Maersk Tankers’ digital spin-off, ZeroNorth, has hit the ground running with the launch of its Optimise software to help cut emissions and optimise vessel performance. As its CEO Søren Meyer tells Bunkerspot, optimisation starts with data collection – but ZeroNorth’s USP is translating that data into action.
At the start of the year, Maersk Tankers revealed its plans to spin off a new digital business focusing on the development and commercialisation of its SimBunker fuel consumption optimisation software, with tramp shipping as its target market.
Back in January, the business had yet to be given a name, but at its helm was CEO Søren Meyer, previously Maersk Tankers’ Chief Asset Officer and a man with a close understanding of the bunker market through the nine years he spent at OW Bunker in key strategic roles.
Six months on, and the digital spin-off has been branded as ZeroNorth, and SimBunker has also had a new iteration and become Optimise.
For Meyer, the Optimise product delivers benefits on two counts: the optimisation of vessel earnings and CO2 emissions reduction.
‘It will help the tramp industry operate their vessels in a more economically friendly way, and will really support what we see as one of the key challenges for the industry – to be sustainable in the future,’ he says.
At present, six companies are using the software across 300 vessels. ZeroNorth is operating as an independent company from Maersk Tankers but counts the shipping company as one of its customers.
The first versions of the SimBunker/Optimise software were rolled out last June and it is clear that the product has come a long way in the subsequent 12-month development period.
‘As with any other tech company, what they would use today and what they used last year are two different things,’ says Meyer.
‘We work as part of an agile software process, so we have kept on updating what we are doing and going from testing to the scalable product that we have now.’
Meyer is keen to emphasise that Optimise is, first and foremost, a technology business, and the skillsets of its employees – as software designers and engineers - allows the company to harness the mass of information drawn from vessels and other sources and turn it into something of value – in environmental, operational and financial terms
‘It’s not just about having access to information, it’s all about translating that information into action – that is what our software does,’ he explains.
‘We don’t employ a lot of people with shipping knowledge - we want to be a super customer-driven tech company and by not having that in-house knowledge, this forces us to go out and talk to our customers.’
The software has been used by the Maersk Tankers fleet since June 2019 and in that time has facilitated $8 million in savings. But ZeroNorth has ambitions to develop Optimise into an industry wide platform for the global tanker and dry bulk fleet, which numbers over 33,000 vessels.
Meyer also believes that Optimise can address the inherent challenges associated with tramp shipping.
‘We focus very much on the operator,’ he says. ‘Very often in the tramp industry, because of the fragmentation of the market quite a lot of them don’t have insights into how a vessel performs because the charterer runs the vessel.
‘By taking multiple information from data points and combining it with the customer’s proprietary information, we can convert it into tangible action – and dollars.’
The Optimise software collects key data from voyage management systems as well as market, bunker price, weather, vessel performance and vessel-specific data.
‘We translate all that into what you should do now and what the impact will be,’ says Meyer.
While its Maersk heritage has no doubt provided ZeroNorth with a very impressive and extensive network of contacts, Meyer believes that its structure as a standalone company is important and necessary.
‘There is nothing stopping us from having a strong link into Maersk Tankers, which is the owner of the company, but that being said, if we are to be seen as an independent player that can work across the industry we believe that operating as an independent company will help us on that journey,’ he notes.
At its debut as ZeroNorth, the company said that it would be looking to ‘attract strategic investors from the tramp shipping industry to develop the company and its products to the benefit of the industry as a whole’.
Meyer says he is very open to having conversations with potential investors.
‘I can’t comment on where we are in the process,’ he says, ‘but I can tell you that we are going for strategic investors that can help us grow the company.’
So could any future discussions with potential investors also include the option of taking a controlling stake in the company?
‘We are open for having debates about becoming an owner of the company,’ Meyer answers.
‘And any partner should be one that can help the company scale – and that probably also leads back to them being a key customer of the company.’
Scaling up and building cross-industry engagement is the way ahead – for ZeroNorth and for tramp shipping, he says.
‘It’s more than just savings; it’s about collaboration across the industry and building trust along supply chain about the data and its uses – that’s what can make a leap forward.
‘If individual owners and operators are just optimising on their own, I think there is a limit to how far the industry can get.’