Independently of the pandemic, Thome had already embarked on its journey towards digitalization, and remote working was implemented quickly with the minimum of fuss.
In view of this strategy, Thome Group has opened a modern operation hub at its offices in Singapore to enhance the quality of its ship management services and reaction times to emergency responses. The company also focuses on cleaner fuels and energy efficiency technologies applied on some vessels.
In the interview that follows Thome’s Executive Vice Chairman Claes Eek Thorstensen, he explains Thome’s business model which is continually looking at ways of improving operational efficiency without compromising on quality and describes the innovations including the use of artificial intelligence and e-learning platform capability.
Does your company operate its fleet from Singapore? Can you refer to the main advantages of the Singapore Shipping Cluster (versatile & customized services, comprehensive and high-quality advice, etc)?
Claes Eek Thorstensen: The Thome Group is recognized as one of the world’s leading independent international ship managers headquartered in Singapore with offices and agents worldwide. It was established in Singapore in 1963 and is the first and largest Singapore-based ship manager. Singapore is a natural maritime hub, and the shipping cluster is essential for any service provider.
Thome Group has:
- More than 450 Managed Vessels
- The total crew pool is about 12,000
- Shore Based Team of 800 Employees Globally | Singapore has about 250 employees
- Thome is headquartered in Singapore and has other offices in China, the Philippines, India, Egypt, Croatia, Norway, Nigeria, Myanmar, and Thailand. Thome also has representatives in Houston, USA
- Thome offers comprehensive crew management services which include selection, recruitment, training, and continuous development and management of seafarers.
Thome has several Crewing Hubs across the globe – Singapore, the Philippines, China, India, Croatia, and some recruitment hubs.
Being based in Singapore has the following main advantages:
- Port and bunkering services. Numerous managed vessels call into Singapore on a weekly basis so senior managers can board and relay key messages direct to the crew
- Key owners, pool operators, and charterers are all present
- All relevant services providers have a presence
- Singapore has an international talent pool
- Business-friendly environment
- Maritime innovation center
Have you adopted the use of cleaner fuels and the use of energy efficiency technologies? Do you expect that your charterers/customers will reward in the future the efforts of your company for more sustainable operations?
Claes: Thome is managing three vessels which use methanol as fuel and we have also managed vessels burning LNG. Undoubtedly cleaner fuels will find increased application in new vessels being built in the future. We also have energy efficiency technologies applied to some vessels. Design features like propeller ducts and finned propeller caps and low friction coatings plus operational solutions for advanced monitoring and efficiency management are seen to be contributing significantly towards the fuel economy and reduction in emission intensity.
The focus on these is increasing as we target compliance to the EEXI (Energy Efficiency Design Index for Existing Vessels) and improvement of CII (Carbon Intensity Indicator) ratings. These regulatory requirements regarding emission control will be effective in encouraging shipowners to diligently invest in measures to ensure that vessels can be operated with the required CII and with the ability to run at adequate commercially acceptable speeds, excluding the options with compromised emission characteristics and speeds. We expect that this will require the market and charterers to recognize the need to reward those vessels and owners who are investing in these new technologies with higher earning potential.
Can you describe your company’s innovations, such as Operation Fleet Centre and other processes to manage risks that add value to your customers?
Claes: Thome Group has opened a modern operations hub at its offices in Singapore to enhance the quality of its ship management services and reaction times to emergency responses. The state-of-the-art facilities enable situational awareness for both duty-personnel and Thome’s crisis teams, providing high tech systems allowing remote tracking of individual ships in the fleet, passage, planning, security risks assessment, weather routing, video conferencing, integrated vessel management system (NAU) implementation, and individual on-board CCTV remote monitoring by the hub.
The Operations Hub means that Thome has an even closer control of its managed fleet, offering its clients up-to-date information and even greater improvements in its ship management services. The monitoring capabilities provided by the hub will enable Thome to direct its managed fleet more efficiently saving time and improving its operational efficiency.
Furthermore, in times of emergency Thome’s staff can react much more quickly and get faster and more accurate information about the situation in real-time, allowing its crisis team to make informed decisions on how to resolve any issues.
A great deal of care has also been given to the interior design of the hub as the staff who man the office need to be alert and able to react quickly to any given situation.
Given the current pandemic situation, Thome also heavily relies on different tools for communication. Meeting using various video conferencing platforms were set up to ensure inter-departmental communications to avoid any service disputations. While onboard, Thome’s crews held online meetings with surveyors to allow remote surveys and audits to be performed as granted by classification societies and flag states. Thome continues to work as normal and avoids any possible work disruptions by maximizing all the tools and systems it has at its disposal.
