Heavylift / Breakbulk
Fulfil the trust placed
Is a boom set to rise from the crisis? Prudence is essential, Christophe Grammare, AAL Shipping’s commercial director, told Christian Doepgen, for shippers expect regularity and dependability. AAL is developing liner services to fulfil the trust placed in the carrier.
How is your sector faring, Mr Grammare?
Our sector has already experienced several waves of consolidation so far, compared to other shipping segments, and only a few carriers have survived the recent prolonged recession without cutbacks or consolidation.
On the back of a tentative market recovery, following a decade or more of challenges, AAL Shipping is now embarking on a strategy that will expand our services in focus trade routes, to meet growing demand. AAL’s customers and vendors know our 26-year history well.
How will you manage to prevail against your competitors?
In a post Covid-19 world, cautious shippers demand regularity and dependability before they entrust you with their cargo. Carriers need to commit and establish themselves first, before engaging the market with ambitious claims.
Our ‘trust first, cargo second’ strategy has become the cornerstone of our business development – not just in the short to medium term, but for the long haul. AAL built its ‘Europe–Middle East–Asia Liner Service’ on this principle. Initially, we traded with tramp sailings on this route, and carefully built our reputation with steel, bulk and project cargo shippers along the trade over time, until the volumes were there to justify marketing ourselves as a scheduled liner service.
What preconditions are necessary for success in this field?
To successfully run a liner service, a commercial team has to be able to deal with the disparate needs of a variety of cargo shippers. You also need a chartering, engineering and operations team that can design and plan each sailing to maximise space and cost efficiency, and that can safely accommodate bulk, general cargo and heavylift project freight together. Above all, you need the hardware – multipurpose heavylift vessels that can load and accommodate any type of cargo, and all at the same time.
Such a strategy calls for early cost and resource investment, and it takes time before you can glean the benefits. On the other hand, this slow-burning approach enables you to build credibility, so that when announcements are made, the market is more willing to support you. We’re using the same strategy in other trade lanes and are now developing the Asia–Americas, Asia–Europe and Atlantic trades in this way.
What’s changed, in comparison?
When the global economy was booming and the multipurpose fleet was expanding rapidly in the years to 2008, the buzzword for major carriers was ‘globality’. The rationale was that casting your net wide enough and having the right vessel in position was enough.
Now we’re carefully enhancing AAL’s network and fleet. We recently acquired two 25,800 dwt, G class vessels – the AAL Genoa and the AAL Galveston, and also secured their sister vessels AAL Gladstone and AAL Gibraltar. This vessel class is the perfect fit for our service portfolio and fleet profile.
What about digitalisation?
As far as new technology is concerned, our customers demand a very high level of service, which we can only deliver through significant investment, to ensure our teams on land and sea receive the support they need.
Now AAL has harnessed a ground-breaking digital sailings efficiency and safety service, called the ‘per- formance-optimisation control room’ (POCR). It was designed and is operated by Columbia Shipmanagement, to improve navigational, operational and commercial vessel performance and deliver safer and more profitable sailings.
What is the POCR’s operational impact?
Centralising operations enables us to better deal with fast-changing scenarios and potentially hazardous developments as they happen. The service is available 24 / 7 / 365 through a digital dashboard.
This online technology allows us to provide vessel support for disaster avoidance, maintenance (including preventative maintenance by applying new sensor and camera technology), and contractual compliance. Weather and sea monitoring software enhances routing and sailing conditions, avoiding rolling and adverse vessel motions. These factors improve crew welfare and enhance vessel and cargo safety.
What has Covid-19 changed for AAL?
The every-day pressure of handling precious cargo and dealing with tight schedules and voyage instructions has been greatly exacerbated by the outbreak of Covid-19. The POCR enables us to priori- tise the safety of our front-line workers and the performance of our vessels.