Columbia Group chief executive Mark O’Neil is doubtful there exists much scope for further major ship management mergers.

Last month, a new super-power in the sector was formed by the combination of private equity-backed OSM Maritime with Singapore’s Thome Ship Management, creating a fleet of more than 1,000 ships under third-party management.

“What is interesting now is the polarisation in the business between those ship managers that are essentially fund-backed or owned, and those large managers that are family-owned,” O’Neil told TradeWinds.

“What will be interesting is how that plays out, where obviously each has very different objectives and focuses and demand from the shareholders. You will get two very different service providers coming out of this.”

Rather than further consolidation, O’Neil foresees “changes in the fund ownership of certain of these [companies], which will also have ripple effects”.

“But I don’t necessarily see what other ship managers could merge,” he said. “We’ve got some super-big ones already and the family businesses want to stay family businesses.”

Columbia itself is owned by founder Heinrich Schoeller’s Schoeller Holdings.

In 2022, five years after agreeing to pool forces to create a third-party management giant, Columbia and Marlow Navigation shed the last vestiges of their own merger that never got off the ground.

The two Cyprus-based companies “completed securing regulatory approval” for their demerger, Marlow said in a statement.

Schoeller and Marlow counterpart Hermann Eden had agreed to each take a 50% stake in the joint company.

“I think both sides got a lot out of that merger, ironically,” O ’Neil said. “Both companies came out extremely strong and probably learned a lot about themselves in that process.

“Both are terrific companies, so I’ve only got respect for our ex-Marlow partners, both for the way we went into and came out of that partnership.”