Although Christian Bonfils parted ways with the apple of his eye, Arctic carrier Nordic Bulk Carriers, in January, he did not completely bid farewell to the Arctic region. In collaboration with Denmark’s Monjasa Holding, a company known mostly for its ship fuel activities, he has established the new company First Arctic, he reveals to ShippingWatch. As the name suggests, the regional focus for the new business will be the Arctic.
We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we know what we want and what is needed. We simply have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
First Arctic is based on a concept that Christian Bonfils worked with in Nordic Bulk Carriers, and which he has now been given the chance to advance further – a concept based on years of hard work. The aim is to find solutions to the challenges facing maritime and offshore companies working in remote and unaccommodating parts of the world where infrastructure is limited, but growth prospects are great.
These companies include mining outfits, but even more so oil and gas companies in the offshore sector. When talk turns to the Arctic, it is currently all about when things will begin to take off, and not if they will begin to take off, says Christian Bonfils, who just returned from a conference on Iceland centering on the Arctic region.
"Especially having been there, my belief that it will happen has increased. But there are massive challenges in getting things to work both within mining and oil and gas. There are major infrastructure issues in the Arctic and other unaccommodating areas where distances to shore are vast and where there’s a lack of infrastructure," he says, adding:
"The concept we have come up with is something we have discussed with the oil companies and it has been well received, and some of them have been very close to the process and the development of the concept."
Not just the Arctic
Christian Bonfils does not care to specify what the different services will focus on. They will be developed in collaboration with individual clients, he says, and investments in First Arctic’s own assets will have to wait until contracts have been secured. For competition reasons, he is not able to reveal which ships could come into play either.
He says First Arctic is in no need to announce too many details to the market and its players. The newly-formed company wants to live a quiet life and Bonfils says it will be a while before we hear anything from him again.
"This customer segment is markedly different from, say, the bulk industry and significantly smaller, and the people who need to know about this are very much aware of what we do. It’s a long-term project."
But the Arctic is not the only area that is interesting to the new company. Markets like West Africa are also on First Arctic’s radar, a market where Monjasa has already gathered experience with sale of ship fuel.
"When it works in really cold regions, it will also work in other places. It’s easier to scale out to other places. The Arctic is definitely the most difficult place," says Christain Bonfils, who has formed close ties with the two Monjasa Holding CEOs, Jan Jacobsen and Anders Østergaard, over a number of years.
The three partners have talked about doing something together for some time and simply waited for the right time. That time came around following Bonfils’ exit from Nordic Bulk Carriers.
Christian Bonfils is currently situated at Monjasa's offices in Amaliegade in Copenhagen and as co-owner and CEO of First Arctic, he sees great opportunities for synergies with other parts of the Monjasa group and its operations in places like Mexico, Nigeria, and Angola and its fleet of bunker vessels and related tank terminals. He also points to the C-Bed company which offers accommodation for employees on offshore wind parks.
Christian Bonfils admits that there are likely to be other players looking at this market, but he stresses that the company’s concept is developed in collaboration with the customers and tailored to their needs.
"The concept has never been seen before and certainly not to this scale. It targets major projects and includes highly advanced solutions and it’s all about thinking out of the box and being innovative. The low oil price means oil companies are forced to think out of the box, so the timing is great. It might be that the will to invest is more aggressive in a higher market, but if we can make some things possible for them, they are forced to listen to us. So personally, I think it’s more exciting to enter at the bottom than at the top (of a cycle)," Christian Bonfils says and adds:
"We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we know what we want and what is needed. We simply have to roll up our sleeves and get to work. It might sometimes be easier at first at the top of cycle because the will to invest is greater, but it’s more shortsighted. What’s interesting is that oil companies are forced to look at themselves and they are probably more amenable to projects like this at the moment."