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Thomas Wilhelmsen interview: New energy and shaping the maritime industries

Photo: Danny Santos Thomas Wilhelmsen
Thomas Wilhelmsen says Wilhelmsen group’s vision is one of shaping the maritime industry leading the way in finding new and improved solutions for the world at large and its customers.

With a vision of wanting to shape the maritime industry it is of little surprise that the energy transition is on Wilhelmsen’s agenda and an area where it has made a number of investments.

“We want to be a player who is having a role in the energy transition space,” Thomas Wilhelmsen, a fifth-generation family owner, says in an interview with Seatrade Maritime News. Within its new energy business Wilhelmsen owns NorSea which at present has around 80% of its customers are related to the oil and gas sector, something he notes “is a bit of a contradiction”.

He explains, “But the oil and gas industry is on the verge of a major transition themselves and that's where we believe with that position, and being with our customers on the journey, we will see a lot of opportunities to lead the way and to get a very interesting deal flow of new opportunities.” These new opportunities cover a wide range including offshore wind, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen production, aquaculture, and seaweed production.

Offshore wind is the new energy sector into which Wilhelmsen has put the most resources to date with a focus on infrastructure and utilising the group’s logistics capabilities.

Wilhelmsen holds a 25% stake in Edda Wind a joint venture with two of the world’s largest shipowners John Fredriksen through Geveran Trading, and Idan Ofer via Quantum Pacific. Edda Wind is listed on Oslo Bors and specialises in service operations vessels for the offshore wind sector. The company has a fleet of nine vessels with one commissioning service operation vessel (CSOV) and two service operation vessels (SOVs) on the water, and a further six newbuildings on order.

“It's a market in the making within offshore wind, so, it's a very exciting space to start and dip our toes in. We believe that we should be able to play a good role there,” Thomas Wilhelmsen says.

He does not give specific targets in terms of Edda’s fleet growth but says they are firm that it needs to be one of the key players in that field.

Wilhelmsen is also looking at other parts of the value chain around the logistics for the offshore wind industry with the transport of the huge components form the turbines requiring deepsea quay front, and large amounts of space and equipment. “So initially, I think we will play a role within Northern Europe and Scandinavia,” he says. But Wilhelmsen will also see how it can utilise its global network both in terms of physical assets and relationships, exporting its knowledge in Europe to, for example, the Asian market.

Credit NorSea.jpg

Looking to the more nascent hydrogen market Wilhelmsen sees a role in providing infrastructure selling or leasing to potential producers.

In its growing new energy business joint ventures and partnerships play a major role for Wilhelmsen as they have in other sectors such as its longstanding car carrier business Wallenius Wilhelmsen. With capital intensive businesses such as shipowning partnerships enable a greater scale. “If you're going to be able to have a significant size on the global scale in capital intensive businesses, then very often you need to find a partner or several partners,” Thomas Wilhelmsen explains. He notes that Wilhelmsen’s businesses range from asset light to asset heavy and that is easier to grow an asset light business on your own account.

In new industries such as offshore wind for specific competencies it can make sense to team up someone already established in that vertical.

Looking to a more asset light part of Wilhemsen’s business in February Wilhelmsen Port Services completed the acquisition of Vopak Agencies.

Thomas Wilhelmsen says the acquisition brings it a stronger position in the hub and wet markets, and Northern Europe. Traditionally the company has been stronger in the Middle East, Asia and the US, than it has been in its “home” region of Northern Europe. Vopak Agencies as around 15,000 port calls to Wilhelmsen’s existing business of 60,000 – 65,000 port calls. “They are adding a huge number of calls to us as a business.”