“To build this business, and being sustainable in that, I think the key is the crewing side of things,” John-Kaare Aune, Chief Executive Officer of Wallem, tells Seatrade Maritime News in an interview.
“It's where we're going to see a lot of the challenges going forward with being able to have crew available that have the experience and high quality,” he says. This combines with understanding the values and the strategy of the shipowner going forward.
“We all have people ashore that can deal with the different technologies, but actually being able to have the crew that can go on board and look after the high value assets of the shipowners, that's key.”
The switch to alternative fuels brings with it both challenges and opportunities not least ensuring that an owner has enough well-trained crew to operate dual-fuel vessels. This is an area where Aune sees a need for collaboration with owners to partner on the sourcing and training of new crew. This means that when an owner is starting to look at new project with for example dual-fuel capability Wallem can see how it can train and source the crew to operate these high-value assets when they sail out of the shipyard.
For training in operating vessels with alternative fuels Wallem works engine manufacturers and also has its own training programmes at its training institutes in India, the Philippines, and China.
Wallem also ensures it has diverse range of source markets for seafarers and is developing crew pools from countries that are not so well known for providing crew to the international shipping industry. As well as typical locations for crewing such as India, Philippines, China and Eastern Europe Wallem is casting the net much wider to less traditional markets. “We also source crew from some locations in Africa, we are looking at crew in South America, and we look at crew in other locations in Asia as well such as Indonesia and Myanmar,” he says.
One of the biggest developments in the ship management business this year has been the announcement of the merger between Thome Group and OSM Group. Both mid-sized managers stressed the scale the combination will bring as a key factor behind the merger.
Wallem is also mid-sized ship manager with approximately 200 ships on its books and while keen to keep growing its fleet to 300 - 400 vessels, Aune says they are not looking to join the ranks of those with 700 ships under management.
He sees it as striking a balance between size and tailored service. “If you become an ultra-large company then you can't offer the same level of flexibility that you can as a medium-sized ship manager. It's about finding the clients that share the same values, the same level of quality and for us to be able to adapt our services to their needs.”
As it charts a course for the years ahead, Wallem celebrates its 120th anniversary this year. Ioannis Stefanou, Managing Director of Ship Management for Wallem notes that not many companies can say they have operated continuously for 120 years. While it is completely different world in which the company operates to when it was founded 120 years ago the fundamentals of the shipping business remain the same. “The ships are floating, crew are needed, good service is needed,” Stefanou says.
Looking at the next 12 months Aune says the focus is on managing dual-fuel vessels and newbuildings coming into the company’s fleet. The end of the pandemic restrictions has meant since last year Wallem’s management has been able to meet more of the crew in person again. “We’ll starting to have our in-person fleet officer meeting so that's a big focus this year as well.”