c/o Star Bulk Management Inc., 40 Agiou Konstantinou Str.
Maroussi 15124, Athens, Greece
(Name, telephone, email and/or facsimile number and address of Company Contact Person)
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act.
Title of each class
Name of exchange on which registered
Common Shares, par value $0.01 per share
8.30% Senior Notes due 2022
Nasdaq Global Select Market; Oslo Børs
Nasdaq Global Select Market
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None.
Securities for which there is a reporting obligation pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Act: None.
Indicate the number of outstanding shares of each of the issuer’s classes of capital or common stock as of the close of the period covered by the annual report: As of December 31, 2018, there were 92,285,986 common shares of the registrant outstanding.
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. ☐ Yes ☒ No
If this report is an annual report or transition report, indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. ☐ Yes ☒ No
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15 (d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. ☒ Yes ☐ No
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files). ☒ Yes ☐ No
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, or a non-accelerated filer.
Large accelerated filer ☐ Accelerated filer ☒ Non-accelerated filer ☐ Emerging Growth Company ☐
If an emerging growth company that prepares its financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards† provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. ☐
† The term “new or revised financial accounting standard” refers to any update issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board to its Accounting Standards Codification after April 5, 2012.
Indicate by check mark which basis of accounting the registrant has used to prepare the financial statements included in this filing:
U.S. GAAP ☒ International Financial Reporting Standards as issued by the International Accounting Standards Board ☐ Other ☐
If “Other” has been checked in response to the previous question, indicate by check mark which financial statement item the registrant has elected to follow. ☐ Item 17 or ☐ Item 18.
If this is an annual report, indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act).
☐ Yes ☒ No
Star Bulk Carriers Corp. and its wholly owned subsidiaries (the “Company”) desire to take advantage of the safe harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 and are including this cautionary statement in connection with this safe harbor legislation. The Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 provides safe harbor protections for forward-looking statements in order to encourage companies to provide prospective information about their business. Forward-looking statements include statements concerning plans, objectives, goals, strategies, future events or performance, and underlying assumptions and other statements, which are other than statements of historical facts.
This document includes “forward-looking statements,” as defined by U.S. federal securities laws, with respect to our financial condition, results of operations and business and our expectations or beliefs concerning future events. Words such as, but not limited to, “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “estimate,” “intend,” “plan,” “targets,” “projects,” “likely,” “would,” “could” and similar expressions or phrases may identify forward-looking statements.
All forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties. The occurrence of the events described, and the achievement of the expected results, depend on many events, some or all of which are not predictable or within our control. Actual results may differ materially from expected results.
In addition, important factors that, in our view, could cause actual results to differ materially from those discussed in the forward-looking statements include:
general dry bulk shipping market conditions, including fluctuations in charter rates and vessel values;
the strength of world economies;
the stability of Europe and the Euro;
fluctuations in interest rates and foreign exchange rates;
changes in demand in the dry bulk shipping industry, including the market for our vessels;
changes in our operating expenses, including bunker prices, dry docking and insurance costs;
changes in governmental rules and regulations or actions taken by regulatory authorities;
potential liability from pending or future litigation;
general domestic and international political conditions;
potential disruption of shipping routes due to accidents or political events;
the availability of financing and refinancing;
our ability to meet requirements for additional capital and financing to grow our business;
the impact of our indebtedness and the compliance with the covenants included in our debt agreements;
vessel breakdowns and instances of off-hire;
risks associated with vessel construction;
potential exposure or loss from investment in derivative instruments;
potential conflicts of interest involving our Chief Executive Officer, his family and other members of our senior management;
our ability to complete acquisition transactions as and when planned; and
other important factors described in “Risk Factors.”
We have based these statements on assumptions and analyses formed by applying our experience and perception of historical trends, current conditions, expected future developments and other factors we believe are appropriate in the circumstances. All future written and verbal forward-looking statements attributable to us or any person acting on our behalf are expressly qualified in their entirety by the cautionary statements contained or referred to in this section. We undertake no obligation, and specifically decline any obligation, except as required by law, to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. In light of these risks, uncertainties and assumptions, the forward-looking events discussed in this prospectus might not occur.
See the sections entitled “Risk Factors” of this Annual Report on Form 20-F for the year ended December 31, 2018 for a more complete discussion of these risks and uncertainties and for other risks and uncertainties. These factors and the other risk factors described in this prospectus are not necessarily all of the important factors that could cause actual results or developments to differ materially from those expressed in any of our forward-looking statements. Other unknown or unpredictable factors also could harm our results. Consequently, there can be no assurance that actual results or developments anticipated by us will be realized or, even if substantially realized, that they will have the expected consequences to, or effects on, us. Given these uncertainties, prospective investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on such forward-looking statements.
Identity of Directors, Senior Management and Advisers
Offer Statistics and Expected Timetable
Throughout this report, the “Company,” “Star Bulk,” “we,” “us” and “our” all refer to Star Bulk Carriers Corp. and its wholly owned subsidiaries. We use the term deadweight ton (“dwt”) in describing the size of vessels. Dwt, expressed in metric tons, each of which is equivalent to 1,000 kilograms, refers to the maximum weight of cargo and supplies that a vessel can carry. We own, operate, have under construction dry bulk vessels of seven sizes:
Newcastlemax, which are vessels with carrying capacities of between 200,000 dwt and 210,000 dwt;
Capesize, which are vessels with carrying capacities of between 100,000 dwt and 200,000 dwt;
Post Panamax, which are vessels with carrying capacities of between 90,000 dwt and 100,000 dwt;
Kamsarmax, which are vessels with carrying capacities of between 80,000 dwt and 90,000 dwt;
Panamax, which are vessels with carrying capacities of between 65,000 and 80,000 dwt;
Ultramax, which are vessels with carrying capacities of between 60,000 and 65,000 dwt; and
Supramax, which are vessels with carrying capacities of between 50,000 and 60,000 dwt.
Unless otherwise indicated, all references to “Dollars” and “$” in this report are to U.S. Dollars and all references to “Euro” and “€” in this report are to Euros.
We are a global shipping company providing worldwide seaborne transportation solutions in the dry bulk sector. Our vessels transport major bulks, which include iron ore, coal and grain and minor bulks which include bauxite, fertilizers and steel products. We were incorporated in the Marshall Islands on December 13, 2006 and maintain offices in Athens, Oslo, New York, Cyprus and Geneva. Our common shares trade on the Nasdaq Global Select Market and the Oslo Børs under the symbol “SBLK.” Taking into consideration the sales of vessels Star Aurora and Star Kappa, discussed elsewhere herein, as well as the delivery of our three new building vessels, we expect to have a fleet of 109 vessels, with an aggregate capacity of 12.5 million dwt, consisting of Newcastlemax, Capesize, Post Panamax, Kamsarmax, Panamax, Ultramax and Supramax vessels with carrying capacities between 52,055 dwt and 209,537 dwt. Our fleet currently includes 108 operating vessels, with an additional three newbuilding vessels under construction in China for expected delivery between March 2019 and June 2019. We also hold call options and have sold respective put options on four Capesize vessels, with exercise dates in early April 2019.
