Celebrating 40 years of Stena Bulk – looking back, looking forward
November 2022

By Erik Hånell, President & CEO of Stena Bulk
November 2022

This year, we celebrate the wonderful milestone of Stena Bulk’s 40th anniversary. It has been a long journey from our first vessels – which were six second-hand tankers bought opportunistically during a downturn for the tanker market – to today’s fleet of 64 tankers of all types, shapes and sizes, totalling more than 3 million dwt.

The Stena Bulk of 1982 had just a handful of employees from a small operation in Gothenburg. Today’s Stena Bulk incorporates a team of 95 shore-based employees and 300 onboard employees, across six countries.

In reflecting on the last 40 years, we could tell hundreds of stories. We will all commemorate this milestone in our own ways – including in person in London in December for our celebratory event – but I wanted to reflect on some of the factors that I believe have enabled us to be successful and will continue to enable us in the future.

Stena Bulk’s early history

Shipping is a cyclical market, and volatility in the tanker space – combined with a robust competitive landscape in the 1980s – made it a challenging market for Stena Bulk to break into. At the beginning of the 1980s, oil companies owned 30% of the large tanker fleet. By 1985, 20 shipping companies owned half of the 400 large tankers in service.

Much like today, Stena Bulk was established during a period of anaemic economic growth in the West.

Alongside Concordia Maritime, we challenged the competition by doing in many respects, what we continue to do today – offering quality ships efficiently operated and operated by experienced crews.

Much of this is facilitated by our deep ties to Northern Marine Group, another part of the Stena Sphere. Northern Marine provides us with the critical technical, personnel and administrative knowledge we need to be able to run an effective and profitable operation. Their pool of seafarers works in collaboration with experienced shore-based managerial personnel to be one of the differentiating and underpinning factors for Stena Bulk and how we deliver excellence for our customers. 

We have always tried to be close to our customers, understanding their needs and exceeding expectations. It has often meant we have had to undertake a tricky balancing act between being good and the cost of being good – but that’s a balance that we are confident that we can continue justifying to our customers.

Strategic focus areas

Our strategic focus has always relied upon providing holistic transport solutions, covering all bases for customers to be the provider of the mark for transporting their cargo.

Our highest priority is protecting the health and safety of the crew, shoreside employees, assets and cargo; we believe this is a key commercial differentiator. Safety is a key priority, but it does not come at the expense of providing the market with a customer-centric and economical means of product transport. In fact, we have always believed that these two factors are intrinsically linked.

We have always communicated widely about our focus on sustainability excellence. We were early movers on sustainability because we have always expected that the market will align business strategies with broader decarbonisation goals.

Ultimately, this focus on excellence across everything we do has dual reasoning: it is about being progressive and ‘doing the right thing’, and also realising that ‘doing the right thing’ is intrinsically aligned with a customer-centric approach to market.

Pushing the boat out with advanced vessel designs

Our mantra has always been to provide safe and cost-efficient transport of crude oil and refined petroleum at sea. Very early on, we realised that it was critical that we had vessels that existed at the intersection where size, dimension, and quality meet customer requirements. Average vessel designs with standard safety measures are therefore out of the question.

Instead, we design and build our own vessels in cooperation with Stena Teknik – Stena Group’s in-house technical department and a massive competitive differentiator. They support us across both newbuild and retrofit projects, as well as provide general marine technical advice and carry out research and development.

We want our vessels to remain both modern and competitive for decades, and some of our most lasting designs have stood the test of time.

For example, our when we launch our IMOIIMAX vessels, will become an important step in efforts to pursue both sustainability and flexibility alongside commerciality. 

Meanwhile, more recently, our InfinityMAX hybrid bulk carrier design, pushes the boundaries for zero carbon, multi-modal vessel design in shipping. The InfinityMAX concept, which is designed to carry both dry and wet cargoes in modular compartments, is built with several new core principles that, accumulatively, represent a paradigm shift in cargo transportation.

The ultra-flexible, zero emissions design has been created in response to the huge challenges that the global shipping industry must overcome in the coming decades.

The design envisions a world in which the shipping industry plays a crucial role in supplying the world with renewable energy, chemicals, materials, and consumables for its never-ending needs. It is our vision for the future of not just Stena Bulk, but the tanker segment as a whole.

Joint ventures for shared commercial success

Another trend that has defined Stena Bulk’s approach for years is that we have often created joint ventures for shared commercial success where it is sensible and pragmatic to do so. Indeed, it has been one of the defining strategies we have pursued during the last decade.

Amongst others, our joint venture with Sonangol, the Angolan public sector energy company - the Stena Sonangol Suezmax Pool – spreads risk on the spot market and directly supports the movement of crude and other products to areas where they are needed the most.

Meanwhile, Golden Stena Baycrest, our joint venture with Golden Agri-Stena and Bay Crest Management was set up just a few years ago to operate and manage chemical tankers.

Finally, I want to mention our recent joint venture with methanol producers Proman – Proman Stena Bulk – which is seeing us already operate some of the world’s most cutting-edge methanol tankers. We’re truly proud to be at the cutting edge of future fuel use in the operation and are excited for where our fleet of six methanol tankers will take us. 

Personal reflections

Finally, and diverting briefly to a more personal note, Stena Bulk has defined the last 23 years of my career, and I am proud to lead our wonderful and committed team.

In writing this piece, I relied heavily on the book we published in 2012 to celebrate Stena Bulk’s 30th anniversary. What’s clear to me – and has been clear for the last more than two decades I have spent working with Stena Bulk – is that we operate today with the same family spirit that Stena Bulk was founded on.

I speak for the whole team when I say that we are ready to continue serving our customers to the level they have become accustomed to for forty more years, and beyond.