President of Thome Group, Claes Eek Thorstensenon how the Group keeps up with changes in the shipping industry.
We sat down with President and CCO of Thome Group of Companies, Claes Eek Thorstensen, for a chat about how the Group keeps up with changes in the shipping industry.
The shipping industry has been faced with a number of challenges in recent years. Cyber security, piracy, automation, decreasing oil prices and changes in the economic makeup of the world are just some of the issues that have shaped the industry over the past decade and continue to do so today.
Navigating these issues is Claes Eek Thorstensen, President and CCO of the Thome Group of Companies. Established in Singapore in 1963 by Norwegian founder, Fridtjov Thome and Thome Ship Management later by Olav Eek Thorstensen, the company has grown to become one of the leading ship managers in the world, represented worldwide by 11 offices. Headquartered in Singapore where the company’s corporate management and most of the ship management and control functions are based, Thome Group of Companies employs approximately 800 people ashore and around 12,000 officers and crew distributed on more than 300 vessels around the globe.
“Thome is a very global company but we are trying to maintain aspects of our Norwegian heritage,” explains Mr Thorstensen. “Our core values, our history and what we stand for are very much Norwegian. We usually say we have the perfect mix of Scandinavian shipping tradition with Asian business flair.”
Notwithstanding the Norwegian heritage, Singapore is a natural location for the majority of the company’s operations, according to Mr Thorstensen. “There is a reason why Singapore was voted the most important Shipping Hub in 2017,” he says. “It is a natural place to headquarter a ship management operation. It is a blend of strategic location, transit hub, large port, business friendly government, focus on efficiency, availability of well qualified people and also a shipping centre where the relevant stakeholders are located. Thome stays competitive in Singapore by ensuring that the processes are updated and efficient and that required back office services are located in more cost-effective locations.”
Training has always had a strategic focus within the group. The training matrix covers the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers ( STWC), operation and added value courses. In addition to the 28,000 training days per year, Thome runs operation workshops and fast-track officer programs for promising high performing officers.
Success and performance are measured on a number of parameters, including weather routing, speed and consumption, trim and ballasting, energy efficiency and fuel conservation, heat recovery optimising, equipment maintenance, correct equipment and machinery operating procedures, efficient turn-around in port, mooring operation, cargo handling, and optimisation of work and rest hours on-board. This leaves a lot of scope for training and constant improvement.
“A ship manager is judged by his performance both on voyage, cargo handling and care, and during port operations,” explains Mr Thorstensen. “Thome Group strives for constant improvement of performance through stringent HSSEQ [Health, Safety, Security, Environment and Quality, red.] systems, vetting preparation, training and innovative management. We are committed to building long term relationships with our customers. Training is important because in today’s competitive environment, optimised management and operation of the fleet is increasingly important.”
Mr Thorstensen recently attended the London International Shipping Week, a highly anticipated industry event held every other year and offering over 160 industry functions, events and unique networking opportunities for leaders across all sectors of the international shipping industry. The event highlighted a number of trends and issues facing the shipping industry.
“The topics covered during the London International Shipping Week were numerous as there were over 160 events during the week but the main takeaway for us as a ship manager was the drive towards compliance, alternative energy sources and discussions around autonomous shipping and its likely future,” says Mr Thorstensen.
“There were some interesting debates during the main conference where most delegates felt that we were still 20 or more years away from autonomous shipping due to regulatory, insurance and legal considerations.
“What role the human element will play in maritime autonomy was debated too, as many felt that having completely unmanned vessels was a non-starter particularly from a security point of view.
“Our view at Thome is that autonomous shipping is something for the future and not something we will see in our generation, at least not for deep sea shipping. It is a little like electric cars – I believe we will see a hybrid solution where autonomous shipping will be implemented step by step first on short sea trips and ferries. So while it is hard to imagine fully unmanned vessels, they will definitely become more autonomous and have fewer people on board.”
The consequences of autonomous shipping for ship management are significant, according to Mr Thorstensen. “Ship management companies like ours will have to adopt a different focus,” he foresees. “There will be an added emphasis on control from the office and there will be a need for more specialised people ashore and a more diverse range of competencies. Vessels will be managed and operated from the office rather than on-board and that also requires retraining of the seafarers that do remain on-board, they will need different competencies than what they have at the moment.”
Another of the topics of the London International Shipping Week was that of digital disruption. “Digital disruption was also discussed at length including the internet of things, cyber security, and broadband connectivity,” notes Mr Thorstensen. “Many operators are already reaping the rewards of having live data sent from the vessels back to the office which can be analysed to help with decision making to improve operational efficiencies.”
Especially the topic of cyber security is high on Mr Thorstensen’s mind. In June this year, Danish shipping giant A. P. Møller-Maersk, among others, was subject to a cyber-attack that that left a significant portion of its IT systems down for days and cost the company an estimated USD 300 million in lost profit.
“Cyber security is definitely a concern of ours,” says Mr Thorstensen. “We have beefed up our IT security and support for both offices and vessels. We have hired additional people and have an entire department dealing only with IT security. However, when it comes to cyber security, it doesn’t stop at your own company, you will also have to make sure that your suppliers, sub-suppliers and partners have proper systems in place to deal with among others payment and transactions.”
Above: Officers and crew on board the Thome managed Pacific Glory.