Oaktree Capital Management, L.P., together with its affiliates (“Oaktree”) is our largest shareholder. Oaktree is a leader among global investment managers specializing in alternative investments, with $120 billion in assets under management as of December 31, 2018. The firm emphasizes an opportunistic, value-oriented and risk-controlled approach to investments in distressed debt, corporate debt (including high yield debt and senior loans), control investing, convertible securities, real estate and listed equities. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the firm has over 900 employees and offices in 18 cities worldwide. See “Item 7 “Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions” for a discussion on the various limitations on the transfer and voting of our common shares by Oaktree.
The table below summarizes our recent financial information. We refer you to the notes to our consolidated financial statements for a discussion of the basis on which our consolidated financial statements are presented. For the effects of the adoption of the new accounting guidance for revenue from contracts with customers (ASC 606) and presentation of restricted cash in the statements of cash flows (ASU 2016-18), please refer to Note 2 to our consolidated financial statements. The information provided below should be read in conjunction with “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects” and the consolidated financial statements, related notes and other financial information included herein.
Following the 5-for-1 reverse stock split effected on June 20, 2016 (the “June 2016 Reverse Stock Split”), pursuant to which every five common shares issued and outstanding were converted into one common share, all share and per share amounts disclosed throughout this Annual Report have been retroactively updated to reflect this change in capital structure.
The historical results included below and elsewhere in this document are not necessarily indicative of the future performance of Star Bulk.
3.A.(i) CONSOLIDATED STATEMENT OF OPERATIONS
(In thousands of U.S. Dollars, except per share and share data)
Management fee income
Charter-in hire expenses
Vessel operating expenses
Dry docking expenses
General and administrative expenses
Provision for doubtful debts
(Gain)/ Loss on forward freight agreements and bunker swaps
Loss on time charter agreement termination
Other operational loss
Other operational gain
(Gain) / Loss on sale of vessels
Gain from bargain purchase
Operating income / (loss)
Interest and finance costs
Interest and other income / (loss)
Gain / (loss) on derivative financial instruments, net
Loss on debt extinguishment
Total other expenses, net
Income/ (Loss) before equity in Income of Investee
Equity in income of investee
Income / (Loss) before taxes
Net income / (loss)
Earnings / (loss) per share, basic and diluted
Weighted average number of shares outstanding, basic
Weighted average number of shares outstanding, diluted
Average number of vessels is the number of vessels that constituted our owned fleet for the relevant period, as measured by the sum of the number of days each operating vessel was a part of our owned fleet during the period divided by the number of calendar days in that period.
Ownership days are the total calendar days each vessel in the fleet was owned by us for the relevant period.
Available days for the fleet are the Ownership days after subtracting off-hire days for major repairs, dry docking or special or intermediate surveys and scrubber installation.
Charter-in days are the total days that we charter-in third-party vessels.
Fleet utilization is calculated by dividing (x) Available days plus Charter-in days by (y) Ownership days plus Charter-in days for the relevant period.
Time charter equivalent rate (the “TCE rate”) represents the weighted average daily time charter equivalent rates of our operating fleet (including owned fleet and fleet under charter‐in arrangements). TCE rate is a measure of the average daily net revenue performance of our vessels. Our method of calculating TCE rate is determined by dividing voyage revenues (net of voyage expenses, charter‐in hire expense, amortization of fair value of above/below market acquired time charter agreements and provision for onerous contracts, if any) by Available days for the relevant time period. Available days do not include the Charter-in days as per the relevant definitions provided above. Voyage expenses primarily consist of port, canal and fuel costs that are unique to a particular voyage, which would otherwise be paid by the charterer under a time charter contract, as well as commissions. TCE rate is a standard shipping industry performance measure used primarily to compare period‐to‐period changes in a shipping company’s performance despite changes in the mix of charter types (i.e., voyage charters, time charters, bareboat charters and pool arrangements) under which its vessels may be employed between the periods. Our method of computing TCE rate may not necessarily be comparable to TCE rates of other companies due to differences in methods of calculation. The above reported TCE rates for the year ended December 31, 2017 were calculated excluding Star Logistics. We have excluded the revenues and expenses of Star Logistics because it was formed in October 2017, and its revenues and expenses had not yet normalized in that period, which obscure material trends of our TCE rates. As a result, we believe it is more informative to our investors to present the TCE rates excluding the revenues and expenses of Star Logistics for that period (December 31, 2017). The revenues and expenses of Star Logistics normalized in the year ended December 31, 2018 and are included for purposes of calculating the TCE rate. For the detailed calculation please see the table at the end of this release with the reconciliation of Voyage Revenues to TCE rate. We include TCE rate, a non‐GAAP measure, as it provides additional meaningful information in conjunction with voyage revenues, the most directly comparable GAAP measure, and it assists our management in making decisions regarding the deployment and use of our operating vessels and assists investors and our management in evaluating our financial performance. For further information concerning our calculation and reconciliation of TCE rate to voyage revenue, please see “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects - A. Operating Results.”
Average daily operating expenses per vessel are calculated by dividing vessel operating expenses by Ownership days.
Capitalization and Indebtedness
Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds
The following risks relate principally to the industry in which we operate and our business in general. Other risks relate principally to the securities market and ownership of our common shares. The occurrence of any of the events described in this section could significantly and negatively affect our business, financial condition, operating results or the trading price of our common shares.
Risks Related to Our Industry
Charter rates for dry bulk vessels are volatile and have declined significantly the past years since their historic highs and may remain at low levels or further decrease in the future, which may adversely affect our earnings, revenue and profitability and our ability to comply with our loan covenants.
The dry bulk shipping industry is cyclical with high volatility in charter rates and profitability. The degree of charter rate volatility among different types of dry bulk vessels has varied widely, and in recent years, charter rates for dry bulk vessels declined significantly from historically high levels. In the past, time charter and spot market charter rates for dry bulk carriers have declined below operating costs of vessels (including as recently as 2016). The Baltic Dry Index, or the “BDI”, a daily average of charter rates for key dry bulk routes published by the Baltic Exchange Limited, which has long been viewed as the main benchmark to monitor the movements of the dry bulk vessel charter market and the performance of the entire dry bulk shipping market, declined from a high of 11,793 in May 2008 to a low of 290 in February 2016, which represents a decline of 98%. In 2018, the BDI ranged from a low of 948 in April 2018, to a high of 1,774 in July 2018. As of the last week of February 2019, the BDI stood at 649.
