The berry-red and snow-white houses dotting the rocky shores of Arendal are slowly fading from view as a rainy November mist settles upon the southern Norwegian town. The days when this was a great seafaring centre and a dynamic trading port are long gone but thanks to one company Arendal now has a far greater impact on travel and transportation than it ever had in the past.
Founded here 25 years ago as a joint venture between friends Bjørn Tore Larsen, Jan Morten Eskilt, Jan Ove Dalsøren and Erling Bjørn Wik, OSM has grown to become one of the most important yet least well-known companies in the aviation and shipping industries. The business manages 500 vessels and if you need a crew for an oil tanker or flight attendants for a new fleet of Boeings, osm will be your first port of call. “We don’t own any steel, any ships,” says OSM Maritime Group CEO Geir Sekkesæter from his office overlooking the tranquil harbour. “What is ours is our people.”
Aslak Skripeland is one of those people. The local chief officer, whose sturdy build and beard lend him a Viking air, is one of OSM's 10,000 crew members. The gloomy weather doesn’t bother him. As a seafarer he has experienced much worse, not least sailing through storms aboard shuttle tankers across the North Sea, where waves can reach heights of 15 metres and temperatures sink to sub-zero. Skripeland recently joined the company and is currently on land preparing for his first voyage. “I’m part of the team building a new vessel in Korea: the Eagle Barents,” he says. “I’m giving my input as a seafarer and feel like I’m being heard.” By early 2015, Eagle Barents will hit the water with Skripeland onboard to deliver up to 120,000 tonnes of crude oil from northern rigs to land-based refineries.
Even though Norwegians such as Skripeland make up a significant portion of the staff, 40 per cent of osm’s crew is from the Philippines (see essay on page 132), where the company’s Manila-based training headquarters are located. Every year, thousands of people are coached there to feed the company’s growing demand for ship crews, serving customers such as Statoil, Teekay Shipping, Japanese K Line and Total.
“A ship owner comes to us and we supply him with the right crew and maintenance and ensure that the ship can go from A to B,” says Sekkesæter, highlighting that today only 12 per cent of the world’s fleets are under third-party management; he believes OSM can eat into the other 88 per cent. At this point, OSM's only worry is training enough professional crews to match demand and stay ahead of Asian competitors who cannot be beaten on price but can on quality. Building on its success in the maritime industry, OSM more recently spread its wings into the aviation sector, supplying crews to airlines such as Norwegian and Finnair.
OSM's crews have thus far embraced Filipinos and Scandinavians and the workforce is only getting more diverse: today’s trends lean towards Eastern Europe, Burma, India and Indonesia. New Maritime Group offices in West Africa, Australia and Brazil are opening up those markets for OSM, especially with regard to the offshore services that support oil-and-gas drilling operations. While the traditional shipping business can be handled from any location, offshore usually requires local offices and employees. “We recruit all over the world,” says Marit Saether, head of organisational development and corporate support. “We want to be something more than a professional team – a multicultural family.”
Just as the passports of the staff are changing, so too are the nations where OSM is doing business. The company is now authorised to operate as a Brazilian shipping company, while Mexico and the US are both likely to provide more business opportunities.
Sekkesæter expects his fleet to increase fourfold by 2019, matched by a doubling of its crew. “The more people, the more vessels: it becomes a self-reinforcing effect,” says Sekkesæter, watching a lone boat leave the bay.