Despite the efforts, the number of officer trainees entering the maritime industry remains insufficient even in the short term
Claes: The young people of today are different from previous generations. Their approach to work/life balance is quite different. Hence Thome’s strategy around attracting today’s young people has been adopted to their requirements. Thome has embarked voluntarily on the ESG journey, charting its path to being a company which promotes sustainable development. Today’s youth prefer to be in the know and associate themselves with facts. They analyze the facts and express their opinions before they follow. Developing Thome into a company which believes in transparency is a step towards making the company and the maritime sector the industry of choice for young people.
One of the other initiatives which we are working towards is developing a mindset within the existing staff to embrace the younger generations and vice versa. The maritime industry is steeped in tradition, and changing existing work styles is not going to be an easy task. By taking up this discussion proactively and developing learning initiatives to capitalize on this change means setting up a hybrid environment where existing staff and the younger generation cooperate amicably. Finally, Thome engages with future recruits in their platforms of choice, i.e., social media instead of more formal communication, to showcase Thome’s philosophy and key maritime industry initiatives to showcase how working for Thome is an exciting and challenging career choice.
What is your company’s strategy to enhance the recruitment of young people in shipping? Is it possible the technological developments such as AI to limit the human factor in shipping?
Claes: Technological developments like Artificial Intelligence (AI) will not limit the human factor in the maritime industry but make it more efficient. While there are a lot of initiatives globally to leverage the current technological evolution, the maritime industry is still a little way off from benefiting from these holistic technologies, but when it does arrive, the human (factor) at the center of these operations will be the key to success, albeit in a different form from what it has been traditionally. For example, a decade or so ago, an engineer officer was making decisions with regard to machinery with limited information. He/she had a few visible parameters but also had to draw on years of experience; however, now these decisions are now being made based on data from multiple sources on and off the ship will become more efficient as technology will allow for machine learning based on a much bigger data set with greater accuracy leading to a better chance of success across the board and not just relying on the experience of one individual.
In a shipping market of continuous volatility, what is your company’s business model for achieving steady growth and sustained profitability? Describe the future of your company.
Claes: The shipping market is turbulent however Thome expects building activity of new vessel designs and propulsion systems plus the development of fuel alternatives to address the IMO’s decarbonization initiatives.
The ship management market will further develop in the coming years but the demands on ship managers will increase. Scale is important to achieve synergies, competitive advantage and to be able to invest in innovation, systems, and people.
Thome’s business model has always been to put the customer first and tailoring our services to their needs. Thome is continually looking at ways of improving operational efficiency without compromising on quality.
Choosing the right fuel alternatives for different vessel types to meet the IMO’s decarbonization targets will also be very critical. Thome is working very closely with its ship owners to prepare the ground for a smooth transition.
Managers have also evolved positively during the pandemic and we will see a “new normal” which results in restructuring, adjusted work processes, smart digitalization, and new operations locations. Ship managers will need to manage this transition in order to remain relevant.
In an effort to keep pace with these new changes, Thome has always been at the cutting edge of new training techniques to enhance the learning and development of its staff so they have the required skill and knowledge to be able to perform at an optimal level.
The company has invested in a new navigation bridge simulator to keep pace with the new equipment available in the vessels which Thome is managing. The Thome Group has also just introduced a new online Learning Management System to provide it with greater visibility of the future training needs and skills of its staff.
Many of the manual and mundane processing of data will be completed by computers that will automatically generate reports and dashboards allowing staff to make better decisions in shorter timescales and very often using love data.
We should, however, never underestimate the experience and knowledge that can be passed on by our safety coaches as they review how our seafarers approach tasks when onboard.
On Sustainability – Thome has also recently launched its first voluntary sustainability report which reflects the company’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The scope of the report covers the main activities of Thome Group, including offshore management, shop management, crewing, and marine consultancy.
We have some exciting future plans where we will aim to the audience. Northern Europe is a particular target area, and we have recently opened up an office in Hamburg, so we have local representation in that region.
We will also continue to innovate with new technology, including the use of robotics and artificial intelligence. We plan to further develop our e-learning platform capabilities as well to make it easier for the crew to keep up to date with their training requirements wherever they are in the world.
Note: The interview was published in the El Navi September 2021 issue. Visit http://www.elnavi.eu/ to know more.