Our ability to be profitable will depend upon a number of factors. Fluctuations in charter rates result from changes in the supply of and demand for vessel capacity and changes in the supply of and demand for the major commodities carried by water internationally. Because the factors affecting the supply of and demand for vessels are outside of our control and are unpredictable, the nature, timing, direction and degree of changes in industry conditions are also unpredictable. Since we charter our vessels principally in the spot market, we are exposed to the cyclicality and volatility of the spot market. Spot market charter rates may fluctuate significantly based upon available charters and the supply of and demand for seaborne shipping capacity, and we may be unable to keep our vessels fully employed in these short-term markets. Alternatively, charter rates available in the spot market may be insufficient to enable our vessels to operate profitably. A significant decrease in charter rates would also affect asset values and adversely affect our profitability and cash flows.
changes in national or international regulations that may effectively cause reductions in the carrying capacity of vessels or early obsolescence of tonnage; and
changes in environmental and other regulations that may limit the useful lives of vessels.
In addition to the prevailing and anticipated freight rates, factors that affect the rate of newbuilding, scrapping and laying-up include newbuilding prices, secondhand vessel values in relation to scrap prices, costs of bunkers and other operating costs, costs associated with classification society surveys, normal maintenance costs, insurance coverage costs, the efficiency and age profile of the existing dry bulk fleet in the market, and government and industry regulation of maritime transportation practices, particularly environmental protection laws and regulations. These factors influencing the supply of and demand for shipping capacity are outside of our control, and we may not be able to correctly assess the nature, timing and degree of changes in industry conditions.
We anticipate that the future demand for our dry bulk vessels will be dependent upon economic growth in the world’s economies, including China, Japan and India, seasonal and regional changes in demand, changes in the capacity of the global dry bulk fleet, including vessel scrapping and ordering rates of newbuildings, and the sources and supply of dry bulk cargo to be transported by sea. A decrease in the level of China’s imports of raw materials or a decrease in trade globally could have a material adverse impact on our charterers’ business and, in turn, could cause a material adverse impact on our results of operations, financial condition and cash flows. Global dry bulk supply is expected to remain low over the next two years, as a result of low orders placed over the past three years and the implementation of the IMO low sulfur regulation. Although global economic conditions have improved, there can be no assurance as to the sustainability of future economic growth. Adverse economic, political, social or other developments could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and operating results.
If we are required to charter our vessels at a time when demand and charter rates are very low, we may not be able to secure employment for our vessels at all, or we may have to accept reduced and potentially unprofitable rates. If we are unable to secure profitable employment for our vessels, we may decide to lay-up some or all unemployed vessels until such time that charter rates become attractive again. During the lay-up period, we will continue to incur some expenditures, such as insurance and maintenance costs, for each such vessel. Additionally, before exiting lay-up, we will have to pay reactivation costs for any such vessel to regain its operational condition. As a result, our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows and our compliance with covenants in our credit facilities may be affected.
Global economic conditions may continue to negatively impact the dry bulk shipping industry.
Slow growth rates in the global economy may negatively impact the dry bulk industry. General market volatility has endured over the last several years as a result of uncertainty about the growth rate of the world economy and the Chinese economy in particular, on which the dry bulk industry depends to a significant degree. Charter rates have declined significantly in recent years. Although supply and demand fundamentals have slightly improved, in recent years the relatively weak global economic conditions have and may continue to have a number of adverse consequences for dry bulk and other shipping sectors, including, among other things:
low charter rates, particularly for vessels employed on short-term time charters or in the spot market;
decreases in the market value of dry bulk vessels and limited secondhand market for the sale of vessels;
limited financing for vessels;
widespread loan covenant defaults; and
declaration of bankruptcy by certain vessel operators, vessel owners, shipyards and charterers.
The occurrence of one or more of these events could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, cash flows and financial condition.
The current state of global financial markets and current economic conditions may adversely impact our results of operations, financial condition, cash flows and ability to obtain financing or refinance our existing and future credit facilities on acceptable terms, which may hinder or prevent us from operating or expanding our business.
Global financial markets and economic conditions have been, and continue to be, volatile. Credit markets and the debt and equity capital markets have been distressed and the uncertainty surrounding the future of the global credit markets has resulted in reduced access to credit worldwide. These issues, along with significant write-offs in the financial services sector, the re-pricing of credit risk and the current weak economic conditions, have made, and will likely continue to make, it difficult to obtain additional financing. The current state of global financial markets and current economic conditions might adversely impact our ability to issue additional equity at prices that will not be dilutive to our existing shareholders or preclude us from issuing equity at all. Economic conditions may also adversely affect the market price of our common shares.
Also, as a result of concerns about the stability of financial markets generally and the solvency of counterparties specifically, the cost of obtaining money from the credit markets has increased as many lenders have increased interest rates, enacted tighter lending standards, refused to refinance existing debt at all or on terms similar to current debt and reduced, and in some cases ceased, to provide funding to borrowers. Due to these factors, we cannot be certain that financing will be available to the extent required, or that we will be able to refinance our existing and future credit facilities, on acceptable terms or at all. If financing or refinancing is not available when needed, or is available only on unfavorable terms, we may be unable to meet our obligations as they come due or we may be unable to enhance our existing business, complete the acquisition of our newbuildings and additional vessel acquisitions or otherwise take advantage of business opportunities as they arise.
The instability of the euro or the inability of countries to refinance their debts could have a material adverse effect on our revenue, profitability and financial position.
As a result of the credit crisis in Europe, the European Commission created the European Financial Stability Facility (the “EFSF”), and the European Financial Stability Mechanism (the “EFSM”), to provide funding to Eurozone countries in financial difficulties that seek such support. In March 2011, the European Council agreed on the need for Eurozone countries to establish a permanent stability mechanism, the European Stability Mechanism, which was established on September 27, 2012 to assume the role of the EFSF and the EFSM in providing external financial assistance to Eurozone countries. Despite these measures, concerns persist regarding the debt burden of certain Eurozone countries and their ability to meet future financial obligations and the overall stability of the euro. An extended period of adverse developments in the outlook for European countries could reduce the overall demand for dry bulk cargoes and for our services. These potential developments, or market perceptions concerning these and related issues, could affect our financial position, results of operations and cash flows.
An increase in trade protectionism and the unravelling of multilateral trade agreements could have a material adverse impact on our charterers’ business and, in turn, could cause a material adverse impact on our results of operations, financial condition and cash flows.
Our operations expose us to the risk that increased trade protectionism will adversely affect our business. In the United States, there is significant uncertainty about the future relationship between the United States and other exporting countries, including with respect to trade policies, treaties, government regulations and tariffs. Trade tensions between the U.S. and China have resulted in both governments imposing tariffs, and both countries have indicated that they are willing to continue employing aggressive tactics, such as the imposition of additional punitive tariffs. As an example of such restrictions, in March 2018, President Trump imposed a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum imported into the United States, with temporary or permanent exemptions granted for certain countries. In response to these tariffs, China, the E.U., and other countries have implemented or are evaluating the use of retaliatory measures, which could further increase barriers to trade. Most notable in term of drybulk trade volumes, China imposed tariffs on U.S. soybean exports. Any increased trade barriers or restrictions on trade, especially trade with China, could have an adverse impact on global economic conditions and may decrease the amount of cargo that charterers pay to have transported on drybulk vessels. As such, increased trade barriers or restrictions on trade could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, cash flows, financial condition.
