Lars Nielsen is Baseblue's CEO, based in Greece. Image Credit: Baseblue
Newly merged marine fuels firm Baseblue is seeking to combine digitalisation and strong after-sales service as its unique selling point.
Last month BMS United, Bunkernet and SBI Bunkering BV announced they were merging into a new brand under the Bunker Holding umbrella, Baseblue. The firm covers a combined total of about 5 million mt/year of bunker sales, with a total staff of more than 80.
In an interview with Ship & Bunker CEO Lars Nielsen, Key Account Director Nicholas Argyrou and North Europe Managing Director Dave Gregory set out their aims for the new brand.
"SBI joined the group some months back, but we didn't make any announcement because we knew that we were going to merge into Baseblue; too many announcements with too short an interval between them makes people confused," Nielsen said of the combined entity's inception.
"We have known each other for a long time and been working together occasionally, whenever it made sense.
"There has been some kind of relationship, which has now been cemented."
Decline of the Spot Trading Model
The new company will in part seek to move on from the conventional spot model of trading marine fuels, Nielsen explained.
"We believe that the traditional spot trading model -- which of course we've always had, and will continue to have -- we do not think that it is really what the future is all about.
"We believe that the future is about consolidation and building close partnerships with some of our good clients."
We believe that the future is about consolidation and building close partnerships.
Consultant Adrian Tolson has recently argued along similar lines, using the term 'decommoditisation' to describe the process of the underlining commodity becoming less important in the pricing of bunker contracts, in favour of quality and reliability of service.
"We believe that we have a concept which is a combination of very good human post-fixture service, and applications for bunker management tools and emissions," Nielsen said.
"We have all of those in one package; we have a really great service that we think nobody else has right now.
"It is a premium service, but we believe it's a premium that's well worth paying, because I believe people get a lot more for it.
"First and foremost, it's peace of mind."
Nicholas Argyrou (centre-right) is Baseblue's key accounts director, and Dave Gregory (centre) is managing director of physical supply unit Baseblue North Europe. Image Credit: Baseblue
Nicholas Argyrou explained the role technology would play in the company's offering.
"The way that we see things is that the advent of data streaming and digitalisation has allowed us to have better access to information coming from the ships.
"We are taking a position every time that we sell bunkers to our customers, we are the counterparty that's responsible.
"And because we are responsible, it can't just be a simple transactional execution, it needs to be an end-to-end value-adding service that we're providing.
"Only technology can allow us to follow the molecules end-to-end and to give our customers a better experience when they are bunkering with us."
Only technology can allow us to follow the molecules end-to-end and to give our customers a better experience when they are bunkering with us.
The firm aims to bring its technological expertise into every stage of the bunkering process, Argyrou added.
"That will include everything from helping the operators plan their voyage, to looking at prices around the ports that they are considering, and in addition to that, us being able to be proactive with a certificate of quality before we actually supply the bunkers," he said.
"And then when we are on board with our appointed surveyor, we're able to take control of the delivery together with the crew, and help the crew have better communication with the supplier.
"When we finish the supply, we're able to look at the bunker survey reports after the delivery and look at the quality of product that we have delivered in each case."
"So what we're trying to do is have our traders more embedded together with the operators of each vessel to better appreciate what they need in each case, and to give them this type of service.
"We're moving away from a spot, transactional trading model to a more holistic end-to-end value chain type of solution."
At the physical supply end of the equation, Dave Gregory argued this application of technology would bring added value to his customers.
"I thought we were pretty competent at what we do up in Northwest Europe [at SBI], and we have some tremendous relationships with our clients; then I started to experience the kit that Nicholas and Lars are using, and this is something else," he said.
"It brings a lot more usability to the process, and a lot more end-to-end accountability.
"For me to join with my portfolio is nothing but added value for me, and for my clients as well."
Traders as More Than 'A Necessary Evil'
By focusing more on after-sales service, bunker trading firms can add to what the market sees as their function in the supply chain, Nielsen said.
"Everyone likes to think traditionally about bunker traders as a necessary evil, but we don't think at all that's the case," he said.
"We want to provide something better, at a cost.
"And better there also means, with the inevitable elephant in the room of an occasional bad claim, we are more likely to not stick by the book in solving a claim.
With the inevitable elephant in the room of an occasional bad claim, we are more likely to not stick by the book in solving a claim.
"When we have these partnerships with the clients, because it will be big clients with a lot of volume, if we cannot get compensation that's adequate from the supplier, then we will certainly look at making sure that the client gets that and is happy.
"Some of our clients right now, they joined us exclusively because we started solving claims with them, and they said in the past, they never got anywhere with other claims and they just ended up paying."
Where Baseblue will stand out in its digital offering will be in combining it with the human element of customer service, Argyrou added.
"I think there's lots of platforms out there that are quite self-standing, self-populating and very mechanical or digital," he said.
"What we're saying is, of course the data needs to be used within a digital ecosystem, but the people need to understand shipping, the ports, the agents, they need to be talking to the operators, having human contact with somebody.
"You really need that human element to know that, yes, it's been done, the work has been ticked off and deliveries are moving as scheduled.
"We're using technology to aid us, but we've maintained the human element that is so necessary in shipping."
Decarbonisation will also be an area in which Baseblue seeks to make its mark.
At its launch event the firm said it could potentially start dealing in LNG and biofuels straight away, depending on availability.
Dave Gregory said the firm would seek to offer a comprehensive view on the low-carbon fuel options for shipping.
"This is all client-driven and IMO-driven," he said.
"If you've got your eye on the molecule from the source to the end, through comprehensive testing and comprehensive management of that molecule all the way through the transition from hydrocarbons to alcohols or chemicals as a motive force, and you have a complete analysis of CO2 emissions from well to wake, then I think you've bundled a solution for transition, which I think is what's needed at the moment.
"This will take us through to 2030, 2040 and beyond, and I'm really proud to be part of this transition."
Prospects for 2023
Nielsen suggested that while there are some storm-clouds on the horizon for the bunker industry in 2023, he was confident of being able to use strong customer service to keep the firm's customers even in a potentially declining market.
Everyone's talking about a recession, and we're not seeing it maybe on the stock exchange, but when the ships aren't moving, it does mean something.
"It does look like a tough year; the bulk rates have dropped like a stone, and fewer ships seem to be moving right now," he said.
"Everyone's talking about a recession, and we're not seeing it maybe on the stock exchange, but when the ships aren't moving, it does mean something.
"On the other hand, we've been through these cycles many times in the past; I've been in shipping since 1985, so I've seen at least four or five big crises. At the end of the day, it's just a part of the business.
"That's another reason why we are going for these close partnerships with our clients.
"We are going to have some steady business going, everyone is happy and it's a fair price for everyone, and then we also don't need to kill each other with the big competitors out in the market.
"It's a fair service at a fair price, and we are having that business even during recessions and slow markets.
"We've seen this many times, even before we've developed these concepts, that due to client loyalty, we did not drop as much as many other people did during the bad times.
"We're trying to avoid these big periods of low activity. But it's a part of the business, it may come this year, we will see, but we know how to handle it."