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A maritime powerhouse

Anyone who’s ever studied a map of Norway can see instantly why shipping and maritime activities are such a crucial part of the nation’s economy. The country’s coastline spans 2,200 kilometres as the crow flies, but 10 times that if...

It is not only the city of Bergen that has traditionally looked to the sea, but much of the economy and activities of the surrounding region has also been built around the maritime industry. The island of Askøy on the outskirts of Bergen has a thriving economy with employers such as the shipyard Bergen Group; Ølensvåg to the south features West Contractors; Os is the home of Norwegian Deck Machinery; and Kvinnherad is bustling with activities with employers such as Maritime Equipment.

It seems that everywhere you look in the Bergen region there are maritime-related activities that impress. Stord is not only home to thriving maritime-related activities; it also features the Stord Maritime Museum, which can give visitors an excellent taste of the Hordaland region as a shipping hub. Accessible by regular ferry boat routes, Austevoll Municipality is not only idyllically situated on the western coast approximately 40 kilometres southwest of Bergen – it is also home to a solid economy and an excellent living environment.

Based in Bergen, Grieg Shipping is an important force in the global shipping industry.
© Grieg Shipping

The Ocean Highway

A view of the ocean as a highway, which is the result of the region’s fascinating blend between mountains and sea, also explains why Bergen is home to some of the largest niche shipping companies on the planet, such as Odfjell SE and Grieg Shipping, along with all the businesses that have developed to provide secondary services to the maritime community. Some of these companies, such as pump manufacturer Frank Mohn AS, helped Bergen’s maritime community develop the technologies that helped build the niche shipping markets in the first place.

Since Bergen has always relied on the sea as a highway, Bergen businessmen have been far more willing to invest in new technologies that would help them compete in the world market. A crucial example is during the technological transition that took place in the late 1880s, when shipowners shifted from sailing ships to steam or, later, to diesel. Most Norwegian shippers made this transition later rather than sooner, electing instead to switch to less time-sensitive cargoes, such as timber or ores, rather than invest in costly new ships.

But this was not so in Bergen. There, merchants and residents were so reliant on the oceanic highway to bring them all manner of goods from the world at large that the city’s shipping industry was among the first in Norway to make the critical transition from sail to faster ships powered by steam, and then by diesel. “They made the shift 10-15 years before everyone else in Norway,” Tenold says. “They were engaged in fruit and fish trades, they had perishable products, and they needed to move goods as quickly as they could.”

Expanding Market, Services & Employment

These days, Bergen’s considerable maritime and shipping community has expanded to serve Norway’s offshore petroleum trade. For example, LMG Marin AS grew out of a naval engineering company founded in Bergen in 1943. The company now designs ships and offshore installations, as well as offering a range of other consulting services. Scandinavian Electric Systems produces innovative electrical propulsion systems, while Vestdavit AS makes and designs davits for the seismic and offshore industry, as well as for the Navy.

Companies such as Framo Engineering are often looking for new engineering talents who can work with the development and supplying of total system solutions to the oil industry, securing a cost-efficient development of marginal and deepwater fields. Framo has more than 260 employees and an annual turnover of NOK 1.3 billion. Other companies, such as Schlumberger, a global leader in oilfield services provider, have a focus on quality, environment and employee development make them a company that attracts the best talent available.

Pictured is one of Odjell SE’s nearly
100 ships.
© Odfjell

Niche Successes

The highly technological nature of extracting oil and gas from the Norwegian Continental Shelf has fostered the growth of highly specialized maritime companies that can respond to the rapidly evolving nature of the industry. Seaproof Solutions specializes in the growing niche of sealed subsea installations, which is becoming the industry standard in newer Norwegian oil and gas fields, such as Snøhvit in the Barents Sea, and Ormen Lange.

Frank Mohn AS has grown from providing pumps for ships to being the leading manufacturer and supplier of submerged pumps for the world tanker and offshore markets. The company makes water injection pumps and systems, fire water pumps, seawater lift pumps, cavern pumps, portable pumps, oil recovery equipment and pumping systems for subsea applications.

Niche shipping remains a highly important sector in the Bergen market, particularly in chemical and bulk liquid transport and open hatch bulk shipping, for forest products. Among the traditional specialists has been Star Shipping, recently divided, whereby the demerged part will operate as Westfal-Larsen Shipping, and the remainder, under the name Star Shipping – will continue as a 100% owned company of Grieg Shipping Group. Grieg Shipping Group is an important force in open-hatch general cargo vessels. The company currently owns and manages 23 of these ships, with four new ships scheduled for delivery in 2009 and 2010. Another Bergen shipper, Odfjell SE, is one of world’s largest providers of specialized chemical transport, with nearly 100 ships at its command.