Political uncertainty and the rise of populist or nationalist political parties could have a material adverse effect on our revenue, profitability and financial position.
As a result of the lingering effects of the recent global financial crisis and the limited global recovery, the rise of populist or nationalist political parties and economic nationalist sentiments has led to increasing political uncertainty and unpredictability throughout the world. On June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom held a referendum at which the electorate voted to leave the Council of the European Union (the “E.U.”). On March 29, 2017, the government of the United Kingdom invoked article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon (the “Treaty”) and formally initiated the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the E.U. The Treaty provides for a period of up to two years for negotiation of withdrawal arrangements, at the end of which (whether or not agreement has been reached) the treaties cease to apply to the withdrawing Member State unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period. Negotiations between the government of the United Kingdom and the E.U. Council began on June 19, 2017. The negotiations resulted in (a) an Agreement on the withdrawal arrangements of the United Kingdom from the E.U. and (b) a Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the E.U. and the United Kingdom (together, the “Withdrawal Proposal”). The Withdrawal Proposal was subject to political agreement and ratification and on January 15, 2019, the United Kingdom Parliament voted to reject the Withdrawal Proposal. It is unclear whether it will be possible for the United Kingdom Government to obtain further concessions from the E.U. in order for the United Kingdom Parliament to vote to approve a revised withdrawal proposal. While there is much that could still happen, including an extension to the exit timeline, progress to an alternative withdrawal proposal, a change of United Kingdom Government or even political support for a second referendum, there is a risk that no withdrawal proposal between the United Kingdom and the E.U. will be reached concerning the United Kingdom’s departure from the E.U. Notwithstanding any withdrawal proposal that may be put in place, there is likely to be considerable uncertainty as to the position of the United Kingdom and the arrangement which will apply to its relationships with the E.U. and other countries following its withdrawal (including in the event that no withdrawal proposal is ratified and the United Kingdom leaves without agreeing transitional arrangements with the E.U., an eventuality which cannot currently be ruled out). Such positions and anticipated arrangements may be subject to change and / or develop at short notice. This uncertainty may affect other countries in the E.U, or elsewhere. The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the E.U. may bring an extended period of uncertainty and regulatory change in the European Economic Area and in the United Kingdom, which could have a material adverse effect on our revenue, profitability and financial position.
Additionally, political parties in several other E.U. member states have proposed that a similar referendum be held on their country’s membership in the E.U. It is unclear whether any other E.U. member states will hold such referendums, but such referendums could result in one or more other countries leaving the E.U. or in major reforms being made to the E.U. or to the Eurozone. These potential developments, market perceptions concerning these and related issues and the attendant regulatory uncertainty regarding, for example, the posture of governments with respect to taxation and international trade and law enforcement, could have a material adverse effect on our revenue, profitability and financial position.
The rise of populist or nationalist political parties may lead to increased trade barriers, trade protectionism and restrictions on trade. Our operations expose us to the risk that increased trade protectionism will adversely affect our business. If the continuing global recovery is undermined by downside risks and the recent economic downturn is prolonged, governments, especially populist governments, may turn to trade barriers to protect their domestic industries against foreign imports, thereby depressing the demand for shipping. Specifically, increasing trade protectionism in the markets that our charterers serve has caused and may continue to cause an increase in: (1) the cost of goods exported from China, (2) the length of time required to deliver goods from China and (3) the risks associated with exporting goods from China, as well as a decrease in the quantity of goods to be shipped.
Any increased trade barriers or restrictions on trade, especially trade with China, would have an adverse impact on our charterers’ business, operating results and financial condition and could thereby affect their ability to make timely charter hire payments to us and to renew and increase the number of their time charters with us Any increased trade barriers or restrictions on trade could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
If economic conditions throughout the world do not improve, it may negatively affect our results of operations, financial condition and cash flows, and may adversely affect the market price of our common shares.
Negative trends in the global economy that emerged in 2008 continue to adversely affect global economic conditions. In addition, the world economy is currently facing a number of new challenges, recent turmoil and hostilities in various regions, including Syria, Iraq, North Korea, Venezuela, North Africa and Ukraine. The weakness in the global economy has caused, and may continue to cause, a decrease in worldwide demand for certain goods and, thus, shipping. Additionally, global financial markets and economic conditions have been, and continue to be volatile. Credit markets and the debt and equity capital markets have been distressed and the uncertainty surrounding the future of the global credit markets has resulted in reduced access to credit worldwide. Continuing instability could have a material adverse effect on our ability to implement our business strategy.
We face risks attendant to changes in economic environments, changes in interest rates, and instability in the banking and securities markets around the world, among other factors. Major market disruptions and the current adverse changes in market conditions and regulatory climate in the United States and worldwide may adversely affect our business or impair our ability to borrow amounts under credit facilities or any future financial arrangements. The recent and developing economic and governmental factors, together with possible further declines in charter rates and vessel values, may have a material adverse effect on our results of operations, financial condition or cash flows, or the trading price of our common shares.
Continued economic slowdown in the Asia Pacific region, particularly in China, may exacerbate the effect on us, as we anticipate a significant number of the port calls made by our vessels will continue to involve the loading or discharging of dry bulk commodities in ports in the Asia Pacific region. Before the global economic financial crisis that began in 2008, China had one of the world’s fastest growing economies in terms of GDP, which had a significant impact on shipping demand. As published by the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics, based on the country’s preliminary accounting results, the growth rate of China’s GDP for the year ended December 31, 2018 was 6.6%. This growth rate is well below pre-2008 levels, albeit in line with the government’s targets. China has imposed measures to restrain lending from time to time, which may further contribute to a slowdown in its economic growth. China has also announced plans to gradually transition from an investment led growth model to a consumption driven economic growth model, which could lead to smaller demand for iron ore and other commodities, and result in a decrease of demand in China for shipping. This transition may take place over the span of a number of years, and there can be no assurance as to the time frame for such a transformation or that any such transformation will occur at all. Moreover, the current economic slowdown in the economies of the United States, the European Union and other Asian countries may further adversely affect economic growth in China and elsewhere. Our business, financial condition and results of operations, as well as our future prospects, will likely be materially and adversely affected by a further economic downturn in any of these countries.
