Masterbulk Pte Ltd is part of the Westfal-Larsen Group (WL Group) of companies, established in Bergen, Norway in 1905. The WL Group employs more than 1,000 office employees and seafarers worldwide.
Masterbulk was established in Singapore in February 1995. The Company owns and operates a fleet of Open Hatch Gantry Crane Vessels for handling unitized cargoes, specializing in the forestry product segment. Our vessels also handle a wide variety of products including steel, bulk, project cargoes, grains and fertilisers, petcoke and iron ore, containers, windmill blades, railcars and yachts, etc.
Here is an overview of our history.
H. Westfal-Larsen established his own shipping company in the year of Norwegian independence. Norway’s particular needs as a seafaring nation were one of the main issues in the conflict that led to the dissolution of the Norwegian-Swedish Union in 1905. One of the main agents in this conflict was ship owner and Prime Minister Christian Michelsen from Bergen.
His shipping company had become the largest in Bergen and the second largest in Norway at the turn of the century. Bergen was Norway’s main shipping port in 1905, with as many as 357 ships and a total of 205 000 net register tons (nrt). At the time, Norway was the fourth largest seafaring nation in the world. Bergen was also at the head of the nation in the transition from sail to steam powered ships. The steam ship tonnage overtook sail ship tonnage in Bergen in 1883, whereas the same thing happened in Kristiania (Oslo), and Norway in general, 20 years later.
Wilh. Wilhelmsen was Norway’s major ship owner towards the end of 1905, with 24 ships and 45 000 nrt to his name, whereas the shipping firm Harloff & Boe was largest in Bergen with 11 ships of 15 000 nrt. Christian Michelsen was second with 6 ships of around 13 000 nrt.
Establishing the company
H. Westfal-Larsen, born 1872, was employed by Rasmus F. Olsen Shipping Company for 16 years before starting his own company in 1905. He had attended commercial school, as well as doing a one-year course at the Bergen Ship Engineering School. He started his shipping career by investing in other owners’ vessels. In 1905, he established his own shipping company and took over the management of the newbuilding S/S “Hardanger”as well as S/S “Venezia”, which was wrecked shortly after, and S/S “Garibaldi”. In 1906 and 1907, he had two newly constructed ships delivered. Thanks to the trust he had gained in the shipping community of Bergen, he could take over management of several older vessels. It continued to expand and currently Westfal-Larsen Group owns and has the management of 20 open hatch dry bulk vessels and 8 tankers. Its main activities also include investment as well as ship technical and commercial management.
The new ships were constructed for the timber trade, whereas the older vessels were used for transporting coal from England and herring from Iceland. During the summer season they would also transport ice from Norway to England, among other things. In 1906 Westfal-Larsen hired Georg von Erpecom as his clerk and errand boy. Ten years later, aged 28, Erpecom had advanced to the position of partner and ship owner.
On February 6th H. Westfal-Larsen contacted the local yard Bergens Mekaniske Verksted (Bergen Mechanical Workshop) to enquire whether they could provide a steamer worth NOK 250 000. One of the terms was that the shipyard would sign up for 5/100 parts in the ship. The capital was swiftly put together, with contributions from 36 part-owners. Ship owner Fridtjof Sundt was the major investor, he held 20 parts.
Westfal-Larsen himself held 11, and the ship’s captain seven. The main contract was signed on February 27th. S/S “Hardanger” was launched on September 26th and delivered on October 6th 1905.
War and Economic Boom
In spite of Norway’s neutrality during World War I, 638 Norwegian steamships (over 100 gross register tons) were wrecked as a result of war in the period 1914-1918. Of these, 167 were registered in Bergen. Eleven of Westfal-Larsen’s ships were lost, among them the brand new S/T “Malmanger” (5671 grt.), which was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland on March 22nd 1917. S/S “Prosper III” (4298 grt.) was blown up by a mine on June 6th 1916, and was one of the most tragic losses for the company. 29 of its crew were lost.
The war led to a hectic period in the business, such as buying and selling ships and contracts. Westfal-Larsen bought 13 ships during the years of the war. At the end of the war Westfal-Larsen had three contracts for building projects as well as six ships.
From Tramp Trade to Liner and Tanker Trade
Tank and overseas liner trade were sectors that expanded within international shipping in the 1920s and 1930s, and Norwegian ship owners were major agents. Westfal-Larsen was among the few Bergen shipping companies that went in for these sectors.
In 1938 the company was the largest in Bergen, holding around a fourth of the town’s total tonnage, but more than half of its tanker tonnage and well over 60% of the liner tonnage. This year Westfal-Larsen was the largest tanker shipping company in Norway.
The Bergen fleet was for the most part engaged in tramp trade also in the years between the World Wars. In spite of Westfal-Larsens growing emphasis on tanker and liner trade, the shipping company also had a small tramp fleet finding business here and there. These were mostly ships built before and during World War I. This fleet was, however, diminished in the period.
The company started its venture into liner trade in 1921, along with three other Bergen shipping companies. County Line navigated the East Coast of North America as well as the Continent. In 1925 Westfal-Larsen Company Line started a service between the West Coast of North America and around South America, bringing timber and fruit south while returning coffee.
