Flinter Aland, christened on May 14th and launched at Shipyard Ferus Smit in Westerbroek, the Netherlands, is the latest addition to the Flinter fleet. The 11,000 ton multi-purpose ice-class vessel is the last of a series of five similar vessels ordered before the global recession. Carrying all kinds of dry cargo, this series of vessels is expected to be put into the Atlantic trade for Flinter.
"The idea behind the series," says Cor Romijn, commercial director with Flinter, "would be to change over the existing vessels to gradually bigger sizes, combining parcels as we did before, to take advantage of economies of scale."
Market conditions are still difficult for many European carriers. The EU economic crisis has yet to subside and many import countries, such as Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece, have severely curtailed their consumption. But Flinter, with nearly 75% of their business around the Baltic continent and the Mediterranean, is examining how to increase their focus on the trans-Atlantic trade, and Flinter Aland should help fill that role.
"She is a very simple ship," says Romijn. "We call them the trucks of the sea."
The market in certainly not what everyone expected after some hopeful signs in 2010. Flinter saw a gradual improvement through 2010, compared to 2009, and thought the new year would continue that trend. Unfortunately, after the first quarter of 2011, political and economic upheaval seems to have put the recovery on hold again.
"Libya was a big importer of building goods and that has stopped," says Romijn. "So, that reflects in our markets, especially in the short sea market."
Flinter Aland joins over 50 other vessels in the Flinter fleet of multi-purpose and container ships varying from 1,100 tons to 11,000 tons, which can carry all types of dry cargo.
But while the Mediterranean market is struggling again, the North Atlantic trade routes are showing signs of life. Starting this year, Flinter becomes the new shipping company for SCA Transforest's Rotterdam Express bi-weekly service on the Sundsvall-Rotterdam route. The agreement continues a long-time and successful existing relationship between Flinter and SCA.
"We have worked with SCA since 2000, when Flinter started to be a player in this market," says Romijn, "and we are very happy to conclude this latest contract."
For the route, Flinter will be using its 6,000 ton ships to load pulp and timber at Sundsvall and unload in Rotterdam. Specializing in icy routes in the North Sea and Baltic Sea, Flinter's vessels for the Rotterdam Express are box single deckers, built for forest products cargo. During the successful joint trial for the Rotterdam Express, Flinter used two vessels, Flinter Spirit and Flinter Eems.
Icebreakers in St. Petersburg
Attending the recent Breakbulk Europe and the TransRussia conference, Flinter is also searching for signs of improvement in other markets. With short sea and inter-European forest products shipments heavily dependent on economic development in EU countries, shipments will likely increase only when building and consumer consumption resume.
"At Breakbulk Europe, where we were an exhibitor, we heard that breakbulk shipments, especially project shipments, will start to liven up around the end of the year, beginning of 2012," says Romijn.
Other shipping companies reported a similar prediction from the Breakbulk conference, planning for freight shipments to pick up in 2012 - 2013. While that information may serve little help for the short term, it appears to hold a positive forecast for those carriers who can weather the storm just a bit longer. To help with that, Flinter has been looking at the potential in the Russian market.
With their ties in the Baltic, Flinter has a natural connection to St. Petersburg and Ust-Luga, a newer port in the Gulf of Finland. And with existing customers in Moscow, Russia may hold some good upside for Flinter and other short sea carriers. At question, however, is whether Western forestry companies will make the investment due to frustrating infrastructure problems in Russia.
"Infrastructure is the biggest hiccup in Russia," says Romijn. "We have seen it all winter with congestion in the ports due to ice."
The Port of St. Petersburg is hampered by heavy ice during most of the winter months and there are shortfalls of icebreaker assistance for vessels at dock or coming into port. When icebreakers are available, it becomes a matter of priority which vessels are helped first. Fuel tankers and the larger containers ships are usually cleared before the smaller forest products vessels.
"They are on the right track by transferring some of the business to Ust-Luga, which will take some of the pressure off of St. Petersburg," says Romijn. "There are ample opportunities from there."
In the fall, Flinter Shipping will exhibit at PPI Transport Symposium 19, again looking for more opportunities. An exhibitor in 2009 at PPI Transport Symposium 18 in Liverpool, England, Flinter was one of the earliest exhibitors to sign for this year's Amsterdam event.
"All of the ingredients are there to make it a big success," says Romijn. "There was the economic crisis situation before Liverpool, and a lot of corporate travel restrictions, so I hope Amsterdam will be quite good for us."