Changes in the economic and political environment in China and policies adopted by the government to regulate its economy may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
The Chinese economy differs from the economies of western countries in such respects as structure, government involvement, level of development, growth rate, capital reinvestment, allocation of resources, bank regulation, currency and monetary policy, rate of inflation and balance of payments position. Prior to 1978, the Chinese economy was a “planned economy.” Since 1978, increasing emphasis has been placed on the utilization of market forces in the development of the Chinese economy. Annual and five-year State Plans are adopted by the Chinese government in connection with the development of the economy. Although state-owned enterprises still account for a substantial portion of the Chinese industrial output, in general, the Chinese government is reducing the level of direct control that it exercises over the economy through State Plans and other measures. There is an increasing level of freedom and autonomy in areas such as allocation of resources, production, pricing and management and a gradual shift in emphasis to a “market economy” and enterprise reform. Limited price reforms were undertaken with the result that prices for certain commodities are principally determined by market forces. In addition, economic reforms may include reforms to the banking and credit sector and may produce a shift away from the export-driven growth model that has characterized the Chinese economy over the past few decades. Many of the reforms are unprecedented or experimental and may be subject to revision, change or abolition based upon the outcome of such experiments. The level of imports to and exports from China could be adversely affected by the failure to continue market reforms or changes to existing pro-export economic policies. It may also be adversely affected by changes in political, economic and social conditions (including a slowing of economic growth) or other relevant policies of the Chinese government, such as changes in laws, regulations or export and import restrictions, internal political instability, changes in currency policies, changes in trade policies and territorial or trade disputes. For instance, the government of China has implemented economic policies aimed at increasing domestic consumption of Chinese-made goods and restricting currency exchanges within China. This may have the effect of reducing the supply of goods available for export and may, in turn, result in a decrease of demand for shipping. A decrease in the level of imports to and exports from China could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition. In addition, a number of our largest bareboat charter counterparties are Chinese financial institutions. Changes in the economic conditions of China (and any government response to such changes) may cause these financial institutions to adopt new positions or policies in their dealings with us.
Similarly, a negative change in the economic or regulatory conditions in any significant Asian economy, including Japan and India, could reduce dry bulk trade and demand, which could reduce charter rates and have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We conduct a substantial amount of business in China. The legal system in China has inherent uncertainties that could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
The Chinese legal system is based on written statutes and their interpretations by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and the Supreme People’s Court. Prior court decisions may be cited for reference but have limited precedential value. Since 1979, the Chinese government has been developing a comprehensive system of commercial laws, and considerable progress has been made in introducing laws and regulations dealing with economic matters such as foreign investment, corporate organization and governance, commerce, taxation and trade. However, because these laws and regulations are relatively new, there is a general lack of authoritative interpretive guidance and because of the limited number of published cases and their non-binding nature, interpretation and enforcement of these laws and regulations involve uncertainties. We conduct a substantial portion of our business in China or with Chinese counter parties. For example, we enter into charters with Chinese customers, which charters may be subject to the laws and regulations in China. We may, therefore, be required to incur compliance or other administrative costs, and pay new taxes or other fees to the Chinese government. In addition, our three newbuilding vessels are being built at Chinese shipyards. Changes in laws and regulations, including with regards to tax matters, and their implementation by local authorities could affect our vessels that are either chartered to Chinese customers or that call to Chinese ports and our vessels being built at Chinese shipyards, and could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
The market values of our vessels have declined in recent years and may further decline, which could limit the amount of funds that we can borrow, cause us to breach certain financial covenants in our credit facilities or result in impairment charges, and we may incur a loss if we sell vessels following a decline in their market value.
The fair market values of dry bulk vessels have generally experienced high volatility in recent years. The fair market value of our vessels may continue to fluctuate depending on a number of factors, including:
prevailing level of charter rates;
general economic and market conditions affecting the shipping industry;
types, sizes and ages of vessels;
supply of and demand for vessels;
other modes of transportation;
distressed asset sales, including newbuilding contract sales below acquisition costs due to lack of financing
cost of newbuildings;
governmental or other regulations;
the need to upgrade vessels as a result of charterer requirements, technological advances in vessel design or equipment or otherwise;
changes in environmental and other regulations that may limit the useful life of vessels;
technological advances; and
competition from other shipping companies and other modes of transportation.
If the fair market value of our vessels declines, we might not be in compliance with various covenants in our ship financing facilities, some of which require the maintenance of a certain percentage of fair market value of the vessels securing the facility to the principal outstanding amount of the loans under the facility or a maximum ratio of total liabilities to market value of adjusted total assets or a minimum market value adjusted net worth.
Under such circumstances, we may have to prepay the amount outstanding under a loan agreement, pay a certain amount to cover the security shortfall or provide additional security to remedy the security shortfall upon request by the relevant lenders. If we fail to take any such requested measures, such circumstances could result in an event of default under our loan agreements. In such circumstances, we may not be able to refinance our debt or obtain additional financing on terms that are acceptable to us or at all. If we are not able to comply with the covenants in our credit facilities and are unable to remedy the relevant breach, our lenders could accelerate our debt and foreclose on our vessels, or the funds required to pay for a vessel may not be available at the time the payments are due to the shipbuilder or seller.
Furthermore, as described under “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects - A. Operating Results - Critical Accounting Policies - Impairment of long-lived assets,” due to the decline during the past years in vessel values, we have recorded an impairment charge in our consolidated financial statements which have adversely affected our financial results. In addition, because we sold vessels at a time when vessel prices had fallen and before we recorded an impairment adjustment to our consolidated financial statements, the sale proceeds were less than the vessels’ carrying value on our consolidated financial statements, resulting in a loss and a reduction in earnings.
The value of our long-lived assets can become further impaired, as indicated by factors such declines in the fair market value of vessels, decreases in market charter rates, vessel sale and purchase considerations, fleet utilization, regulatory changes in the dry bulk shipping industry or changes in business plans or overall market conditions that may adversely affect cash flows. We will continue testing for impairment regularly, whenever events or changes in circumstances indicate that the carrying amount of the assets may not be recoverable.
Our financial results may be similarly affected in the future if we record an impairment charge or sell vessels before we record an impairment adjustment. Conversely, if vessel values are elevated at a time when we wish to acquire additional vessels, the cost of such acquisitions may increase and this could adversely affect our business, results of operations, cash flow and financial condition.
Compliance with safety and other vessel requirements imposed by classification societies may be very costly and may adversely affect our business.
The vast majority of commercial vessels are built to safety and other vessel requirements established by private classification, or class, societies such as the American Bureau of Shipping. The class society certifies that a vessel is safe and seaworthy in accordance with its standards and regulations, which is an element of compliance with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea of 1974 (“SOLAS”), and, where so engaged, the applicable conventions, rules and regulations adopted by the country of registry of the vessel. Every classed vessel is subject to a specific program of periodic class surveys consisting of annual surveys, an intermediate survey and a class renewal or special survey normally every five years. Surveys become more intensive as the vessel ages.
