Ståle Hansen, President and CEO of Skuld, explains how personal connections, expert knowledge and an open approach to risk can unlock the action needed for lasting success in ocean space. Together, he argues, we can supercharge a post-pandemic transformation.
Ståle Hansen did something unusual. He has just returned from a few business meetings. Real, physical, business meetings with real people. In Greece. “It’s been a long time,” laughs the president and CEO of Skuld, quickly readjusting to speech on the screen. Something that, with home quarantine regulations in Norway, it will do a lot more over the next week.
So, was it worth the travel, testing and isolation (current)?
“Absolutely,” comes the quick response. “Everyone was so positive. I think we have all been separated for so long that there is a joy to be found together again. And it’s great for business. We’ve been sitting in home offices thinking about strategy, formulating ambitions, and now when we meet, it’s time to take action – make deals and get the ball rolling. I found there was a real opportunity in every meeting, even when I wasn’t expecting it.
He smiles as he looks around his probably very familiar study walls: “It gives me hope when things finally open up again.” I think we’re going to see a wave of activity and advancement in the industry.
Skuld and Hansen are totally immersed in the fabric of maritime affairs.
The 125-year-old global marine insurance provider in 2022 occupies leading positions in traditional shipping segments – such as tankers, bulk, containers and cruises – and in emerging business areas including renewable energies and offshore aquaculture. In total, it provides products and services to nearly 10% of the global fleet and is the leading insurer of mobile offshore drilling assets.
This holistic approach creates a blend of industry expertise and holistic understanding, and it’s the latter that Hansen (who has been with the team for almost 20 years) is keen to focus on today.
With COP26 on the horizon, allied with the high-profile IMO goals and the US administration’s climate re-engagement, he says pressure is increasing on the shipping industry to translate words into tangible ocean action, and wants that Skuld be seen as a preferred partner and facilitator here.
But, he admits, owners and operators face tough choices.
Navigate in uncertainty
“The big question is obviously the fuel,” notes Hansen. “What alternative fuels and propulsion solutions will help the maritime industry meet its climate goals?” There is a huge amount of uncertainty here and the decision making is difficult – no one wants to make a 25 year investment in bad technology – so I think we will see a lull in new construction projects as some players will adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach.
“It’s understandable, but unfortunate, when what we need is progress.”
To facilitate this, Skuld has invested in growing its technical management department, recruiting its own specialists and working in conjunction with external industry experts to keep up with the latest developments and assess future trends. In doing so, says Hansen, the marine insurer can view the innovation landscape from a risk perspective, advising clients on how to prevent potential future losses from yet unproven technology.
In addition, and above all, it can be associated with R&D initiatives.
Risk and reward
“Research and pilot projects are essential to enable the green shift that we need and that regulators will demand,” he comments. “Thus, we welcome homeowners who are ready to be daring, to take risks and to invest to test new solutions, whether they are hydrogen, ammonia, electric propulsion, bi-fuel solutions or high efficiency self-contained vessels. At Skuld, we want to share this risk, be part of the innovation community.
The finding that insurance companies take risks seems a bit, well, contradictory, and makes Hansen smile again.
“I see that, yes,” he replies. “But if a technology has no track record, no operational evidence, and no claims history, delivering specialized and personalized insurance products is a huge challenge. However, if we get involved in the testing phases, then we can know the risks up front, build our knowledge as the technology matures, and establish a leadership position.
“That’s why we now do so many pilot and test initiatives: we help our customers, but we also help ourselves stay at the forefront of change. “
Although reluctant to go into details, Hansen says Skuld is “involved and insuring” a wide range of initiatives, mentioning batteries (the company is the only marine insurance company to be a member of the Maritime Battery Forum), l ammonia and hydrogen. Autonomy is also a key area of interest, and here he refers to a project that has already garnered a lot of attention in Norway, with waves of awareness around the world – ASKO’s autonomous barges.
These fully electric and autonomous ro-ro ships (two initially) will allow the country’s largest grocery wholesaler and the leading distributor of food and fast food products to take the trucks off the road. With a capacity of 16 trailers each, the 66m-long ships will silently transport goods from one side of the Oslo Fjord to the other, saving around 2 million truck kilometers per year each and 5,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. The ships are expected to be delivered by the Indian shipyard in Cochin in 2022.
“ASKO is a real trailblazer here,” says Hansen, “and we want to help them successfully navigate this new risk landscape. This is an incredibly bold initiative and, in our opinion, it will be a historic project for the entire shipping industry. The opportunity to learn here is immense and we are honored to be on board.
The power of the people
But Skuld, emphasizes its CEO, does not enter into such partnerships lightly. Hansen stresses that complex projects, with innovative technology and huge sums of money – and therefore liability risks – require an understanding that extends beyond technique. Returning to these meetings in Greece, he recalled the importance of the “human factor”.
“Building strong, long-term relationships is essential,” he explains. “You are insuring high risk and high cost, so you need to know yourself well and trust each other’s competence… but also understand that you can really push and challenge each other. If you can’t do it in such revolutionary projects, you won’t get the best results.
“No matter how technologically advanced the shipping industry is,” says Hansen, “it’s always about people. And that’s why the meeting is so important!
Face to face with opportunity
Hansen is focusing on Nor-Shipping in January 2022 as a key opportunity to re-engage, face to face with an industry community he has sorely missed.
“This will be the first large-scale post-pandemic event focused on the entire ocean space with a physical presence,” he notes, “so there will be key decision makers and contacts brought together from all over the world. After the amount of digital video meetings this year, imagine the electricity and energy when everyone gets together. Imagine the deals that can be made, the partnerships formed and the progress made. The theme for this Nor-Shipping is #ACTION, and I think it will be very appropriate. “
Hansen describes Nor-Shipping as an ‘innovation arena’, an arena where stakeholders can connect with the latest developments in the industry, share knowledge and identify how existing approaches can evolve to exploit new opportunities. .
It is also, he concludes, the ideal place to party:
“We are 125 next year, so the timing is perfect. I hope to see as many old and new friends as possible, enjoy a sense of community again and, ”notes Hansen with a last smile,“ not having to quarantine after doing so!
Nor-Shipping 2022 will take place January 10-13 at various locations in Oslo and Lillestr Lillem, Norway. For more details, please visit www.nor-shipping.com