Nagashiki Shipping was not one of the familiar names in Japanese shipping until one of its bulkers grounded off Mauritius, causing devastating pollution.

But the owner of the 203,000-dwt Wakashio (built 2007) has a long history and a substantial fleet of modern ships, which it charters out to blue-chip operators.

The company can trace its 150-year history back to the end of the Edo period around the mid-1800s. Nagashiki Shipping started in the business of transporting salt from the city of Sanuki on the island of Shikoku, across the Inland Sea, to the Kansai district on the mainland.

The company grew its sea transportation business before establishing Nagashiki Shipping in 1930. After the war, the modern Nagashiki Shipping was formed in 1958.

Since then, it has moved from Shikoku to the mainland side of the Inland Sea. Its head office in Okayama prefecture in south-west Japan outwardly appears to be a Japanese-style residential property.

Mixed fleet

VesselsValue estimates that from that modest base Nagashiki Shipping owns a fleet of 11 containerships, product tankers and bulkers, including a kamsarmax newbuilding on order at Cosco Dalian Shipyard. The fleet is worth about $181.6m in total and has an average age of just seven years old.

Nagashiki Shipping is one of dozens of similar-size private Japanese shipowning companies that are located along the Inland Sea around the mainland or on the island of Shikoku.

Typical of many similar Japanese private shipowning companies in that region, Nagashiki Shipping's business is based on long-term time-charter or bareboat leasing agreements with established operators.

Big name charterers

Its main charterers include Mitsui OSK Lines, NYK Line, Norden, CNC Line, Asahi Tanker and TS Line.

It has split the technical management of its ships between Japanese and non-Japanese companies. The Wakashio was the only vessel in the Nagashiki Shipping fleet which had in-house shipmanagement, the rest of the fleet is managed by Japanese third-party manager Misuga Kaiun and Hong Kong-based Anglo-Eastern.

'Low-risk' ship

Until the virus crisis, Nagashiki Shipping’s in-house management had a reasonable port state control rating. The Waskashio was rated as a "low-risk ship" by the Tokyo MOU on Port State Control authority.

Despite its low profile, the company has not attempted to hide from the growing media spotlight following the grounding of the Wakashio.

Nagashiki Shipping chief executive Kiyoaki Nagashiki headed a Tokyo press conference immediately after the disaster and the company employed specialist public relations firm MTI Network to take questions from non-Japanese press.

The company has consistently said it will abide by its legal responsibility for the disaster and clean-up the pollution caused by its vessel.

Many private Japanese owners like Nagashiki Shipping have come under severe financial pressure during the current downturn as charterers struggle to meet their regular charter hire payments.

The Wakashio incident has encouraged many of them to undergo a thorough safety review.