In lieu of a special survey, a vessel’s machinery may be on a continuous survey cycle under which the machinery would be surveyed periodically over a five-year period. Every vessel is also required to be taken out of the water in a dry dock every two and a half to five years for inspection of its underwater parts.
Compliance with class society recommendations and requirements may result in significant expense. If any vessel does not maintain its class or fails any annual, intermediate or special survey, the vessel will be unable to trade between ports and will be unemployable and uninsurable until such failures are remedied, which could negatively impact our results of operations and financial condition.
We are subject to complex laws and regulations, including environmental regulations that can adversely affect the cost, manner or feasibility of doing business.
Our operations are subject to numerous international, national, state and local laws, regulations, treaties and conventions in force in international waters and the jurisdictions in which our vessels operate or are registered, which can significantly affect the ownership and operation of our vessels. These laws and other legal requirements include, but are not limited to, the U.S. Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, the U.S. Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (the “OPA”), the U.S. Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, the U.S. Clean Air Act, the U.S. Clean Water Act, the U.S. Ocean Dumping Act, 1972, the U.S. Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 and international conventions issued under the auspices of the United Nations International Maritime Organization including the International Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972 as modified by the 1996 London Protocol, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973 as modified by the Protocol of 1978, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974, and the International Convention on Load Lines, 1966. Compliance with such laws and other legal requirements may require vessels to be altered, costly equipment to be installed or operational changes to be implemented and may decrease the resale value or reduce the useful lives of our vessels. Such compliance costs could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. A failure to comply with applicable laws and other legal requirements may result in administrative and civil monetary fines and penalties, additional compliance plans or programs or other ongoing increased compliance costs, criminal sanctions or the suspension or termination of our operations. Because such laws and other legal requirements are often revised, we cannot predict the ultimate cost of complying with them or their impact on the resale prices or useful lives of our vessels. Additional conventions, laws and regulations or other legal requirements may be adopted which could limit our ability to do business or increase the cost of our doing business and which may materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Environmental laws often impose strict liability for remediation of spills and releases of oil and hazardous substances, which could subject us to liability without regard to whether we were negligent or at fault. Unpredictable events may result in further regulation of the shipping industry as well as modifications to statutory liability schemes, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. An oil spill caused by one of our vessels or attributed to one of our vessels could result in significant company liability, including fines, penalties and criminal liability and remediation costs for natural resource and other damages under a variety of laws and legal requirements, as well as third-party damages.
We are required by various governmental and quasi-governmental agencies to obtain certain permits, licenses, and certificates with respect to our operations and to satisfy insurance and financial responsibility requirements for potential oil (including marine fuel) spills and other pollution incidents. Any such insurance may not be sufficient to cover all such liabilities and it may be difficult to obtain adequate coverage on acceptable terms in certain market conditions. Claims against our vessels whether covered by insurance or not may result in a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, cash flows and financial condition.
In order to comply with emerging ballast water treatment requirements, we may have to purchase ballast water treatment systems for 63 vessels in our fleet and modify such vessels to accommodate such systems.
The IMO has imposed updated guidelines for ballast water management systems specifying the maximum amount of viable organisms allowed to be discharged from a vessel’s ballast water. Depending on the date of the IOPP renewal survey, existing vessels constructed before September 8, 2017 must comply with the updated D-2 standard on or after September 8, 2019. For most vessels, compliance with the D-2 standard will involve installing on-board systems to treat ballast water and eliminate unwanted organisms. Ships constructed on or after September 8, 2017 are to comply with the D-2 standards on or after September 8, 2017. We currently have 63 vessels that do not comply with the updated guideline. We are in the process of acquiring the relevant equipment, and costs of compliance may be substantial and adversely affect our cash flows.
Furthermore, United States regulations are currently changing. Although the 2013 Vessel General Permit (“VGP”) program and U.S. National Invasive Species Act (“NISA”) are currently in effect to regulate ballast discharge, exchange and installation, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (“VIDA”), which was signed into law on December 4, 2018, requires that the U.S. Coast Guard develop implementation, compliance, and enforcement regulations regarding ballast water within two years. The new regulations could require the installation of new equipment, which may cause us to incur substantial costs.
New environmental regulations could increase the cost of operating our vessels
Any passage of environmental legislation or other regulatory initiatives by the IMO, the EU, the U.S. or other countries where we operate, or any treaty adopted at the international level, that restricts emissions of greenhouse gases, or the use of scrubbers could require us to make significant financial expenditures which we cannot predict with certainty at this time.
Acts of piracy on ocean-going vessels have had and may continue to have an adverse effect on our business.
Acts of piracy have historically affected ocean-going vessels trading in regions of the world such as the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia. Although the frequency of sea piracy worldwide has decreased to its lowest level since 2009, sea piracy incidents continue to occur, particularly in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia and increasingly in the Gulf of Guinea and the West Coast of Africa, with dry bulk vessels particularly vulnerable to such attacks. If these piracy attacks result in regions in which our vessels are deployed being characterized as “war risk” zones by insurers, as the Gulf of Aden temporarily was in May 2008, or Joint War Committee “war and strikes” listed areas, premiums payable for such coverage could increase significantly and such insurance coverage may be more difficult to obtain. In addition, crew costs, including those due to employing onboard security guards, could increase in such circumstances. Furthermore, while we believe the charterer remains liable for charter payments when a vessel is seized by pirates, the charterer may dispute this and withhold charter hire until the vessel is released. A charterer may also claim that a vessel seized by pirates was not “on-hire” for a certain number of days and is therefore entitled to cancel the charter party, a claim that we would dispute. We may not be adequately insured to cover losses from these incidents, which could have a material adverse effect on us. In addition, any detention hijacking as a result of an act of piracy against our vessels, or an increase in cost, or unavailability, of insurance for our vessels, could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition, cash flows and results of operations.
We could face penalties under European Union, United States or other economic sanctions which could adversely affect our reputation, our financial results and the market for our common shares.
Our business could be adversely impacted if we are found to have violated economic sanctions, prohibitions or other restrictions imposed by the United States or other governments or organizations, including the United Nations, the E.U. and its member countries or another applicable jurisdiction against countries or territories such as Iran, Sudan, Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Crimea. U.S. economic sanctions, for example, prohibit a wide scope of conduct, target numerous countries and individuals, are frequently updated or changed and have vague application in many situations.
Many economic sanctions can relate to our business, including prohibitions on doing business with certain countries or governments, as well as prohibitions on dealings of any kind with entities and individuals that appear on sanctioned party lists issued by the United States, the E.U., and other jurisdictions (and, in some cases, entities owned or controlled by such listed entities and individuals). For example, on charterers’ instructions, our vessels may from time to time call on ports located in countries subject to sanctions imposed by the United States, the E.U. or other applicable jurisdictions. As another example, certain of our charterers or other parties that we have entered into contracts with regarding our vessels may be affiliated with persons or entities that are the subject of sanctions imposed by the United States, the E.U. or other applicable jurisdictions as a result of the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 or subsequent developments in eastern Ukraine. If we determine that such sanctions require us to terminate existing contracts or if we are found to be in violation of such applicable sanctions, our results of operations may be adversely affected or we may suffer reputational harm.
