends and, in 2004, worldwide yacht transport company Sevenstar.”

With an array of subsidiaries in addition to its own business as a shipowner, Spliethoff brings a lot to the market. Its services include but are not limited to: port-to-port as well as door-to-door transport; tramping; liner services and volume contracts; fixed ro-ro liner services; speciality services such as feedering to offshore projects and to heavy lift projects; heavy lift transport and installation works; shore staff support for loading and discharging cargo; and complete in-house engineering.

Spliethoff can also boast the Netherlands’ largest single fleet with little under 100 vessels across a wide range of types. For example it owns different designs of gearless short sea coaster, 3500 DWT vessels capable of sailing rivers and single deckers from 2000 to 7500 DWT. At the other end of the spectrum is its 19,000 DWT heavy lift vessels with crane capacities ranging from 275 to 1800 tonnes. It also owns 18,500 DWT ro-ros with 3000 lane metres and geared up ton 120/240 tonnes tweendeck multi-purpose vessels (MPVs) from 12,000 to 23,000 DWT. The entire fleet shares certain common features such as being ice classed to 1A or 1A Super and sailing under the Dutch flag.

“Our vessels are all in-house design and specific,” Frank says on the subject of how Spliethoff maintains such a huge fleet. “We built them for 20+ years of operation and it is important that older ships give the same performance, safety, quality and look as newer ones. Our in-house technical department, together with onboard crew, carry out most maintenance and repair jobs themselves rather than subcontracting to third parties. By staying on top of it ourselves, we remain in the driver’s seat and aware of what is happening within our fleet. This approach requires dedicated people and a 24/7 mentality but I am pleased to say this is common place within the company.”

Awareness of the market is important for a leading name such as Spliethoff to remain relevant. An important development recently undertaken by the company in this respect was a contract with Alfa Laval for its exhaust pipe scrubbing system, signed in February 2012. Initially the contract will see the retrofit of just one vessel with the PureSOx equipment but this pilot project will lay the groundwork for a future roll out across the fleet. This decision was made to pre-empt the emission control areas (ECAs) that are coming into force during 2015, giving the company invaluable experience and the opportunity to optimise the system.

As one of the Europe’s leading ship owners, Spliethoff has remained at the forefront of the market and in doing so has seen good but not unchallenging business over the last 18 months. “The markets have been difficult but due to long-term relations and our unique quality of service this has not been problematic,” Michel illustrates. “The biggest problem has been competitors that stopped repaying their mortgages and cut corners on safety and maintenance whilst at the same time accepting non-sustainable freight rates.”

Looking toward the future, Michel concludes with a clear vision of Spliethoff’s future: “Growth is not an objective on its own. We will continue being pro-active in offering a wide range of services and ship types whilst continuing to develop our long-term relationships with clients and trusted partners, look at new types of ships we could bring into the fleet, and continue to improve our health and safety record. Spliethoff will keep supporting its long-term clients with high quality services and ride the storm out. Our strong financial position will allow us to do this.”

Large, varied fleet
Long history of excellence
Complete in-house control