Short sea shipping has been identified as one of the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly modes of transport for the movement of vehicles in the Mediterranean region.
One of the biggest and oldest operators is Neptune Lines, which provides short sea transportation solutions to almost 20 countries and more than 30 key ports, focusing on the Mediterranean and Black Sea. This year, the company expects to carry up to 1 million vehicles, up by almost 100 thousand units compared to 2014. The company operates 16 PCTC vessels, with total capacity of 43,500 units (RT).
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Melina Travlos, President and CEO of the Neptune Group of companies to what she attributes Neptune’s success in the automotive shipping transport industry in the Mediterranean region.
Travlos: We have established our reputation through our values – our commitment to hard work and the provision of services tailored to our customer needs. We believe in combining consistency and reliability with customized strategies, not one-solutionfits-all. I believe our customers trust us because we understand their needs and we operate with the philosophy of being an integral part of the total supply chain. We are committed to providing a seamless operation for them. We strive to be part of their own customer service.
AI: What are some of the ways you have managed to “green” your line?
Travlos: We have invested in a young and modern fleet, equipped with the latest advances in technology. Our new builds delivered last year, for example, were built with environmentally friendly specifications, and are certified CLEAN. This results in a 20% improvement in energy efficiency and reduction of fuel consumption compared to the previous generation.
Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plans (SEEMP) are also implemented for every vessel under our management. These detail various energy efficiency measures such as speed and trim optimization, hull and propeller cleaning programs, application of foul release coatings, re-blading and propeller optimization, lighting management and a number of other significant measures, aiming in the reduction of our fuel consumption and subsequently in the reduction of our CO2 emissions. We also implement performance monitoring systems, recycling programs and we have a zero tolerance policy against waste disposal at sea.
We are a member company of Helmepa (Hellenic Marine Environment Protection Association) and we make sure our staff, aboard and ashore, receive training with an environmentallyconscious perspective at all times. We continue innovating, and recently we started participating in an EU pioneering project with one of our ships in which we are determining the viability of using LNG as a marine fuel and the development of a LNG bunkering network in the South Eastern Mediterranean.
AI: How important are environmental considerations to your automotive customers?
Travlos: Our customers are the largest vehicle manufacturers in the world. They are companies with high environmental awareness, very deep understanding of regulatory requirements and with environmental management systems already in place. These are global companies which invest significant human and financial resources for this purpose. They have specific requirements and know when these are fulfilled by their suppliers. In this context our corporate environmental policy is directed towards an integrated approach into protecting the environment the results of which are reported in our Sustainability Report which we started to publish in 2013.
AI: How do you customize services for your customers? Please give us some examples.
Travlos: Our customers seek a timely, efficient service, but at the same time one that allows for adaptation to a commercially complex, ever-changing market. The combination of cost, time and quality is the deciding factor here as everywhere, but each one’s priorities stem from their marketing strategy, or mode of operation. It is our job to understand our customers’ priorities, so as to provide what they need most, when they need it most. For example, we understand forecasts may vary from actual production and we adapt accordingly; certain key dates in the year will demand to deal with production spikes, or with even stricter deadlines on deliveries as, for example, during the introduction of new models. The philosophy of our company is customer-oriented, from top management to every level. To this end each one of our customers is assigned a dedicated customer service coordinator from our commercial department.
AI: What are some of the quality certifications Neptune has and how has this helped your company’s customers in ensuring they get the best service?
Travlos: Neptune Lines is certified by DNV GL for the purpose of Occupational Health and Safety (OHSAS 18001:2007) and Quality of Service (ISO 9001:2008). Neptune Lines Management, as well as all Neptune Lines vessels, are certified by DNV GL for ISO 14001: Environmental Management System. Our ships are all classed by DNV GL, LR and NK and fly EU flags. Our vessels are also ISO 14001 certified. This is proof of a serious investment and an independent proof of credibility, which together ensure we deserve our customers’ trust.
AI: What are some of the current challenges facing shipping lines like yours in terms of fluctuating markets in Europe and the rest of the world?
Travlos: It is true we are sensitive to developments in the shipping industry, as well as the automotive industry itself. We own and operate ships and therefore we can be influenced by factors that historically and practically shape this business, such as energy prices, legislative changes, tonnage supply and demand, port infrastructures or geopolitical developments. At the same time we are part of the logistics chain of the automotive industry. We are therefore sensitive to market fluctuations on the supply side caused by OEM decisions, such as the start-up, change or termination of production lines or other factors defining demand and sales like country strategies for environmental protection, incentive schemes for fleet renewal, taxation, insurance requirements and the like.
Thankfully, not everything is happening together and we strive to mitigate risks, so as not to allow them to negatively affect us on a greater scale. I believe our track record, even in times of global economic crisis, proves my point. We have built a reputation of developing new markets, but without abandoning our longestablished ones. We have been serving lines for more than 20 years and have never left our customers without a service, even when that meant more cost to us. But I know our customers really appreciate this loyalty. And eventually the rewards are in equilibrium.
AI: Does Neptune have plans to cast its net wider and expand its business globally?
Travlos: We are currently testing the waters to increase services in our current trade areas and expanding the geographical borders of our operations. We are also examining vertical integrations to better serve our customer base. For 40 years this company has based its progress and success on initiative and perseverance. We will continue on this path. And this is not just another goal for me. It is a lifelong mission; and I am very determined when on a mission.