Additionally, the U.S. Iran Threat Reduction Act (which was signed into law in 2012) amended the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, to require issuers that file annual or quarterly reports under Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act to include disclosure in their annual and quarterly reports as to whether the issuer or its affiliates have knowingly engaged in dealings with certain types of counterparties in Iran or with certain entities or individuals appearing on U.S. sanctioned party lists.
Although we believe that we are in compliance with applicable sanctions laws and regulations, and intend to maintain such compliance, there can be no assurance that we will be in compliance in the future, particularly as the relevant sanctions restrictions are often ambiguous and change regularly. Any such violation could result in fines or other penalties that could severely impact our ability to access U.S. and European capital markets and conduct our business, and could result in some investors deciding, or being required, to divest their interest, or not to invest, in us. Even inadvertent violations of economic sanctions laws and regulations can result in the imposition of material fines and restrictions and could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations, our reputation, and the market price of our common shares. In addition, regardless of any violation of applicable sanctions laws, certain institutional investors may have investment policies or restrictions that prevent them from holding securities of companies that have ties of any kind to countries identified by the United States as state sponsors of terrorism (currently, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria). The determination by these investors not to invest in, or to divest from, our common shares may adversely affect the price at which our common shares trade. Moreover, our charterers may violate applicable sanctions laws and regulations as a result of actions that do not involve us or our vessels, and those violations could in turn negatively affect our reputation.
Our operating results are subject to seasonal fluctuations.
We operate our vessels in markets that have historically exhibited seasonal variations in demand and, as a result, in charter rates. This seasonality may result in volatility in our operating results to the extent that we enter into new charter agreements or renew existing agreements during a time when charter rates are weaker or we operate our vessels on the spot market or index based time charters, which may result in quarter-to-quarter volatility in our operating results. The dry bulk sector is typically stronger during the 2nd half of the year in anticipation of increased consumption of coal and other raw materials in the northern hemisphere. In addition, unpredictable weather patterns in these months tend to disrupt vessel scheduling and supplies of certain commodities. Since we charter our vessels principally in the spot market, our revenues from our dry bulk carriers may be weaker during the fiscal quarters ended March 31 and June 30, and stronger during the fiscal quarters ended September 30 and December 31.
We are subject to international safety regulations, and the failure to comply with these regulations may subject us to increased liability, may adversely affect our insurance coverage and may result in a denial of access to, or detention in, certain ports.
The operation of our vessels is affected by the requirements set forth in the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization’s International Management Code (the “ISM Code”). The ISM Code requires shipowners, ship managers and bareboat charterers to develop and maintain an extensive “Safety Management System” that includes the adoption of a safety and environmental protection policy setting forth instructions and procedures for safe operation of vessels and describing procedures for dealing with emergencies. In addition, vessel classification societies impose significant safety and other requirements on our vessels.
The failure of a shipowner or bareboat charterer to comply with the ISM Code may subject it to increased liability, may invalidate existing insurance or decrease available insurance coverage for the affected vessels and may result in a denial of access to, or detention in, certain ports. Each of our existing vessels is ISM Code-certified, and each of the vessels that we have agreed to acquire will be ISM Code-certified when delivered to us. However, if we are found not to be in compliance with ISM Code requirements, we may have to incur material direct and indirect costs to resume compliance and our insurance coverage could be adversely impacted as a result of non-compliance. Our vessels may also be delayed or denied port access if they are found to be in non-compliance, which could result in charter claims and increased inspection and operational costs even after resuming compliance. Any failure to comply with the ISM Code could negatively affect our business, financial condition, cash flows and results of operations.
Increased inspection procedures and tighter import and export controls could increase costs and disrupt our business.
International shipping is subject to various security and customs inspection and related procedures in countries of origin and destination and trans-shipment points. Inspection procedures may result in the seizure of contents of our vessels, delays in the loading, offloading, trans-shipment or delivery and the levying of customs duties, fines or other penalties against us.
It is possible that changes to inspection procedures could impose additional financial and legal obligations on us. Changes to inspection procedures could also impose additional costs and obligations on our customers and may, in certain cases, render the shipment of certain types of cargo uneconomical or impractical. Any such changes or developments may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, cash flows and results of operations.
The operation of dry bulk carriers entails certain operational risks that could affect our earnings and cash flow.
The international shipping industry is an inherently risky business involving global operations. Our vessels and their cargoes are at risk of being damaged or lost because of events such as marine disasters, bad weather, mechanical failures, human error, environmental accidents, war, terrorism, piracy and other circumstances or events. In addition, transporting cargoes across a wide variety of international jurisdictions creates a risk of business interruptions due to political circumstances in foreign countries, hostilities, labor strikes and boycotts, the potential for changes in tax rates or policies, and the potential for government expropriation of our vessels. Any of these events may result in loss of revenues, increased costs and decreased cash flows to our customers, which could impair their ability to make payments to us under our charters.
Furthermore, the operation of certain vessel types, such as dry bulk carriers, has certain unique risks. For a dry bulk carrier, the cargo itself and its interaction with the vessel can be an operational risk. By their nature, dry bulk cargoes are often heavy, dense and easily shifted and react badly to water exposure. In addition, dry bulk carriers are often subjected to battering treatment during unloading operations with grabs, jackhammers (to pry encrusted cargoes out of the hold) and small bulldozers. This treatment may cause damage to the vessel. Vessels damaged due to treatment during unloading procedures may be more susceptible to breach at sea. Hull breaches in dry bulk carriers may lead to the flooding of the vessels’ holds. If a dry bulk carrier suffers flooding in its forward holds, the bulk cargo may become so dense and waterlogged that its pressure may buckle the vessel’s bulkheads, leading to the loss of a vessel. If we are unable to adequately maintain our vessels, we may be unable to prevent these events. The total loss or damage of any of our vessels or cargoes could harm our reputation as a safe and reliable vessel owner and operator. Any of these circumstances or events may have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, cash flows and financial condition.
Fuel, or bunker, prices and marine fuel availability may adversely affect our profits.
Since we expect to primarily employ our vessels in the spot market, we expect that vessel fuel, known as bunkers, will be the largest single expense item in our shipping operations for our vessels. Changes in the price of fuel may adversely affect our profitability. The price and supply of fuel are unpredictable and fluctuate based on events outside our control, including geopolitical developments, supply and demand for oil and gas, actions by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil and gas producers, war and unrest in oil producing countries and regions, regional production patterns and environmental concerns. Further, fuel may become much more expensive in the future, which may reduce our profitability and competitiveness of our business versus other forms of transportation, such as truck or rail.
