By Bruce Striegler

For more than 130 years, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. (MOL) has been a force in global shipping as it marks its 130th anniversary in 2014. Mitsui O.S.K. Lines operates specialized bulk carriers, crude oil and LNG tankers, car carriers, cruise ships, ferries and coastal liners. As part of the world’s largest merchant fleet, its containerships make the MOL global network one of the more diverse liner and logistics services. According to the most current update of the Alphaliner Top 100 fleet list, MOL ranks as the ninth largest with 584,103 TEU capacity availability.

Timothy Pajak, the company’s North American communications specialist, says that MOL’s high performance standards, transparency, and commitment to quality are unique among ocean carriers. “MOL understands the importance of transporting cargo on time and without hassle. We understand that shippers have schedules and deadlines that must be met. MOL is one of the only container shipping lines to regularly publish the results of key performance indicators including vessel on-time performance, safety, environmental, customer service, and electronic data interchange.”

Operating more than 100 containerships, MOL covers the world with more than 90 weekly services with vessel capacities ranging from 700 TEUs to 8,000 TEU’s. With 9,465 employees worldwide, the MOL Group is headquartered in Tokyo with its Liner operations centered in Hong Kong. MOL’s TraPac owns container terminals at key North American ports including Jacksonville, Los Angeles, and Oakland. MOL also owns container terminals in Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam and will soon open a new terminal at Rotterdam. The company has 21 services in the Asia-North America trade lane and three in the Europe-North America trade lane. Five services call at Vancouver and two call at Halifax.

In the highly-competitive world of ocean shipping, companies have been seeking ways to maximize efficiencies and profits. In 2011, six leading container shipping companies, including MOL, created one of the largest vessel networks in the Far East-to-Europe trade lane. The G6 Alliance has more than 90 ships on nine services calling at more than 40 ports in Asia, Europe and the Mediterranean. Pajak notes that the G6 Alliance membership enables MOL to offer broader port coverage, more frequent departures, and competitive transit times while using ships that are reducing emissions.

Port of Halifax vital to MOL’s Canadian presence

The company entered the Canadian market through Halifax about a year ago and has now opened three Canadian offices. Tim Harrington, Vice-President, MOL (Canada) Inc. says, “Our business is primarily focused on the Pacific and transatlantic trades via Halifax. We handle retail merchandise for imports and forest products or refrigerated cargo for exports. While MOL has a small position in Halifax relative to other carriers, we do expect to see sustainable future growth.”

Complementing Port of Halifax, Harrington says it has been an excellent partner. “We’ve appreciated their helpfulness and everyone involved in the supply chain has been extremely valuable in terms of developing new and unique opportunities.” He expects MOL to see sustained growth in Halifax and says, “We also expect more interest from the U.S. markets. Given the current market environment we expect that efforts to grow business to and from the U.S. will become more attractive and demonstrate that Halifax is a viable alternative to more traditional means of transportation.”

This May, MOL began direct service between the U.S east coast and the west coast of South America, offering competitive transit times with six vessels; three operated by MOL. This new service will add more dry and refrigerated capacity with an 18-day transit time between Valparaiso and New York. MOL has significantly improved the transit times from Vietnam to U.S. East Coast as well, and the company says it is deeply committed to serving the Vietnam market improving average transit times from Cai Mep, Vietnam to the U.S. East Coast by five to seven days, making MOL one of the fastest in the industry.

Pajak says that the labour disputes on both Atlantic and Pacific coasts combined with significant import increases have caused congestion in West Coast ports, and are straining rail resources, truck power, and chassis supply. “These stresses on the supply-chain are industry-wide and impacting shipment transit times in the U.S. and Canada. We anticipate that the situation will continue, but MOL will continue to work diligently with all service providers to minimize transit delays and recover the situation as early as possible. MOL is making sure we are providing every means of alternative solutions for our customers to avoid any service disruptions as much as possible.”

An innovator and environmental leader

MOL prides itself as an innovator, launching the world’s first automated ship in 1961, the first Japanese specialized car carrier in 1965. MOL was one of the leading liner companies to launch full containership service, became an early entry in shipping methanol, LNG and petroleum products and developed specialized vessels for iron, coal and wood chips. In 2007, MOL took delivery of the world’s largest iron ore carrier. In 2012, MOL launched the world’s first hybrid car carrier, and is currently working on the Senpaku ISHIN project, a next generation vessel concept.

The company says it is committed to reducing CO2 emissions by improving vessel fuel efficiency through the use of propeller boss cap fins, antifouling ship bottom paints, and wind resistance-reducing ship design. Reductions also come from Eco Sailing which involves reducing steaming speeds, selecting optimum routes based on weather and setting the ship’s trim functions for maximum performance. It is also dedicated to reducing nitrogen oxide, which is generated when nitrogen contained in fuel oil binds with oxygen when the engines are operating by adopting electronically controlled engines.

This August, MOL was honoured for its compliance with emission standards that call for vessels to slow down when they arrive 40 nautical miles off North American shores. Port of Los Angeles’ Vessel Speed Reduction Program and Port of Long Beach’s Green Flag Program urges vessel operators to slow to 12 knots or less to reduce emissions. The ports offer annual rewards to vessel operators that achieve extraordinary compliance percentages.

MOL’s comprehensive sustainability programs range from employee-level plans designed to reduce overall energy consumption up to original research and development of a diesel particulate filter for vessel engines using heavy bunker oil. Other initiatives include installation of shore power installations at berths. MOL and MOL Groups’ Utoc Corporation installed one of the largest solar power generation systems in Tokyo at the Tokyo International Container Terminal. With a 200kW capacity, the system is powered by 1,200 solar panels sitting atop the truck entry gates. In 2012, it generated approximately 236,000 kW of power, which provided about 37 percent of the power needs for the control building.

This spring, MOL was honoured by the Japan Federation of Pilots’ Associations with its annual award aimed at heightening awareness of the need to protect harbours and the marine environment through safe operation of oceangoing vessels. Four of the winning seven vessels were MOL owned or operated. The award honoured cooperation with pilots by the captains and crew of the vessels, and their high level of onboard equipment and boarding and disembarking facilities.