Mr. Ragnar Johansson
First of all Ragnar, tell our readers a little about your career in shipping leading up to your current position. Why did you enter into a shipping career originally?
I went to sea at the age of 17 and was sailing around for 18 years, mainly in general cargo vessels, container vessels, tankers, and ferries. During that time, I studied to be a Master Mariner and worked as second and chief officer during the last 10 years.
When I met my wife in the mid-eighties, I put one foot ashore and went to Stena Line. During those years as an officer, there was a lot of free time that I spent studying for a masters degree in shipping economics.
All of a sudden, Stena lifted me ashore to work with the HSS project–the Concord project of the ferry industry. It was a very exciting time!
I then followed different positions within Stena Line, first as Port and Terminals Manager, then Route Director for The Sweden-Poland traffic, and finally Route Director for Gothenburg-Germany. In total, I spent 20 years in the company.
In 2008, I got a call from Swedish Orient Line (SOL), an old shipping company established in 1911. Stora Enso was about to outsource their liner shipping activities to SOL and they needed a Managing Director for that SPP company.
At the time, I was done with passengers, restaurants and bars, so I accepted. In 2014, I was promoted to CEO for the SOL Group of companies. During that time, I learned a lot about the forest industry and their logistical challenges.
One obvious finding was that it could be done much more efficiently. The Swedish and Finnish forest industry had traditionally operated their own vessels, mostly on long-time charters and smaller old vessels.
Our idea was to bundle the volume from several producers into one system and offer the customers a cheaper, more reliable transport with less risk. Instead of taking full risk on their T/C vessels, they would be a customer among others in an open liner system, tailor-made for them, but with the ability to attract other customers from other segments to share the risk. That idea was obviously tasty, so together with Wallenius Lines SOL, we founded WALLENIUS SOL in April 2019 and ordered two mega RoRo´s in China.
Before that, we had signed long term contracts with several forest industry companies. I acted as CEO for both SOL and WALLENIUS SOL for two years. Last year, I left SOL to focus 100% on WALLENIUS SOL.
Wallenius is a well-known, shall we say car carrier name, but Wallenius-SOL: what can you tell our readers about this entity? Is it a separate company? What are the main trade routes, and do you accept cargo inquiries from anyone?
WALLENIUS SOL is a 50/50 joint venture between Wallenius Lines and Swedish Orient Line. It is a perfect partnership. Both companies are privately owned, well-established, and have a long shipping history. There are no major overlaps in competence but instead, core competences in each company that complete each other. One of the most important things is that both owners share the same passion to reach sustainability towards the planet.
We are a separate company that should stand on its own two feet. The vision we formulated when the company was established was “to create a sustainable infrastructure at sea for the industry around the Bay of Bothnia”. That is what we are delivering right now. It is an open liner system for anyone that has the need of our route network. We operate from the far north in the Baltic to Travemünde/Lübeck, Zeebrugge, Antwerp and Tilbury.
Since last summer, we operate five vessels in this trade of which two are new buildings: the Baltic and Botnia Enabler. They are the world’s biggest ice classed RoRo´s, built to the highest environmental standard.
High and heavy cargo was originally shipped by breakbulk vessels. However in recent years, both container carriers and also RoRo carriers have started to show great interest in static, so-called ‘project cargo’. Tell us about your experience in this field and why you believe that RoRo is a good solution for it?
RoRo in a liner service is a perfect solution if the vessels are suitable. A liner service means that the vessels are running on a schedule. The customer knows the exact departure and arrival times and can plan accordingly.
Our RoRo´s are very suited for project cargo, especially the Enablers. They have a clear height of 7.2 meters on the main deck and lower hold. The SWL on the stern ramp is 300 tons and the deck strength on the main deck is 4 t/sqm. The aft part of the main deck is reinforced and can carry a bogie load of 80 tons. And we have lifted many huge objects by crane to the weather deck. So yes, our vessels are very suited for project cargoes.
Given that Wallenius is a global RoRo carrier, are you able to combine shipments arriving from, say, Asia to the North of Sweden “unbroken” and on the same MAFI trailer all the way from Asia to final destination?
Yes, we can…and do. As both companies call at the same port basin in Antwerp, we at Europort and Wallenius Willemsen at ICO, it is easy to do transshipments, and we do them regularly.
Are Wallenius-SOL freight forwarder-friendly? Given that some shipowners now want to be the jacks-of-all-trades doing it all…?
We most definitely are! At an early stage, we decided not to compete with our customer, meaning we are a port-to-port operator, and that’s it. If a customer wants help with a door-to-door transport, we can always direct them to a forwarder to help out.
Tell us about your route for Wallenius-SOL and your frequency of sailings. Whom should people contact for inquiries in Scandinavia specifically and then the continent in general?
We have weekly sailings from Benelux, two from Zeebrugge and one from Antwerp and Tilbury, all to the north Baltic. From Travemünde/Lübeck there is one northbound sailing and two to UK and Benelux.
All contact information to our sales teams is easy to find in our website Ports & Agents section (www.wallenius-sol.com: please use the menu or scroll down to the bottom of our home page)
Can you see that business is picking up or is it slacking off? What is your opinion of the market now if you look at your crystal ball?
When it comes to project cargo, we see a positive development. The main reason is probably all the vast industry investments in the north. Parallel to the industry investments, new windmill parks will be erected.
What we see now is only the start of project cargoes flowing into north Sweden and Finland.
Would you be able to accept the odd passenger on your SOL route?
Yes we are. We have the capacity of twelve passengers per ship. We often have drivers for oversized units onboard.
How is it best for our readers to get in touch with you?
Again, you will find all the contact details for myself and our entire staff on our website www.wallenius-sol.com