By Joe Brady

Concord Maritime has launched its first pool with the creation of the ­Dakota Tankers aframax pool and an initial stable of seven vessels.

With members Atlas Maritime of Greece and Emarat Maritime of ­Dubai in the fold, the commercial manager’s chief executive, Ben Ognibene, told TradeWinds it is just the start for an operation he would like to build to between 20 and 25 units in time.

“I think that’s a good number — that gives great triangulation ­opportunities and also good coverage in global markets,” he said in an interview at Concord’s offices in Stamford, Connecticut.

Atlas and Emarat were original members of the Sigma Tankers aframax pool, which Ognibene originated in tandem with Concord partner Jim Hurley when both were with pools power Heidmar.

Ognibene resigned in September 2017 as chief executive of Heidmar and formed Concord in April this year. He then brought Hurley onboard as chief operating officer.

“We have a track record of ­commercial performance and transparency, which is foremost,” Ognibene said. “With relationships we’ve had in the past, people know how fairly we’ve treated them. They realise we’re a reliable partner who will be around for a long time — no conflicts of interest, no shareholders who are competitors in the spot market or anything like that.”

Emarat, the latest entry to the pool, delivered its 115,500-dwt ­Dubai Charm (built 2010) this month.

“We feel very comfortable … in Concord’s hands based upon the relationship we have had with the team over the past several years. Shipping is a people business, it requires partners who respond to requirements with thoughtful and creative ideas,” Emarat managing director Jitendra Misra told TradeWinds.

Most of the vessels in the pool have been contributed by Atlas: the 115,200-dwt Aspasia Lemos (built 2009); the 115,000-dwt sisters Lady M, Texas Star and Atlas Voyager (all built 2003); and the 105,500-dwt Mitera Marigo (built 2007).

‘High degree of confidence’

“We know and trust the team very well and have a high degree of confidence in their ability to consistently outperform the markets,” Atlas chief executive Leon Patitsas said.

The remaining vessel in the pool is the 113,000-dwt Free Spirit (built 2008), an LR2 product tanker owned by the Moundreas family’s NGM Energy. It has been chartered in by Concord to trade alongside the partners’ tankers.

“It was delivered to us as a clean LR2 but there was such a [rate ­differential] between the clean and dirty market that it made sense for us to charter it in and trade it dirty,” Ognibene said.

The Aspasia Lemos is also an LR2 trading dirty in the pool.

After a fairly flat year for rates, the market began to improve in October, spurred by the imposition of sanctions against Iran and the increase in export volumes from the US Gulf to European refineries, Ognibene said.

“The US exports have helped the aframaxes,” Hurley added. “I think it’s going to be a pretty dynamic market in 2019. You’ve got some uncertainty over Opec, but a lot of new crude coming online — the US pumping a lot, Brazil increasing production. It’s not just a question of the AG [Arabian Gulf] pumping any more.”

Concord still has sights on setting up pools for suezmaxes and VLCCs, but those probably will wait until it grows Dakota further. “I think we have a little way to go on the aframaxes, and we’ll continue to build that,” Ognibene said.