Mr. Lars Hardeland
• Group Operations Director – Shipping •
GAC has become a versatile and global group. I believe many of our readers would like to know about the history of the company and its current ownership. There are a lot of Scandinavians (Swedes) in the top management. Was it started by Swedish nationals originally?
GAC’s origins go back to the 1950s as Nyman & Schultz (N&S), a Stockholm-based firm that had been in the shipping and forwarding business for over 100 years. By the mid-fifties, N&S was Sweden’s leading shipping, forwarding, and travel agency. At the helm was Bengt Lindwall.
In the early 1950s, the Gulf countries were in the first stages of building their infrastructure, and Kuwait was importing bagged cement from Sweden. As there were no infrastructure networks or major commercial ports, two Kuwaiti businessmen went to Sweden to look for a good shipping agent. They approached Bengt who visited Kuwait and sealed a deal with local partners, establishing a ship agency business in 1956 – the first Gulf Agency Company (GAC), as it was known then. Kuwait’s Shipping License “No.1” is proudly displayed at GAC Kuwait’s office in Farwaniya today.
Over the next decade, more offices opened throughout the Middle East as the oil, shipping and logistics businesses there grew. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, more GAC companies were established in the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa, Asia Pacific and the Indian Subcontinent. Further expansions in Europe, the Americas, Central Asia and Australia followed in the 1990s and 2000s.
Today, GAC Group is one of the world’s largest integrated providers of shipping, logistics and marine services, wedding the seafaring heritage and straightforward business customs of Scandinavia to the Gulf’s traditions of hospitality and strong personal ties. We continue to expand our geographical footprint to meet customers’ needs and differentiate ourselves through our offerings. We strive to deliver both tangible benefits such as our suite of primary and secondary services performed by experienced and competent staff and partners, as well as intangible benefits such as our long-lasting commitment, long-term vision, accelerated digitalisation efforts and focus on compliance, quality and HSSE – all of which are key enablers of value creation.
As a privately-owned group, our business is led by a Group Management which comprises a mix of individuals from different nationalities who bring with them valuable experience, insights and integrity. They draw on years of accumulated lessons learned in the diverse sectors and disciplines to continue the GAC legacy into the 21st century and beyond.
Sustainable and green are buzzwords nowadays. Hardly a day goes by without hearing them in some context. How does GAC develop their green profile when it comes to shipping business?
As businesses worldwide adapt to meet the International Maritime Organisation’s goal of halving the sector’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, GAC is using its position as a global ship agent and logistics services provider to support its customers’ efforts to decarbonise and operate more sustainably while also following our own sustainability strategy.
GAC’s sustainability journey
GAC wants to do well and do good wherever we can to make the world better, safer, cleaner and greener. That philosophy is at the heart of our commitment to sustainability and reflected in the GAC Spirit as well as the Group Ethics, Compliance and HSSE policies.
To guide our operations, we have developed the ‘Roadmap to Sustainability’ which outlines the Group’s commitment to adapt, innovate and reduce in our activities as well as engage stakeholders to create non-destructive, long-term value towards a sustainable future. Our sustainability goals are aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in three main areas: economic, environmental and social, including a commitment to a Net Zero Carbon future by 2050.
GAC is a member of the Global Maritime Forum’s ‘Getting To Zero’ Coalition, an alliance comprising over 140 companies from various sectors working to accelerate the decarbonisation of shipping by developing and deploying zero-emission vessels by 2030. We are the ship agency and logistics partner for the OneOcean project, a collective of marine organisations seeking to influence ocean protection through aligned, impactful communication.
Our local offices partner with regional/local environmental initiatives such as the Norwegian hydrogen energy project HyValue initiative to accelerate decarbonisation. Some of our companies (GAC Belgium, Greece, Netherlands and the UK) are part of the International Association of Ports and Harbor’s Green Award (GA) Foundation which provides discounted agency fees for GA-certified ships. Our employees regularly participate in environmental and social projects and schemes, from tree planning through to sea waste collection.
Supporting industry efforts
Our 24/7 operations are backed by staff with in-depth local expertise and excellent relations with port authorities for fast and efficient vessel turnaround. Together with our suite of integrated shipping services, we keep vessels around the world running smoothly at optimal levels, providing customers with efficiency, time and cost savings – all of which are key enablers of sustainability.
Last year, we soft-launched our Pegasus customer portal to provide selected international customers with real-time information about port infrastructure, services available, accidents, delays and turnaround times, enabling them to predict port congestion, make informed voyage decisions and reduce fuel consumption.
