Many agree that the Norwegian shipping environment today is world-leading in many respects, including ship finance and innovative technical solutions.

However, there is an increasing feeling that the community is losing relevance in one key way — as a home for major shipowning names, particularly as many traditionally shipowning families have disappeared.

In many ways, bulker owner Belships represents a breath of fresh air.

The company is one of the oldest on the Oslo Stock Exchange, having been on the main list since before World War II, but for decades its shares have been considered half-dead, with little trading liquidity.

After last year’s merger with Frode Teigen’s Lighthouse Group, Belships' fleet doubled to almost 20 ships, all supramaxes and ultramaxes.

For decades, Belships focused on providing heavylift shipping to the rail sector Photo: Belships

It has a clear intention to grow, to be a visible member of the bourse followed by stock brokers, and pay dividends.

Belships began in 1918 when entrepreneur and master mariner Christen Smith invited investors to become shareholders in Skibaktieselskabet Christen Smiths Rederi.

However, it could have ended its days shortly after its inception, as its new ships entered a crisis with massive lay-ups. Smith sought out-of-the-box solutions and found them in a heavylift shipping concept serving the rail sector that for decades became vital for Belships.

Belships listed in 1937, and brothers Axel, Frithjof and Jorgen Lorentzen became key shareholders and assumed control. The brothers, their children and grandchildren would remain at the helm of Belships for the next 80 years.

Sverre Tidemand, the 68-year-old member of the family's third generation, still sits on the board and is a substantial shareholder.

Significant milestone

Last year marked a significant milestone for Belships as it merged with Lighthouse, creating an integrated shipowning company and swelling its fleet.

As part of the deal, Tidemand sold some of his stake and turned over control to Teigen companies Kontrari and Kontrazi.

Lighthouse added its nine owned supramaxes and ultramaxes, all operating in the spot market, to the Belships fleet. Lighthouse was already commercially operating about 30 ships.

In the merged company, Belships will have technical management of the ships, while Bangkok-based Lighthouse will serve as commercial manager.

Soon after the merger, it became clear that the company had ambitions for growth. In February, Lars Christian Skarsgard, 38, the sale-and-purchase boss of Norwegian shipbroker Fearnleys, was headhunted to become Belships' chief executive.

Within two months it had expanded by buying three bulkers in three separate deals.

It purchased the 58,000-dwt Viola (built 2008) from the Wenaas group of Norway for $13m.

The second ship was the 63,000-dwt Sofie Victory (built 2016), bought from EGD Shipholding for $24.2m.

Belships vessels carried railcars and locomotives Photo: Belships

In May, Belships picked up the 55,000-dwt Sephora (built 2007) from Greek owner Elias Kulukundis for $12m, half paid for in Belships shares.

Giving new company shares to the vessel sellers enabled Belships to further expand. “This is a prudent way of growing,” one observer comments.

And Skarsgard says: “We have capacity to do a lot more”.

Belships has been listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange for more than 80 years and brokers suggest it may benefit from being on the main board and not on the less demanding over-the-counter and Oslo Access markets.

But to benefit, Belships' shares must become more liquid and it must also choose a shareholder friendly dividend policy, experts say.

There has traditionally been little trading in Belships shares, and one of the steps forward is expected to be securing cover from analysts, which may happen soon.

Experienced team

Teigen, 57, brings extensive shipping experience that stretches beyond Lighthouse. Until 2005, he and his father, Arne, and his brother, Ole Kjetil, owned Bangkok-based bulker owning company Thoresen Thai Agencies, before selling out and netting $190m.

Teigen is described as a very hard-working, clever shipping man who is media shy. He owns most of the shares in Belships and has a seat on the board.

Belships' merger with Lighthouse appears to overcome key hurdles. Sverre’s brother Otto protested over the way the sale was conducted but was ultimately overruled.

And TradeWinds is told that Teigen works very well with Tidemand, who also sits on the Belships board. His company Sonata holds 10% of Belships' shares.

As for the new chief executive, despite his relatively young age, Skarsgard is no newcomer to shipping.

“The job at Belships was too tempting to refuse,” he says.

However, he was very happy at Fearnleys and wishes to thank its owner Hans Rasmus Astrup.

Skarsgard spent 10 years on Fearnleys' S&P team before he was hired in 2013 at Stove Rederi, the shipowner controlled by Tidemand’s brother Otto. Skarsgard eventually became head of shipowning before returning to Fearnleys in 2016.

He began as a shipbroker when he was 23 and believes Norwegian shipping firms are quite good in letting new talent get a chance to show their skills.

The bell from the 108,000-dwt bulker Belcargo, which was delivered to Belships from Norwegian yard Fredrikstad Mek Verksted in 1975 Photo: Fredrik Ekren