MMSL, the shipowning arm of Japanese trading house Marubeni Corp, says streamlining its fleet under one dedicated ship manager through a joint venture with Fleet Management has allowed it to improve its capabilities as a shipowner as it transitions from being a tonnage provider to an operator.

MaruFleet, launched in July 2022, consolidated under one roof 30 MMSL-owned bulkers that had been spread across several third-party ship managers. An additional 10 MMSL-owned ships remain under Japanese management.

According to managing director Endo Tomohiro, MMSL has transitioned from being a tonnage provider to a vessel operator, and having one manager dedicated specifically to its ships allows it to raise standards and improve safety standards and environmental and regulatory compliance.

While MMSL has traditionally ordered ships against long-term time charters of five years or more, instead of following the trend of other Japanese tonnage providers and selling its ships at the end of the charter, it continues to operate them on a mix of short-term charters or voyage charters, as well as deploying them in pools.

General manager Arvind Singh notes that MaruFleet can tap into the extensive experience, accumulated knowledge, fleet systems and technology of one of the world’s largest ship managers.

“The joint venture provides a cost-effective solution that is good for both parties. With the new technology that is emerging and the move towards decarbonisation, we have to prepare for both in terms of cost and crew training,” he said.

Tomohiro said the ability to tap Fleet’s expertise is especially important for MMSL’s decarbonisation journey: “MMSL will consider LNG and other new fuel engines, so we will need Fleet’s support — they have the experience.”

MMSL will also add suction sails on kamsarmax bulkers starting in 2024.

Fleet Management has 20 dual-fuel vessels under its management, including 17 using LNG, two running on methanol and one on LPG. More newbuildings are on the way, and the company is supervising the construction of methanol dual-fuel ships.

Tomohiro and Singh described the MaruFleet joint venture as a success, and said the goal of raising the quality of the technical management of MMSL’s vessels has been accomplished.

“Charterers, shippers and insurance companies evaluate our performance as very good,” said Tomohiro.

Singh added that Fleet and MMSL had worked closely for more than a decade, which made it easy to find common ground when setting up MaruFleet.

“We focus on the common goal of quality ship management and not on the differences,” he said.