GAC offers cleaner and alternative fuels to our customers through GAC Bunker Fuels, and eco-friendly Remotely Operated Vehicle hull cleaning solution through our partnership with HullWiper.
Would you say that GAC is a project freight forwarder, a liner agency, a shipping agency or “all of the above”? If you have experience in project freight forwarding, do you also handle and have experience in moving “renewable project cargoes” around the world? Can you elaborate on this and provide our readers with some examples?
We are seeing an increase in offshore renewable energy projects all around the world – a trend that is reflective of the market’s energy transition as countries seek to increase their energy security and become less reliant on oil & gas – imported or otherwise.
Having been involved in offshore development projects including oil & gas activities for decades, GAC has been adapting this experience and expertise to offshore renewables projects which require similar support.
All projects generally require a host of services and assets, from agency, husbandry, bunkering to vessels through to multi-modal freight, warehousing, anchor handling and more. And as a single-source provider of integrated solutions spanning shipping, logistics and marine, GAC is uniquely positioned to provide customised services to meet clients’ needs. This is what differentiates us.
In the UK, we have already established ourselves as a provider of key services for vessels involved in geophysical surveys and the installation of wind turbines, substations, jackets and suction anchors. The expertise gained there is being transferred and applied to other offshore wind projects in the North Sea and Northern Europe, as well as other parts of the world. An example of our expansion to better support customers is the establishment of our new office in Taichung, Taiwan in November 2022 as the country seeks to become a leading provider of offshore wind power in the region.
Our presence in major global hubs, coupled with our ability to bring in experts to service locations requiring additional manpower, means that we can potentially support developments worldwide. At a time when the offshore support sector is facing spiralling costs and growing demand, our role as an integrated services provider is even more important as we work together towards transforming the energy market.
Where do you have fully owned offices currently? What is your headcount?
GAC is one of the largest integrated providers of shipping, logistics and marine services, employing over 7,500 professionals, operating 300 offices in more than 50 countries, and working with trusted partners to cover over 1,000 locations worldwide.
We have offices around the world, from Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific and the Indian-subcontinent, Europe to the Middle East where we have developed our business most strongly and are headquartered at.
Which market worldwide do you specifically focus on currently and for 2023? Looking into your crystal ball, how do you believe business will develop overall in shipping post-Covid?
As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, we are observing the volume of commodities shipped worldwide returning to pre-COVID levels. In the general shipping market, Asia has been the area of growth. We have seen big movements in Asia’s wet bulk and tankers where GAC is predominantly strong, especially since flying has resumed and this transportation mode requires oil & gas. Similarly, the outlook of the dry cargo market – one of our key focus areas and where we are seeing good progress especially in Asia – looks positive as infrastructure and construction development projects continue globally despite crises and economic downturns.
We are also seeing a growth in LNG in the Americas, where we have been considerably successful in growing our market there and have set up offices near terminals to support our customers. Continued steady growth is expected. That said, we will likely see the trickling impact of energy prices, inflation and interest rates in the coming months ahead.
On the logistics side, we’re focusing on certain verticals in alignment with our shipping business such as marine spares, oil & gas and renewables. The Middle East remains our strongest region and we are seeing further investments made into oil & gas projects; followed by Europe which is accelerating its energy transition; Southeast Asia which is and will continue to be the world’s biggest market for renewable energy investment; the Americas where we anticipate longer-term renewables opportunities in Houston and emerging markets like Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, and Brazil; and South Africa. We also hope to secure renewables projects in the Gulf of Mexico.
Decarbonisation is going to be the primary focus of all supply chains in the immediate future, not just in shipping. Our job as a service provider is to support this inevitable push. However, that doesn’t mean existing fossil fuel projects will disappear.
While most energy will come from renewables by 2050, the volume of oil & gas required to meet growing demand for energy will remain at similar levels, especially as carbon capture technologies are developed to reduce carbon emissions. To retain production – which will not increase in the same way as it did in the past – we will still need substantial investment to replenish what we are taking out of the ground. And as a leading integrated services provider, GAC is actively engaged in supporting industry’s efforts to meet current and future energy demands.
Amid all the market changes, a constant remains: we believe in the concept of maximising the value that customers derive from working with us through our flexible and diverse suite of offerings. This means that when customers invest in GAC, they receive returns that far exceed what they paid for. We are enhancing our operational platform that consolidates useful information such as a statement of facts, cost items, tariffs and port data to simplify our customers’ work. Coupled with our reach, experience, commitment, dedication to drive performance and focus on compliance, quality and HSSE, customers can rely on us to get things done in an efficient and transparent manner.
To know more about GAC and to get a quote or more information, with whom should our readers speak if they are located in Europe, Africa or the Middle East?