Expanding the already comprehensive network of ports, leveraging group technical expertise, while at the same time further developing its already outstanding customer service, are among the key objectives for newly appointed Gulf Oil Marine Chief Executive Officer Keith Mullin.
Since the highly competent former qualified chief engineer and senior executive joined Gulf Oil Marine took over from previous incumbent Caroline Huot back in July this year, he has pursued a punishing international travel schedule visiting the four corners of the globe in an effort to build on the already successful proposition that is Gulf Oil Marine (part of the Sealub Alliance). “We have a very good base with very good customers,” he says, “and we want to support, maintain and grow our customer base even further.” Mr Mullin explains that the company has already recruited additional experienced sales staff and plans to strengthen existing markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore, whilst also focusing on “doing things better and smarter than they’ve been done before”.
Pointing out the achievements of Gulf Oil Marine and the Sealub Alliance since its inception, Mr Mullin says: “To go from zero to 840 ports I would have thought to be impossible. No one in the industry has such a global presence. The business model we started 18 months ago is proving to be both stable and resilient but that does not mean that there will not be some changes.” Mr Mullin, who was a sea-going chief engineer for 10 years, says: “The hard work has been done in many aspects. The challenge now is one of sustaining and becoming the leading player in global bulk marine lubricants.”
Considering the Climate
However he is also mindful of the current market conditions, as rising oil costs take their toll on both shipping and lubricants companies and the raft of new buildings to be delivered over the next three years threatens to depress charter rates. “The market is difficult because customers are finding it tough and consequently we’re finding it tough and the challenge for the technical guys is how we can still deliver service and help each other through the tough times,” he says.
But Mr Mullin also recognises that Gulf Oil Marine’s role is much wider than just supplying product to customers and the company and fellow alliance members can play a key role in shipboard operations. “Lubricants have become an integral part of the engine and so the quality of service provider also becomes important” says Mr Mullin (calling on 18 years of marine lubricants experience including four years spent in Russia, running a lubes company and another four years in the Asia Pacific region). “Instead, the global shortage of Group I base oils means lubricants are being developed that use less of this material with more Group II base oils mixed with additives to meet future demand.”
Speed and Quality of Service is Key
Mr Mullin believes that developing a relationship with original equipment manufacturers to ensure these new lubricants are successful is critical. “We are now developing products that produce less ash and we are looking into lower viscosity cylinder oil that will actively reduce pollution and improve heat exchange and combustion,” he says. Mr Mullin adds: “This is because lubricants that are more efficient, causes the engines to use less product.”However he also goes on to mention that slow steaming, the move towards low sulphur fuels and current shipboard operations all bring their own challenges. Mr Mullin points out that not all vessels are slow steaming, but if they are, it follows that engines should use less lubricant. “Using incorrect amounts of lubricant (primarily cylinder oils) can harm the engine or increase waste, so we talk to the ship staff onboard about these issues,” he says. He adds that another trend is to reduce the sulphur content of bunker fuel to reduce air pollution, however sulphur also acts as a lubricant and so new oils have been developed to compensate for this lost lubricity.
At the same time, Mr Mullin says a lot more maintenance is now being performed onboard by a ships crew, so that when things go wrong they bring in the experts. “A consequence of this is that the normal ship’s crew may not properly be aware of lubrication issues, especially where there is a multi-lingual crew who maybe sailing together for the first time. The challenge for us is to try and educate them,” he explains. “With lubricants accounting for around 20 to 30 percent of ship operating costs, it is our (Gulf Oil Marine’s) job to understand what the customer’s needs are. My focus is on where the major consumption of oil is. The major challenges are ship speeds’ and higher temperatures and pressures around the main engine. I don’t think focusing on biodegradable oils is a solution to these biggest challenges. Instead we are focus on what customers want and what they currently want to focus on are main engines emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide,” he says.
Any place, anytime, anywhere
Mr Mullin says that by being a smaller entity than the major competitors, Gulf Oil Marine has the advantage of being more nimble and responsive to the customers overall needs but also has the benefit of being part of the larger Gulf group.“We can tap into the resources of the group. That includes formulation and blending expertise and technology which will ensure that our products remain at the forefront of the industry”.
“We can get deliver high quality products to a ship faster than somebody can have their car serviced and on some occasions in less than a few hours notice. The delivery of products to a ship on time is critical, as delays can cost companies a lot of money,” Mr Mullin says. He adds: “The 840 stocked ports in our network offers us an advantage at a time when other players are reducing their coverage areas, engineering and logistics personnel.” He finishes by saying, “Gulf Oil Marine and the Sealub Alliance will actively expand its coverage as new harbours are developed and to meet the needs of its customers, further strengthening the proposition,” Mr Mullin says.”