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Austral Asia Line

Adding capacity to meet growth

Everyone in the resource industry knows that you’re only as good as your logistics chain, whether you are exporting bulk commodities, importing heavy duty equipment or anything in between. But how many companies are capable of linking you up and getting the job done on time, on budget and with the greatest care, whether it’s to pre-planned shipping schedules or a last minute must-have requirement?

For any group in search of that coveted missing link to ensure smooth sailing between Australia’s east and west coasts, North and South East Asia, and other resource-hub destinations including Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia, the front-running contender has to be Austral Asia Line (AAL), headquartered in Singapore with bases and top teams strategically located in all the right places. The company’s role as the go-to for your shipping needs is being continually realized, and with 14 new vessels coming in and a new dedicated projects and tramp division, its offering rivals others in the market more than ever before.

“It’s about putting the right ships for the right trade in place, supported by the right people in the right places, and being very customer-driven and focused,” Ulrich Stelling, Managing Director says.

“We are well-positioned to help facilitate trade growth in general and to cater to the specific needs of the resource sector when expanding their facilities.”

Stelling says that the needs of the wider resource sector are becoming increasingly more diverse—by all accounts more challenging for multipurpose liner shipping operators in the Asia-Australia space—and AAL is moving with the times to be the undisputed best choice around.

Meeting and targeting changing demand

Starting out as a regional multipurpose liner service in 1995, AAL had three general cargo ships that were operating on a route between South East Asia, Papua New Guinea and the east coast of Australia. Expansion later added routes between North Asia and the east coast of Australia as well as more recently between North/South East Asia and Western Australia, which Stelling says came in response to the growing needs of clients seeking regular breakbulk shipping, particularly given infrastructure expansion in the region due to oil and gas and mining-driven activity. Today the group is offering scheduled liner services for general breakbulk, project and heavy lift cargoes between key ports in Asia and Australia’s east and west coasts, and additional inducement calls within the wider region. Priding itself on quick response to customer and market demand, Stelling says, means that AAL is acutely aware of how very efficiently importers and exporters must operate in order to be successful.

“That’s not only true for containerised consumer goods, but very much so for breakbulk cargoes that shipping companies like AAL move on a regular basis. Customers expect their shipping provider to export and deliver on time, and carefully, and cost effectively,” he emphasizes.

“That of course requires some degree of standardization, but the market trend actually is that the variety of cargo is becoming increasingly diverse. That means small-packaged and lightweight general cargo is carried together with extremely heavy and over-dimensional project parcels. That in turn requires a nonstandard, but instead a very specialised approach, parcel-by-parcel.”

Having built up a hefty reputation as an experienced multipurpose liner shipping operator, handling the shipment of heavy over-dimensional project cargoes, steel products, machinery, general breakbulk cargoes, containers and bulk commodities and plenty more besides, Stelling says AAL’s biggest challenge is to combine the shipment of regular liner cargo within its advertised sailing schedules with some very unique and special demands of ad hoc project parcels.

But herein also lies AAL’s ability to differentiate itself. “We believe that we have the right hardware in terms of ships to do this, and our new buildings are enhancing our capabilities in this area significantly, as well as having the right people in the right locations to manage this task,” he says.

The new vessels are undoubtedly a significant step for AAL at what is an exciting time in terms of the company’s incoming tonnage; some have already arrived, and within the next 18 months a lot more are on track to come into the fold.

New vessels, divisions and potential

All of the company’s ships are modern multipurpose heavy lift project cargo vessels, each with its own onboard cargo gear of up to 700 metric tonnes lifting capacity, stowage-friendly cargo holds and operating to the highest international maritime standards. Four are what Stelling refers to as AAL’s “long-term charter vessels” which the group has begun to phase out and replace with the first three units of the 14-ship strong fleet of new builds.

“We have seven operating now (including three of the new buildings) and 11 more to come. These 14 ships are being delivered from shipyards in South Korea and China,” he says.

“Of the 10 units of the larger A-class, they’re 31,000 tonnes deadweight (dwt), the first two units have been delivered; the AAL Brisbane and AAL Kembla.”

The next vessel will arrive in October, the fourth in January next year, and the remaining six will arrive over the following 18 months. In addition to the A-class, the first of AAL’s new smaller S-class ships (19,000 tonnes dwt), named the AAL Fremantle, arrived in May. The AAL Dampier will arrive in September, AAL Nanjing will arrive in January and AAL Bangkok in March 2012. Increasing cargo demands have resulted in a need for new cargo handling and carriage capabilities, which in turn has made it time for an upgrade, Stelling says.

“Crane capacity and on deck spaces for large dimensional cargo in particular, and fuel efficiency comes into play as does cargo-friendly stowage. In all of these areas the new class of ship is really the best of what you can design today, and the first three ships are performing to expectations in the trade.”

But AAL is adding to its fleet on dry land too, in the form of its people. The new projects and tramp division is a development very much driven by customer demand. When the opportunity came up to take on a team of commercial and technical project specialists, AAL grabbed it, giving the company overnight increased capabilities to further enter an area it had always planned on doing, and in a much shorter time span that it might have otherwise taken.

“The logic driving this initiative is really two-fold: adding another dimension to our traditional liner service concept, which means through our charter desk we will offer spot charter sailings. It’s very much a combined “liner-plus-charter” strategy and service product that we are able to offer,” Stelling says.

“Secondly, with the addition of this team of project cargo specialists in our head office, it’s boosting our commercial and engineering know-how for very complex and difficult shipping requirements.”

The results of this mass offshore/onshore growth are impressive: A company with the people and power to cater to emerging client requirements, market trends and, ultimately, the ongoing infrastructure and resource-related boom in demand for import/export between Asia and Australia, long set to continue.

Positioned for market upturn everywhere

The absolute for AAL going forward, Stelling says, is to become the best shipping provider in this sector, in the region and to achieve 100 per cent customer satisfaction en route. In doing so the company faces numerous options, not least further cargo handling diversification, scheduling and regional expansion. It is now considering a number of trades for possible expansion, although in the near term it already has a lot of work underway.

“Of course, primarily as an extension of our core services in the Australasian region, but our ships are suitable for expansion beyond our core geographical boundaries too,” he says.

“We will be looking at new markets and trades within the region but we won’t be restricted by it, and having our head office in Singapore means that from a corporate perspective we’re well-positioned to be here at the world’s premier shipping centre.”

It looks like AAL’s goal to reach the top spot draws nearer with every new ship and staff member to arrive, and if market trend is any indication, the company can vest itself on demand ensuing for the foreseeable future.

“Given the complexity of the mix of cargoes and the diverse requirements of our customers it’s an ambitious goal. But we have best-in-class tonnage entering our fleet, excellent people in the organisation, a first-rate professional agency network as well as qualified, committed and efficient supplier and service provider partners,” Stelling says.

Having already established itself as a great option for multipurpose liner shipping, it is plain to see why AAL’s caption ‘the better choice’ has become synonymous with the brand. Efficient, innovative and ahead of the game, if you need safe and swift passage between Asia and Australia, you need AAL.