Vitol: an oil trader’s perspective

Trading in oil is a fast and challenging business. It means making quick decisions and reacting swiftly to pricing changes and shifts in market dynamics. And it requires having an unwavering commitment to delivering oil safely, on specification and on time.

The Vitol Group is a leading commodity trader in oil, gas and power, and one of the biggest charterers in the tanker spot market worldwide. In 2014 the company shipped 268 million tonnes of crude oil and products, which equals to more than 5 million barrels of crude and products traded every day.

Vitol takes pride in its ability to tackle difficult, complex projects and deliver effective solutions quickly and transparently. With 6,053 ship voyages in 2014 and 200 ships at sea at any given time, the company needs to be extremely sure that its ship management partners match its high standards of quality and professionalism.

“There’s always a choice as to who can move your oil,” says Paul Thomas, Vitol’s Head of Shipping. “Shipping is a people business, and it’s the right people who make the relationship work, not the geographical location of the company. You need to have the right person at the other end of the phone. Even the slightest delay can be extremely expensive – both in terms of cost and reputation.”

A 25-year partnership

For over a quarter of a century Vitol has been chartering vessels managed by Thenamaris, and Paul has relied on the company to provide exceptional service. “We have grown with Thenamaris through the good times and the bad. They’re a first class ship operator,” he says.

In the past, both Thenamaris and Vitol were very private companies. Today, though, both are more engaged publicly with clients, the media and governments.

Compared to other ship management companies, Paul believes that Thenamaris stands out in terms of safety consciousness and reliability. “Thenamaris always and absolutely complies with the terms and conditions of the charter party,” says Paul. “This is crucial for a trader, as we work with very tight deadlines when we are buying and selling cargo and, more often than not, we have very narrow loading laycans”

“You have to trust the people that you’ve contracted with,” he adds. “With Thenamaris, it isn’t just a working relationship, it’s a partnership.”

Fixing problems proactively

Paul appreciates Thenamaris’ proactive approach. “Thenamaris is very good at helping us solve any problems that might arise once the fixture has been agreed and the charter party has been signed,” he says. “If Vitol has a problem, Thenamaris takes responsibility for finding a solution. They’re also very flexible, for example, when it comes to agreeing on more than one loading or discharging option. This helps us to respond quickly to changes in the market.”

“Working with Thenamaris gives us the comfort and confidence that any post-fixture change related to the voyage will be positively managed.” According to Paul, this is the secret of maintaining a successful ongoing relationship. “Charterers tend to do repeat business with ship managers who show goodwill and support them.”

People make all the difference

Paul’s chief contact with Thenamaris has been via Thenamaris’ exclusive chartering agent in London, Eastern Mediterranean Maritime. “Having a local agent on the ground greatly facilitates the relationship between Vitol and Thenamaris,” says Paul. “At the same time, there is also a very good working relationship at a senior level between the two companies; every time I am in Athens I make sure to meet with Thenamaris’ top management.”

In his view, Thenamaris people are, typically, tough but fair negotiators, professional and well-trained, and helpful and proactive during the fulfillment of the charter. He believes the factor that differentiates Thenamaris most is that many of their people are long-term, loyal employees. “When working with Thenamaris’ Operators, you can tell they have a real affinity with their company,” he adds.

A new generation leads the way

Paul thinks that the future for Thenamaris is exciting and feels that the business is in good hands. “Thenamaris is currently diversifying into the management of LNG carriers, a move which gives the company a leading edge,” he says. “Also, the new generation of top management is well educated, capable and well-prepared to take the lead.”