Operating in an industry characterised by low freight rates, increasingly strict regulations and high bunker costs, many shipowners are struggling to adapt to the new market reality. But by working to exceed customer expectations, investing in new technologies to improve efficiency and moving quickly to seize business opportunities, Maran Tankers Management has emerged as a stronger player.
As a unit of the privately owned Angelicoussis Shipping Group (ASG), Maran Tankers Management (MTM) operates a fleet of 36 tankers, with an additional seven vessels expected to join the fleet. While some of the company’s existing vessels are on long-term charters, most are active in the spot market, where low freight rates persist. At the same time, rising bunker costs and new and pending regulations are resulting in dramatic changes to the industry.
According to Managing Director Stavros Hatzigrigoris, the tanker segment is continuing to experience tonnage overcapacity issues that have kept freight rates low. “We have seen some signs of improvement in the last two years but, overall, the weakness in the tanker segment continues,” he says. “However, ASGL has operated successfully in the shipping industry for almost 50 years, so we have experience in how to thrive in tough markets.”
While he acknowledges that today’s market conditions are not ideal, Hatzigrigoris is quick to say that all vessels in Maran’s tanker fleet are actively trading. “Today’s market favours the charterer, who can afford to be more selective,” he says. “Our long-term focus on quality, efficiency and building strong customer relationships has proven to be a genuine competitive advantage. In slow markets, quality matters.”
Creating long-term success
MTM’s approach to quality has three main focus areas: optimising operations, evaluating and implementing technical innovations to improve vessel performance, and the intensive training of personnel. These elements have helped MTM to build a strong reputation for quality over time and to adapt quickly to the new market reality.
For example, to help charterers reduce fuel costs, newbuildings have been optimised to improve fuel efficiency. The company has invested in new hull designs, weather routing systems, electronically controlled main engines and nozzle ring turbochargers, among other features. To improve the performance of its existing fleet, MTM has installed a number of innovative technologies, such as MEWIS ducts, boss cap fins and energy efficient rudder and propeller designs. The company is also evaluating a number of other fuel-saving innovations, including fouling release coating systems to improve hull performance.
At the same time, MTM has responded quickly to the introduction of new regulations. Over the past three years, regulations proposed or enacted by international regulatory bodies, such as the EU and IMO, and actions taken by individual states to create Emission Control Areas (ECAs) have led to an increased focus on environmental performance. “We recognise that shipping represents an environmental risk and support global efforts to manage global challenges,” says Hatzigrigoris. “At the same time, we see a natural link between fuel savings, environmental performance and quality operations and take a ‘beyond compliance’ approach to regulations.”
Building a culture of quality
Hatzigrigoris says that fuel savings and emissions control are as much about attitude as they are about technology. “In the past, bunkering has been considered a sunk cost, driven by market forces beyond the industry’s control, while managing harmful emissions was not a top priority,” he says. “Today, managing these issues effectively is business-critical. By considering all aspects of a vessel’s design and operations and working together with different stakeholders, we can make a big difference if we take a number of small steps.”
For MTM, the focus on quality begins with people, not technology. At present, the company has about 300 shore-side professionals and more than 3,000 officers and crew – all recruited and trained by the company. “Recruiting, training and retaining our own crews require significant time and investment, but the only way we can guarantee quality operations is to do things ourselves,” he says. “We have developed a number of best-practice guidelines targeting safety, environmental issues and energy efficiency, but quality begins with a culture, not a manual.”
MTM applies the same rigorous standards in its interaction with suppliers, including DNV, which delivers a broad range of classification and advisory services to MTM. “We work with other class societies but, in addition to its technical expertise, DNV has demonstrated that it shares our focus on quality and customer service,” says Hatzigrigoris. “We have developed a strong relationship with DNV over the years, and believe it understands our business.”
Text: Alexander Wardwell