In 1930 Interocean Line was established, navigating between the West Coast of North America and Europe. The Southern Cross Line between North and South America was established in 1939, in cooperation with the J. Ludwig Mowinckel Shipping Company to Newcastle.
The company’s first tanker, S/T “Malmanger”, was sunk on its maiden voyage in 1917. A new S/T “Malmanger” was delivered in 1920, followed by S/T “Davanger” in 1922. Good results led to further investments in the tanker trade. In the years 1925-1930 another eight tankers were delivered to the company, and two more again in 1938. Westfal-Larsen had now become the largest tanker company in Norway, with a total of 12 ships. Nine of these were to be sunk during World War II.
World War II Losses
Westfal-Larsen & Co AS experienced greater losses than most other Bergen shipping companies during World War II. In 1940 five of the company’s ships and 54 crew members were lost at sea as a result of the war. Out of a fleet of 36 ships, 22 were lost during the war.In comparison, J. Ludwig Mowinckel shipping company lost seven ships out of a fleet of 19.
After the war broke out, several of Westfal-Larsen’s liners on US West Coast and South America were taken out of service, and employed in the more exposed Anglo-American trade. Many of the company’s tankers also navigated the Atlantic. M/T “Varanger” was sunk on January 25th 1942 on the coast off Atlantic City, New Jersey, en route from Curacao to New York.
The great losses Westfal-Larsen suffered during World War II led to Mowinckel’s shipping company gaining the top position in Bergen for a short period. There was a lot of competition regarding buying and contracting ships. However, the authorities favoured Westfal-Larsen because of their losses. Two new vessels that had been seized by the Germans were returned; in addition the company gained seven American standard ships and one German replacement ship in the years immediately after the war.
After 1948, the number of newbuildings increased steadily. Liner trade was given priority the first few years, but from 1954 and on the company gained several tankers as well. In 1955 the fleet had been restored to its pre-war standard, as was the whole Bergen fleet, six years later than Oslo.
Liner trade was given priority after World War II for fear of losing shares of the market, as well as in hope of an increase in profits. Liner services were re-established using American C1A-ships built for purposes of war, but also new vessels arrived on the scene. The company particularly concentrated on the Interocean Line. Flag discrimination, particularly in South America, posed problems for the liner trade towards the end of the 1950s. Westfal-Larsen pulled out of the County Line in 1958, and the Southern Cross Line was dismantled two years later. The Interocean Line followed suit in 1970, as did the Westfal-Larsen Company Line in 1982. The shipping company’s participation in traditional liner trade was over. More efficient bulk and container ships had taken over the market.
Growth Through Cooperation
Star Shipping had its origin when Westfal-Larsen entered into a business venture with Per Waaler in 1962. More efficient bulk cargo ships were developed. In 1970 this company operated seven bulk cargo ships. In 1995 Westfal-Larsen’s holdings in Star Shipping were transferred to the newly established Masterbulk Pte. Ltd. in Singapore. Star Shipping was owned by the Grieg Group and Masterbulk, and was the world’s largest conveyor of timber products.
Odfjell Westfal-Larsen Tankers
Problems in the international tanker market around 1960 led Westfal-Larsen into specialized tanker trade. The company entered into cooperation with Odfjell Shipping Company in 1964. Two brand new specialized tankers, “Austanger” and “Grenanger”, were then transferred to Odfjell. In 1980 this collaboration was formalized through the establishing of Odfjell Westfal-Larsen Tankers AS. In 1990 Westfal-Larsen concluded this collaboration and sold its 13 chemical tankers to Skibs AS Storli (Odfjell).
In the year of the centennial anniversary, Westfal-Larsen managed a total of 28 ships of around 1.2 million deadweight tonnage. The fleet contained 24 specialized bulk cargo vessels, three chemical tankers and one gas tanker. Furthermore, two new specialized bulk cargo ships were ordered for delivery in 2007 and 2008. The tankers and eight of the bulk cargo ships are run by Westfal-Larsen Management AS in Bergen, while the others are run from Singapore, by Masterbulk Pte. Ltd., owned by Westfal-Larsen. The bulk cargo ships are of the “open hatch” type with gantry cranes. The customary cargo is wood pulp and paper, as well as containers. The ships used to run within Star Shipping enterprise, which was owned by Masterbulk and Grieg Shipping.
As a consequence of the de-merger agreement of Star Shipping in 2008, Westfal-Larsen Shipping AS was established on January 1st 2009. The company is owned by Singapore based Masterbulk, a daughter company of Westfal-Larsen & Co AS with long traditions back to 1905. Westfal-Larsen Shipping operates Masterbulk’s fleet of open hatch vessels in various trades around the world.
2014 Pool Agreement
On October 1st 2014, Saga Welco Pool was established as a new pool between Masterbulk and NYK, comprising 52 modern open hatch vessels. This pool is managed by a joint venture company, Saga Welco AS, which is owned 50% by Masterbulk and 50% by NYK. The pool combines the total open hatch fleet of Saga Shipholding AS (Norway), Masterbulk Pte Ltd (Westfal-Larsen), and Attic Forest AS (Hesnes Group).
In 2015, the ship management was outsourced to Rickmers Shipmanagement (Singapore) Pte Ltd (16 vessels), and Westfal-Larsen Management AS (4 vessels).