Sending the Right Message

Specialist Knowledge a Must, Samskip Manager Says

By Carly Fields

When played in the schoolyard, the childhood game of Chinese whispers or telephone was the source of much hilarity. But this “game” is being played out by a few unscrupulous forwarders in the modern-day project cargo business – and the results are no laughing matter, according to Emil Skavlem, Samskip’s business development manager.

While Samskip values its relationships with several reputable freight forwarders, Skavlem said that there are others operating in the sector that lack the necessary understanding of this specialist sector. As a consequence, they are misdelivering key instructions from the shipper.

Speaking to Breakbulk, Skavlem acknowledged the many competent and good freight forwarders operating in the breakbulk and project cargo business today, but also noted a lower class of forwarder that is failing to provide a worthy service to clients. That minority are “milking the top,” he said, “and ruining things for those that are doing a good job.”

Those forwarders are not communicating properly with subcontractors and carriers, or worse still, passing on half-baked messages, with negative consequences. “The issue is this creates a communication barrier between the actual carrier and the client, which is being filtered by the forwarder,” Skavlem said. “That is definitely a negative.”

Samskip knows its own forwarding subsidiary, Samskip Logistics, can be relied on to correctly relay its messages. Its in-house specialist is also well versed in the myriad cargoes that this niche northern European multipurpose ship operator can carry, although Skavlem concedes that this diversity can present a challenge. Its vessels can carry temperature-controlled cargoes – and moves a lot of fish on southbound routes. Northbound, the temperature control can be switched off to ship dry bulk cargo. Then there are the project cargoes that can be carried, such as pipes and drilling equipment both up and down the Norwegian coast – Samskip’s ships have a lifting capacity of 80 tons and weather deck capacity of 1,560 square meters. Topping all this off are containers on the weather deck.

“There you have already touched three to four different segments,” Skavlem said. “In a market where you need to offer everything, it’s tricky to make sure that people are competent enough to sell it to the respective clients. To balance all the different segments, you need different types of people that will not make it too complicated.”

Carving a Niche

Skavlem is unapologetic of Samskip’s comparatively niche offering. The operator connects breakbulk and project cargoes from the full length of the Norwegian coast to the European continent. It even connects cargoes further to Murmansk, Russia.

A sector that shows particular promise for its fleet is the oil and gas sector. “Naturally, our segment is oil and gas, and I think oil and gas will always be an important segment in Norway,” he said. “We’ve got the knowledge and the infrastructure already in place for this sector.”

However, he acknowledges that while improving, the sector still has a way to go before it returns to its golden days. “Contracts are being handed out and activity has gone up the last two years. I hope it’s going to be even more going forward, but that’s too difficult to predict right now.”

In the meantime, Samskip is busy moving a glut of construction materials destined for the huge infrastructure projects going on, including for wind turbine parks and aquaculture.

The company prides itself in its local presence and “good dialog” with the local market, and hosts a salesforce in Europe and in Norway. “Regardless of who is actually paying the freight we work together with clients to find a long-term solution,” Skavlem said. “We have shown several times in Samskip that we are more than willing to create business cases to meet their needs.”

He also points out that Norway’s rugged landscape is more suited to short-sea and coastal moves than it is to road or rail transportation, which can be hampered by size-restricted tunnels, extensive fjords and untamed mountains. “It’s not always possible to transport things by road, and that’s why we have these beautiful multipurpose ships.”

In terms of innovation, Samskip is the lead in an ambitious initiative to develop autonomous, zero-emission container ships. Dubbed Seashuttle, the project seeks to bring emission-free, autonomous and, crucially, profitable container ships to market.

It’s an exciting development for the container sector, but not one that will be mirrored in the company’s breakbulk activities any time soon, Skavlem said. “An autonomous ship for breakbulk cargoes would be ground-breaking, but that’s very tricky. Also, the fjords and the places we call with these vessels are very isolated, with variable tides, rough weather and wind, so I don’t think people would be comfortable trusting computers yet on that front.”

Carly Fields has reported on the shipping industry for the past 20 years, covering bunkers and broking and much in between.

Image credit: Samskip