With more than 200 million registered gross tons, Nippon Kaiji Kyokai, perhaps better known as ClassNK, is the world’s largest classification society and is showing no signs of stopping or slowing down any time soon.
In fact, the Tokyo-based class society took just five years to grow its register from 150 million to 200 million gross tons, compared with the ten years it took to grow from 100 million gross tons (achieved in 1997) to 150 million (2007). According to IHS Fairplay data, ClassNK is the leading classification society for bulk carriers with nearly three times more than the next member in the International Association of Classification Society, and is also the leading class society in IACS for tankers and second for container carriers in terms of ship numbers.
Part of this growth, ClassNK Chairman and President Noboru Ueda says, is due to the incredible growth of the wider maritime industry and its internationalization, but also the success of a new approach to ship classification, called Common Structural Rules (CSR), that ClassNK began implementing when Ueda took on his current role in 2008.
With the development of CSR, there is now one common set of rules for tankers and bulk carriers which allows for greater safety and transparency than the previous system, where there was one set of rules from each class society. The development of the CSR helped make use of the wealth of data and technical experience ClassNK has accumulated from more than a century of ship classification. Not only that, but ClassNK is offering further support by providing timely briefings both in Japan and abroad whenever a rule is amended or added to the CSR , as well as created special “Hull Department” that provides technical consultation services and support to clients.
“With the development of the Common Structural Rules, the professionalization of the maritime industry, as well as the increasing demands of new regulations on ship owners and yards, we realized it would no longer be enough to simply have the greatest technical expertise,” Mr. Ueda said. “Instead, we would need to pair our commitment to technical excellence, with a dedication to supporting the maritime industry and providing the very best service to our clients around the globe.
“In line with this new approach, we embarked on a campaign to expand our network of offices around the world, and in doing so provide better, more timely and lower cost service to owners and yards. And over the past four years, I have personally overseen the establishment of 22 new offices around the globe, by far the largest and most rapid expansion in ClassNK’s history of more than a century.”
ClassNK currently operates a network of 98 offices outside Japan, including 22 that have opened since Mr. Ueda became Chairman, that have helped the Society’s register grow by more than 50 million gross tons, or 25% of the Society’s total register, over the last five years.
This growth was no coincidence either. Last November, ClassNK established a new section of the Society’s Survey Department in Hamburg with senior staff from Tokyo in order to provide better service to German ship owners. This marked the first time the Society had placed head office management staff and functions outside of Japan and, as a result, greatly strengthened ClassNK’s presence in Hamburg where the Society has already been active for three decades.
Turns out the strategy paid off. Over the past year German owners have transferred 20 vessels totaling about one million gross tons to ClassNK. Most recently, ClassNK marked a “new era” with the transfer of eight vessels to its register by German companies including RHL Reederei Hamburger Lloyd GmbH & Co. KG, BF Shipmanagement GmbH & Co. KG and Johann M. K. Blumenthal GmbH & Co. KG.
“I do not think this is simply a coincidence, but see it rather as proof of our idea that providing ever better service leads to ever greater success,” Mr. Ueda said. “Even though 200 million gross tons is a great and unparalleled achievement, I believe it is only a milestone on a path towards even greater achievements in the future. Even as we have been expanding we have been considering the next steps necessary to ensure our success in the years to come.”