James Freeland, who died recently at the age of 86, was one of the most respected and successful newbuilding brokers of his generation.
Described by many as the last gentleman shipbroker, Freeland won a scholarship to study classics and law at Cambridge University, followed by two years in the Royal Marines.
His shipping career started in 1960 when he joined his father, a maritime lawyer, and his elder brother Neil in the London office of Erling Naess, a Norwegian-American shipowner based in Bermuda.
In 1966, Freeland was persuaded to join the newbuilding team at H Clarkson, where, over the next 30 years, he contributed greatly to the growth of the company’s sale-and-purchase activities.
One of his earliest deals was arranging for a South Korean company to place orders in Scotland and Sweden for four 120,000-dwt and 130,000-dwt tankers. It was a complicated transaction, as it was the first order by a South Korean company outside of Japan.
The deal required considerable patience and commitment by Freeland, who needed to travel continually to South Korea, normally via Tokyo and occasionally through Hong Kong. It was during this period that life-long relationships were forged with Japanese shipbuilders — Mitsubishi in particular — as well as with many Hong Kong-based Chinese owners.
One of these was YK Pao. Freeland had heard that YK always liked to take an early morning swim, especially when he was travelling. So when YK entered the swimming pool in the RAC Club at 6am one morning, there was only one other person present.
A conversation started that resulted in a series of four VLCCs being ordered by the Chinese magnate in Sweden, two of which Freeland then sold as resale contracts, giving the owners a massive profit sufficient to cover the costs of the two remaining ships.
The broker’s relationship with the shipowner — and his family — continued for many years with further newbuildings in several countries, including tankers in France and a series of bulk carriers in Spain.
During the tanker newbuilding boom of the 1970s, Freeland was also deeply involved with many of the major Greek shipowning families such as NJ Goulandris, Embiricos, Coulouthros, GS Livanos and Kulukundis, as well as with Stavros Niarchos, where the celebration dinner following the contract signing for two VLCC resales included several magnums of Chateau Haut-Brion.
Freeland was a man of whom rarely a bad word was spoken — even by his competitors. Indeed, unusual among brokers then and now was the fact that many well-known brokers from Norway, Paris and New York would do business with him, as they felt he could be trusted to support them and their clients’ interests, allowing them to conclude deals that might have not succeeded without his involvement.
Freeland was offered an attractive retirement package by Clarkson at the age of 55 in 1991 but then joined a friend’s shipping finance boutique business, where he acted as a principal and continued to arrange business, particularly in Japan.
However, in 1993, he was lured back into shipbroking, and he joined the team of Braemar Shipbrokers, where he stayed for some 10 years.
Alan Marsh, the chief executive of Braemar at the time, with whom he had previously worked at Clarkson, said: “We had been going for nearly 10 years — when we started, the markets were poor and so we had concentrated on the secondhand and demolition/recycling markets but had recently expanded into both tanker and dry cargo chartering.
“Our client base was increasing, and we were starting to develop some relationships with the Korean yards, but our team was still young, and we needed to have someone with experience to help our development and introduce Braemar to the wider shipbuilding world.
“James excelled at this. He acted as a mentor and, most importantly for us, he was a team player. Owners and yards trusted him alike for his honesty, uncomplicated approach to business as well as his charm, wisdom and friendship.
Owners and yards trusted him alike for his honesty, uncomplicated approach to business as well as his charm, wisdom and friendship
— Alan Marsh
“Over the next 10 years or so, he greatly helped our team establish themselves in the marketplace, and of course he was still able to succeed himself on major transactions for Greek owners such as for NS Lemos, as well as a Middle East government oil company.”
Freeland served as president of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers in 2003 and was a prime warden of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights.
In November, a service of thanksgiving was attended by many hundreds of friends and family, including younger brother Donald, who, like his two brothers and their father, enjoyed a very successful career in the shipping industry and as a leading maritime lawyer in Norton Rose.
Neil’s son Jamie continues the family tradition as a director of S&P for the AM Nomikos Group.
James Freeland, born 3 August 1936, died 17 October 2022