Erik Hånell, the top man at Stena Bulk since 2012, remains as he puts it “quietly confident” that indications are good for this year and beyond, as the disruption of the last few years has taught him and the Swedish tanker player to approach the future with a “measured and even-handed approach”.
Newbuild contracting in the product tanker sector has picked up so far this year against the backdrop of a strong market outlook with 28 units reported ordered in the year to date, according to Clarksons data.
In terms of fleet developments, Hånell, a Stena Bulk man for over two decades, observes the market is currently looking to find the balance between the medium and long-term investments that are needed for success, whilst managing short-term volatility.
“I don’t believe that anybody yet fully knows how reshaped global energy flows will benefit certain vessel types, or how the general health of the global economy will hold up,” he says.
Hånell highlights climate regulations as one of the reasons for the low orderbook as well as the increasing number of vessels that are slow steaming, but also notes that any downturns in the future will cause more recycling activity, “as more vessels will be balanced on the cliff-edge of profitability under these new regulations”.
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He concedes that the picture is very mixed, making investment decisions difficult, but that fleet renewal and improvement is an ongoing part of Stena Bulk’s strategy, and the company is “pragmatic about making the right decisions”.
Stena Bulk is part of one of the largest family-owned business groups in Sweden the Stena Sphere. Founded in 1982, the company has grown into one of the world’s leading tanker players which controls a combined fleet of over 70 vessels.
When it comes to recycling or selling existing tonnage, nothing is off the table, for Stena Bulk’s top man. “It is indeed something we have done over the last few months where it made commercial sense for us to do so,” he says.
The company has taken two new eco MR tankers on long-term time charter and has also seen the addition to the fleet of its Proman Stena Bulk joint venture methanol vessels, which Hånell says are a genuine step forward for sustainable shipping.
He says that Stena Bulk takes climate considerations very seriously and when it comes to tankers and sustainability, for him, the challenge is to find ways to evolve approaches and prepare for the future, even if it is predominantly decarbonised.
“It is incumbent on us to find ways to reduce our environmental impact and prove our sustainability excellence,” Hånell maintains.
The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has proven to be a significant and reshaping market driver for tanker shipping.
Stena Bulk has not called at any Russian ports since February 24 last year, and will not do so until sanctions are lifted, Hånell stresses. “We strongly condemn any sanctions busting activity and are doing the maximum due diligence possible for both our cargoes and customers, and our vessels where they have been sold on and left our fleet.”
He, however, sees the conflict generating changes to the global energy mix that, while they will be years in the making, could have lasting impacts.
“A decreasing dependence on oil products or, at the very least, changes to the global supply chain, will add to the market context that tanker shipping must adapt around, Hånell asserts, indicating that in the extreme case the sector could see “a redrawing of the economic and supply chain map to account for new energy flows”.
The challenge worth highlighting right now, he says, is the recent total ban on EU imports of Russia that will likely drive an increase in the dark fleet as proxies are sought to export this crude.
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“This is something that we can only tackle as a sector by calling the behaviour out and by ensuring that we are collectively doing all the due diligence that we can on the cargoes we carry and the fleet that we operate,” Hånell says.
Going forward, he believes that energy products will have a role to play in the world economy of the future and that the company expects the market to fully align business strategies behind the wider decarbonisation goal. “There have been signs of this in the last year because of a demand from customers for sustainable shipping options, Hånell concludes.