Ståle Hansen has done something unusual.
He’s just got back from some business meetings. Actual, physical, business meetings, with real people. In Greece.
“It’s been a while,” laughs the Skuld President and CEO, quickly readjusting to speaking through the screen. Something that, with home quarantine regulations in Norway, he’ll be doing a lot more of over the next week or so.
So, was it worth the trip, testing and (current) isolation?
“Absolutely,” comes the swift reply. “Everyone was so positive. I think we’ve all been separated so long that there’s a joy to gathering again. And that’s great for business. We’ve been sat in home offices thinking about strategy, formulating ambitions and now, when we meet, it’s time for action – to do deals and get the ball rolling.
“I found there was real opportunity in every meeting, even when I wasn’t expecting it.”
He smiles, looking around at his no doubt very familiar study walls: “That makes me hopeful for when things finally open up again. I think we’re going to see a flurry of activity and progress in the industry.”
And he should know.
Skuld, and Hansen, are fully immersed in the fabric of ocean business.
The global maritime insurance provider, 125 years young in 2022, has leading positions in both traditional shipping segments – such as tankers, bulk, container and cruise – and emerging commercial arenas, including renewable energy and offshore aquaculture. In total it delivers products and services to approaching 10% of the world fleet and is the number one insurer of mobile offshore drilling assets.
This broad-based approach creates a blend of sector specific expertise and ‘big picture’ understanding, and it’s the latter Hansen (who has been with the team for almost 20 years) is keen to focus on today.
With COP26 on the horizon, allied with much-publicised IMO targets and climate re-engagement from the US administration, he says pressure is growing on the maritime industry to translate words into tangible ocean action, and is keen for Skuld to be seen as a preferred partner and enabler here.
But, he admits, owners and operators face some difficult choices.
“The big question is obviously fuel,” Hansen notes. “What alternative fuels and propulsion solutions will help the maritime industry achieve its climate goals? There’s a huge amount of uncertainty here and decision-making is challenging – no one wants to make a 25-year investment in the wrong technology – so I think we’ll see a lull in newbuild projects as some players adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach.
“That’s understandable, but unfortunate, when what we need is progress.”
To help facilitate this Skuld has invested in growing its technical management department, recruiting its own specialists and working in collaboration with external industry experts to follow the latest developments and assess future trends. By doing so, Hansen says, the marine insurer can view the innovation landscape from a risk perspective, advising clients on how to prevent potential future loss from as yet unproven technology.
Also, crucially, it can partner on R&D initiatives.
Risk and reward
“Research and pilot projects are essential in enabling the green shift we need, and that regulators will demand,” he comments. “So, we welcome owners that are willing to be bold, to take risks, and invest to trialling new solutions, whether that be hydrogen, ammonia, electric propulsion, dual fuel solutions, or autonomous, highly efficient vessels. At Skuld we want to share that risk, to be a part of the community of innovation.”
The observation that insurance companies taking risks seems a little, well, contradictory elicits a further smile from Hansen.
“I see that, yes,” he responds. “But if a technology has no track record, no operational evidence and no history of claims then delivering tailored, expert insurance products is a huge challenge. However, if we get involved at the trial stages then we can learn about the risks from the very outset, building our knowledge as the technology matures and establishing a leading position.
“That’s why we’re insuring so many pilot and test initiatives now: We help our clients, but we also help ourselves stay at the vanguard of change.”
Although reticent to go into details, Hansen says Skuld are “involved in and insuring” a broad spectrum of initiatives, mentioning batteries (the firm is the only marine insurance company with membership in the Maritime Battery Forum), ammonia and hydrogen power. Autonomy is also a key area of interest, and here he refers to a project that has already garnered huge attention in Norway, with ripples of awareness spreading worldwide – ASKO’s autonomous barges.
These fully electric, autonomous RoRo vessels (two initially) will allow the country’s largest grocery wholesaler, and leading distributor of food and fast-moving consumer products, to take trucks off the roads. With a capacity of 16 trailers each, the 66m long vessels will silently ferry cargo from one side of the Oslofjord to the other, saving around 2 million truck kilometres a year each, and 5,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. The ships are scheduled for delivery from India’s Cochin Shipyard in 2022.
“ASKO are a true first mover here,” Hansen says, “and we want to help them successfully navigate this new risk landscape. It’s an incredibly bold initiative and, we believe, will be a landmark project for the entire shipping industry. The opportunity to learn here is immense and we’re honoured to be onboard.”
But Skuld, its CEO underlines, does not enter such partnerships lightly. Hansen stresses that complex projects, with innovative technology, and huge sums of money – and therefore liability risks – demand an understanding that stretches beyond the technical. Going back to those meetings in Greece, he restates the importance of the “human factor”.
“Building strong, long-term relationships is essential,” he explains. “You are securing high risk and high cost, so you have to know one another well and trust in each other’s competence… but also have the understanding that you can really push and challenge one another. If you can’t do that in such breakthrough projects you won’t get the best results.
“No matter how technologically advanced the maritime industry gets,” Hansen opines, “at its heart it’s still a people business. And that’s why meeting is so important!”
Face-to-face with opportunity
Hansen is focused on Nor-Shipping in January 2022 as a key opportunity to re-engage, face-to-face with an industry community he has sorely missed.
“That will be the first large-scale, post pandemic event focused on the entire ocean space with physical attendance,” he notes, “so there’ll be key decision makers and contacts gathered from all over the world. After the quantity of digital video meetings this last year, imagine the electricity and energy when everyone gets together again. Imagine the deals that can be agreed, the partnerships formed and the progress made. The theme of this Nor-Shipping is #ACTION, and I think that’s going to be very appropriate.”
Hansen describes Nor-Shipping as an “innovation arena”, one where stakeholders can come into contact with the very latest industry developments, share knowledge and identify how existing approaches can evolve to tap into new opportunity.
It’s also, he concludes, the perfect place to have a party:
“We’re 125 next year, so the timing is perfect. I’m hoping to see as many old and new friends as possible, enjoy a sense of community again and,” Hansen notes with one final smile, “not have to quarantine after doing so!”
The ocean space needs #ACTION.
Nor-Shipping 2022’s Thought Leader articles turn the spotlight on the industry names that are taking positive #ACTION.