One of the important issues during ship’s life is always the maintenance cost of a ship.
Ship operators are always trying to reduce the expenses by adopting preventive maintenance schemes, and by purchasing of low cost spares. During the last 6 years, a very big number of new built ships entered the Greek fleet contributing to the reduction of the average age of the fleet. In addition to this, latest technology equipment were installed on board making the ships’ operation and safer. Most of the Greek owners, negotiated with the yards and selected advanced systems which, in most cases were expensive and reliable. As it is mentioned above, through a preventive maintenance policy, ship operators try to ensure reliability and safety of ships’ systems and crews. However, there is a substantial number of ship operators which focus mainly on low cost spares, avoiding the use of genuine spares by the manufacturer of the systems. The main reason is the cost, which in most cases is 30% to 60% more expensive than the non-genuine spares. This creates always a dilemma, of what is the most cost effective solution. The answer to this dilemma is not straight forward, since it involves many parameters, which are influenced by several factors. E.g. The age of the ship, the number of years the ship remains under ownership by one shipowner, the cost difference between genuine and non- genuine spares, the importance of the system, the delivery time of spares, the crews’ technical level, the terms of payment, etc. In order to try and extract some conclusions, it is necessary to start from the beginning. First of all when a shipping company orders new ships, it is very important to try and avoid in the makers’ list makers which are local, they do not develop their own technology, do not provide adequate technical after sales support and their products / systems are not of reliable and of acceptable quality. This is not an easy task, since the price of the offered contract is based on the cost of these makers. Therefore, owners have to put priorities which are different for each ship type. For the very important applications on board, owners should force yard to accept first class makers. These makers, having developed their own technology can also provide solutions when a malfunction occurs. They provide service through a global support network. The cost of the products of these makers is of course higher. This is expected since apart from the cost of the product itself, continuous development and service support are the two major factors which contribute to the higher price of their products. The owners or the yards, force these makers to reduce the price of their products at the levels of the local manufacturers. Such request results to a very low, or even, no profit orders for the manufacturers. From the manufacturers’ point of view, and in order to ensure profit during ships’ operation, provide service and spares at high cost. Consequently, ship operators are looking for cheaper alternatives by adopting maintenance policies including non- genuine spares. At the end, owners although they have selected a first class product, they downgrade the product. It is the same thing as buying a very good quality car and services it at non authorised service stations with cheap non genuine spares. The quality of the car is getting less and what remains is a car which is similar to the one which was bought but not the same. The brand name has no meaning any more. The same applies on a system by a brand name manufacturer on board ships. Most of the owners believe that after 5 years of ships operation, the quality of the systems on board is the same as when it was new, but it is not like this. This also generates a danger when it comes to important and safety systems having maintaining them not according to manufacturers instructions but in accordance to annual budget of the shipowners. However, to be honest, this does not mean, that the offered services by the manufacturers should be very costly. It should be understood that in most cases, high after sales support cost leads to the lower return of gross income percentage from spares. I mean that if a maker has products on board 100 ships, gets orders for spares from 30 ships. The rest of the ships are getting spares and services from the non-genuine sources. It is inevitable that the business segment of the maker will be shrink year by year, till is out of business. Quality makers should be able to be strongly supported by shipowners at the very beginning of newbuildings contact negotiations, maintaining a good price at the yard, and in return, they should be able to provide good after sales support at acceptable cost level for the shipowners. Makers should provide cost effective maintenance schemes, proving to owners that the cost per running hour of their products is lower than any other scheme. They should provide training for the crews, in order to be able to operate the systems efficiently, safely avoiding breakdowns. Ship operators should adopt new maintenance policies like service agreements, spare parts deals, remote diagnostics systems, minimizing the need of service engineer attendance and down time. Through these policies, a maker can be closer to the owners, getting valuable feed back from the systems performance thus providing improvements which ensure the reliability of the systems. In addition this, close relation contributes to the development of safer products by the manufacturers. As a conclusion, it can be said that shipowners and makers are getting “married” through ships’ operation. As it is known, a marriage can last and be beneficial for both parties, as long as, there are “give and taking”, no cheating, and mutual support among both parties. Today’s ships are equipped with advanced and complicated technology and only through such “marriage” a ship can be operated cost effectively and safely.
* Operations Manager, OCEANKING Technical & Trading SA