It would be tempting to think of the increased activity in the offshore oil and gas sector since the price started increasing again as a return to business as usual. But what struck me as I edited this 2018 edition of Norwegian Solutions, my first, is that in the case of Norway’s historically oil and gas-focused maritime industry, there is no such thing as business as usual. Shipping is often described as a conservative industry, but this does not seem to be the case in Norway.
The common thread for many of the solutions featured in this issue is a recognition that adaptation is key to survival. When orders dried up from one source during the downturn, they were sought elsewhere, and Norway’s shipbuilders have lived up to their reputation for producing high-quality specialised vessels in these new areas. Builders such as Ulstein and Vard have applied the lessons learned from decades of building offshore support vessels, which weather the worst the North Sea can throw at them, to the burgeoning expedition cruise sector. The result is seaworthy vessels capable of enduring tough conditions while keeping passengers in a high level of comfort. The offshore wind market has also benefited from such expertise, with windfarm construction, service and crew-supply vessels sharing many of the same needs as OSVs, such as stability and good station-keeping. However, oil and gas has been and continues to be important for Norway, and it is not being abandoned.
But it is not just in vessel applications that ingenuity is evident. Whether it is Østensjø Rederi’s trio of LNG-fuelled escort tugs, the increasing numbers of hybrid-electric powered offshore support vessels or the numerous electric-hybrid and pure-electric passenger craft in use on the fjords, Norway is leading the world in developing ways to reduce emissions. In the case of Future of the Fjords, which operates in the zero-emissions UNESCO World Heritage fjords in the west of the country, emissions have been removed from the equation altogether.
In digitalisation, too, there are a host of advances. Kongsberg is pioneering autonomous shipping, partnering with Yara and Kalmar on the Yara Birkeland project and establishing an autonomous vessel-focused joint venture, Massterly, with Wilhelmsen. Its latest acquisition, Rolls-Royce Marine, is itself making great strides in areas such as digitalisation and remote vessel management.
And what strikes one in all of these areas is how much co-operation is evident. Whether official maritime clusters such as NCE Maritime CleanTech and Møre’s GCE Blue, or in projects such as the SARex tests of the Polar Code’s equipment requirements, industry, academia and the public sector come together to not just deal with the challenges of the present, but to anticipate and take advantage of the opportunities held by the future. As Jeffrey Lai notes, by applying the “early bird catches the worm” mentality Norwegian companies can prepare well and capture opportunities for growth.
Aesop’s fable of the old man and his sons seems apposite. In the story, an old man has several sons that constantly fight. Nearing death, he summons them all and presents them with a tied bundle of sticks, challenging them to break it. They all, in turn, attempt to break the thick bundle and fail. The old man then unties the bundle and breaks each stick individually, explaining to the sons that in unity lies strength. Time and again when speaking to Norwegian companies, one is struck by the willingness to work together and share knowledge, with the mantra “we co-operate when we can and compete when we must” a common refrain, and for me this is what makes Norway a maritime world leader.