Norwegian Shipowners' Association's new chief executive Harald Solberg discusses how the Norwegian fleet leads the way in technologies such as emissions reduction and digitalisation
Harald Solberg became the new chief executive of the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association (NSA) on 1 January 2018. He praised Norwegian shipowners’ innovation and intends to work with members and other actors in the maritime cluster to ensure the maritime industry in Norway overcomes what he described as “difficult times”.
In a wide-ranging interview with Norwegian Solutions, Mr Solberg noted that one of the strengths of Norwegian owners is their willingness to innovate. Doing so has seen them through bad times and downturns before. Asked if that remains the case, Mr Solberg said innovation has been a driving force for Norwegian shipping for decades. “Today, we have an advanced and high-tech offshore fleet. That is the case thanks to innovation in recent decades and the strength of the maritime cluster. We have also seen development in the shortsea fleet in Norway, adapting and improving technology from other sectors and bringing zero emissions and the concept of autonomous transport to sea.”
Turning to technical trends, Mr Solberg noted that a number of Norwegian vessels have or are to be fitted with batteries, which have operational advantages and are more environmentally friendly, and that the NOx fund is helping to assist with this process.
He said the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association’s position is to support this particular low-emission solution as a transitional propulsion method for shortsea shipping “as one step on the path to the future zero-emission society”. He explained that the association is supporting the development of batteries/electric propulsion in ships through the Green Coastal Shipping Programme, which aims to develop a world-leading fleet of low and zero-emission shortsea vessels operating along the Norwegian coast as part of the country’s national logistic infrastructure. He noted that, as part of its remit, the NOx fund can allocate financial contributions to any initiatives intended to reduce emissions, not just batteries.
“The Norwegian Shipowners’ Association is a proud member of the UN Global Compact,” he explained, the principles of which outline businesses’ responsibilities in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption measures. “We see them, in essence, as a codification of decency, responsibility and common sense,” he told NS. “We also consider the 10 principles to serve as a platform and a basis for setting higher goals and ambitions. We are convinced the maritime industry constitutes an important and indispensable part of the solution for sustainable global development,” he said, providing some examples.
“The association urges members to adhere to the Hong Kong Convention, although it has not yet entered into force, and to choose recycling facilities that adhere to the convention. We also encourage shipbreaking yards to improve their working environments, in particular yards in southeast Asia. The focus has been on health, the environment and safety issues such as safe working conditions, child labour, management, environmentally responsible handling of hazardous and toxic substances and safe dismantling and cutting operations.”
As he explained, the association was also an early advocate for establishing the maritime anticorruption network (MACN), providing shipowners with a collective network to counter the practice of holding vessels and crews to facilitate payment. MACN and its members promote good corporate practice for combating bribes, facilitation payments and other forms of corruption.
Mr Solberg sees that shipping represents a very important part of Norwegian business life and creates jobs along the coast of the country. “Shipping companies make up a strong driving force in the maritime cluster,” he said, “and in years to come, resources in the ocean will be particularly important solutions to some of the major challenges the world faces, not least in terms of energy, food production and transporting goods in an environmentally friendly way. The framework conditions for the industry will be crucial to ensure a healthy competitive position,” he told OSJ.
Mr Solberg told NS that, as of early 2018, there were 1,733 vessels under the Norwegian flag. This figure has changed little in recent years. However, the Norwegian International Ship Register has seen net growth of more than 50 ships in the same period, with a growth in deadweight tonnage of 10%. “This development is proof that an active maritime policy works,” said Mr Solberg.
Guarded optimism for 2018 across all shipowning segments
The membership of the Norwegian Shipowners' Association is cautiously anticipating increased revenues and profitability for 2018, its annual survey revealed.
Peak lay-up was reached in 2017, when 183 ships and rigs were laid up, acording to the survey. The corresponding figure for February 2018 is 162, a decrease of nearly 12%, though the NSA tempered this by noting the number of rigs in lay-up remained stable at 25. The total number of ships and rigs in lay-up is expected to fall to 110 in 2018, a reduction of 44 ships and eight rigs, according to NSA.
While members of all sectors surveyed were optimistic about improved profitability, this was strongest in the deepsea segment, where nearly eight out of 10 shipping companies expect improved operating results.
2018 is the first year since oil prices fell where employment is expected to increase, with members anticipating growth of 1,700 staff all sectors. Again, the deepsea sector is the most hopeful for employment to grow. “Shipping and the maritime industries are in transition, and we need new competencies and bright minds from a broad range of professions that can contribute to development and restructuring,” Mr Solberg said in a press release.
Norwegian fleet climbs to fifth most valuable globally
Norway's merchant marine has climbed to number five in the world rankings on the basis of market value, the NSA reported in March 2018.
The offshore segment is the most valuable area of Norway's fleet, and when looking just at this sector, only the US has a higher-value fleet.
The Norwegian-controlled foreign-going fleet has steadily grown both in terms of tonnage and in number of vessels for the past two years, and stood at 1,771 vessels at the time of the report's release. This is equivalent to a 3% growth in number of ships and up to 6% growth in dwt. The Norwegian International Ship register has also grown in recent years, reaching more than 610 vessels at the time of the report.
Support for IMO's common strategy to reduce emissions
The Norwegian Shipowners' Association has long supported measures to boost environmental efficiency and this stance was continued in 2018, when it backed IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) in adopting a common strategy for reducing CO2 emissions.
Speaking in advance of MEPC's April 2018 meeting in London, which went on to adopt the emisisons-reduction strategy, Mr Solberg said “This will send an important signal to the market that low-emission technology is the future of shipping.”
“As an industry, we must prepare ourselves for the transition to a low-emission society on the same terms as all other industries,” he added, noting that agreement on a CO2 strategy would send a signal to the market that the industry would increasingly be looking for fuel and technology with “the smallest possible carbon footprint” and that a common emissions-reduction framework would enable this to be achieved while maintaining the balance of competition.
Mr Solberg observed that the Norwegian maritime sector is extremely active in reducing emissions, regardless of regulations, and that it could be a trailblazer in developing more environmentally friendly technology. “We may not produce electric cars in Norway, but we are leaders in technology for low-emission ships. We see more opportunities than obstacles,” he added.