Columbia Group pool management company United Product Tankers (UPT) is enjoying a better bottom line from strong clean tanker rates.

But the company said pool players often face more challenges in hot markets, with client shipowners having more choices as to how to deploy their assets.

The Schoeller Holdings company is run by joint managing directors Christos Matarangas and Matthias Schoeller, who took over from Stefan Ciegelski in 2021.

Schoeller told TradeWinds: “I’d been with the company more than 10 years before that happened, so I knew all the colleagues and the structures very well.

“To me, it works well. On a personal level, we’ve always been friends. I think it’s good if you discuss how you want to proceed with things,” he added.

Matarangas has been with the company since the beginning. UPT was formed as a joint venture with German shipowner Hartmann in 2003.

But Hartmann sold the tankers it had in the venture in 2012 and then sold its shares in UPT to Schoeller.

“At the moment we’re operating around 11 tankers. We had 20 in January, but a lot of ships got sold, or our time charter expired or whatever, so we are sitting tight at the moment waiting to see how the markets will settle,” Matarangas told TradeWinds.

“Fleet size fluctuating is common at the moment. Ships can come and go very quickly in this market,” he added.

Schoeller explained that last year was the best year on record for the company, in common with many rivals.

More choice

But he added: “Pools typically benefit from weaker markets when people try to find a home. Higher markets don’t always serve that business model.

“Now obviously people have a lot of options that in softer markets they do not have,” he added.

“What happened to us happened to a lot of other pool operators as well, that some tonnage went away either for specialised trading, which is attractive to some, or obviously some owners decided to dispose of their assets because of the high asset price,” Schoeller said.

“We are also being conservative when the pricing is high in general, be it time charter rates or asset values, to not do things we believe we should not do because of the potential downside risks. The markets overall, however, are extremely positive for the bottom line,” he added.

UPT operates LR1s, MR1s and MR2s, and handysizes currently.

It also takes ships in for commercial management. Matarangas said a deal has just been agreed with an owner for another ship.

As for future plans to move into other sectors, he said: “It depends on the clients and our own shareholder’s investments.

Moving up a size?

“Our segment would be where we are and potentially in the future we can engage in LR2s and aframaxes, where we already have experience of the trading patterns,” he added.

The parent Schoeller group is already looking for more investments in MRs, he said.

Matarangas said: “Ideally we cover all product tanker markets because they are all connected with each other.

“We maintain our positive view. There are ongoing projects — they will be positive to increasing the number of vessels under management this year,” he added.

UPT has offices in Hamburg, Stamford and Limassol.

Six months ago, it struck a cooperation deal with Lomar Shipping.

The Greek owner contributed its 38,000-dwt handysize ships CB Adriatic (built 2019) and CB Caribic (built 2020) to help modernise the fleet.