Sulfur regulations to reduce air pollution from ships are likely to require retrofitting of vessels with exhaust gas cleaning systems (“scrubbers”) and will cause us to incur significant costs which we may be unable to recover.
The IMO announced in October 2016 that as of January 1, 2020, there will be a cap on sulfur content in vessel air emissions globally, with the exhaust gas from burning bunker fuel being limited to 0.5% m/m sulfur content, instead of 3.5% m/m sulfur currently. From January 1, 2020, vessels will be required to remove sulfur from emissions through installing scrubbers or burning more expensive marine fuel with lower sulfur content. We have decided to install scrubbers on the majority of our vessels in order to comply with this regulation (the “Scrubber Retrofitting Program”). We expect the Scrubber Retrofitting Program will be completed by early 2020. We expect the Scrubber Retrofitting Program will cost an aggregate of $173.9 million. As of February 28, 2019, we have entered into agreements to finance $134.2 million of these costs with the proceeds of new indebtedness. Costs of compliance with these regulatory changes may be significant and may have a material adverse effect on our future performance, results of operations, cash flows and financial position.
Additionally, there is no guarantee that our investment in the Scrubber Retrofitting Program will be successful. We expect that our scrubber-equipped vessels will be able to continue using the lower-priced standard 3.5% sulfur marine bunker fuel, making them more desirable to charterers because of their lower total fuel costs compared to vessels not equipped with scrubbers, which will be forced to burn low-sulfur fuel (which we expect will be much more expensive). Yet, if sulfur emissions regulations are relaxed, if their implementation or enforcement is delayed, or if the cost differential between low sulfur fuel and high sulfur fuel is lower than anticipated, we may not realize the economic benefits or recover the cost of the Scrubber Retrofitting Program. As a result, we may experience a material, adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations due to any of the foregoing changes.
Our business has inherent operational risks, which may not be adequately covered by insurance.
Our vessels and their cargoes are at risk of being damaged or lost because of events or risks such as Acts of God, marine disasters, bad weather, mechanical failures, human error, environmental accidents, war, terrorism, piracy, cyber-attack, radioactive contamination and other circumstances or events. In addition, transporting cargoes across a wide variety of international jurisdictions creates a risk of business interruptions due to political circumstances in foreign countries, hostilities, labor strikes and boycotts, the potential for changes in tax rates or policies, and the potential for government expropriation of our vessels. Any of these events may result in personal injury or death, loss, damage or destruction of property or environmental damage, delays in delivery of cargo, governmental fines, penalties or restrictions on conducting business, higher insurance rates, loss of revenues, increased costs and decreased cash flows to our customers, which could impair their ability to make payments to us under our charters. Epidemics and other public health incidents may also lead to crew member illness, which can disrupt the operations of our vessels, or to public health measures, which may prevent our vessels from calling on ports or discharging cargo in the affected areas or in other locations after having visited the affected areas.
In the event of a casualty to a vessel or other catastrophic event, we rely on our insurance to pay the insured value of the vessel or the damages incurred. Through our management agreements with our technical managers, we procure insurance for the vessels in our fleet against those risks that we believe the shipping industry commonly insures against. This insurance includes marine hull and machinery insurance, protection insurance and indemnity insurance, which include pollution risks and crew insurances, and war risk insurance. Currently, the amount of coverage for liability for pollution, spillage and leakage available to us on commercially reasonable terms through protection and indemnity associations and providers of excess coverage is $1.0 billion per vessel per occurrence.
We maintain and expect to maintain hull and machinery insurance, protection insurance and indemnity insurance for all of our existing and newbuilding vessels, which includes environmental damage and pollution insurance coverage and war risk insurance for our fleet. We do not maintain nor expect to maintain, for our vessels, insurance against loss of hire, which covers business interruptions that result from the loss of use of a vessel. Therefore, if the availability of a vessel for hire is interrupted, the loss of earnings due to such interruption could negatively affect our business. Even if our insurance is adequate to cover our losses, we may not be able to timely obtain a replacement vessel in the event of a loss.
We may not be adequately insured against all risks. We may not be able to obtain adequate insurance coverage for our fleet in the future, and we may not be able to obtain certain insurance coverages. The insurers may not pay particular claims. Our insurance policies may contain deductibles for which we will be responsible and limitations and exclusions which may increase our costs or lower our revenue. Moreover, insurers may default on claims they are required to pay.
We cannot assure you that we will be adequately insured against all risks or that we will be able to obtain adequate insurance coverage at reasonable rates for our vessels in the future. For example, in the past more stringent environmental regulations have led to increased costs for, and in the future may result in the lack of availability of, insurance against risks of environmental damage or pollution. Additionally, our insurers may refuse to pay particular claims. Any significant loss or liability for which we are not insured could have a material adverse effect on our business and financial condition.
We may be subject to calls because we obtain some of our insurance through protection and indemnity associations.
We may be subject to increased premium payments, or calls, in amounts based on our claim records and the claim records of our fleet managers as well as the claim records of other members of the protection and indemnity associations (P&I Associations) through which we receive insurance coverage for tort liability, including pollution-related liability. Our insurance policies also contain deductibles, limitations and exclusions which, although we believe are standard in the shipping industry, may nevertheless increase our costs in the event of a claim or decrease any recovery in the event of a loss. In addition, our P&I Associations may not have enough resources to cover claims made against them. Our payment of these calls could result in a significant expense to us, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, cash flows and financial condition.
The smuggling of drugs or other contraband onto our vessels may lead to governmental claims against us.
Our vessels may call in ports where smugglers attempt to hide drugs and other contraband on vessels, with or without the knowledge of crew members. To the extent our vessels are found with contraband, whether inside or attached to the hull of our vessel and whether with or without the knowledge of any of our crew, we may face governmental or other regulatory claims or restrictions which could have an adverse effect our reputation, business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
Maritime claimants could arrest one or more of our vessels, which could interrupt our cash flow.
Crew members, suppliers of goods and services to a vessel, shippers of cargo and other parties may be entitled to a maritime lien against a vessel for unsatisfied debts, claims or damages. In many jurisdictions, a claimant may seek to obtain security for its claim by arresting a vessel through foreclosure proceedings. The arrest or attachment of one or more of our vessels could interrupt our cash flow and require us to pay large sums of money to have the arrest or attachment lifted. In addition, in some jurisdictions, such as South Africa, under the “sister ship” theory of liability, a claimant may arrest both the vessel which is subject to the claimant’s maritime lien and any “associated” vessel, which is any vessel owned or controlled by the same owner. Claimants could attempt to assert “sister ship” liability against one vessel in our fleet for claims relating to another of our vessels.
Governments could requisition our vessels during a period of war or emergency, resulting in a loss of earnings.
A government could requisition one or more of our vessels for title or for hire. Requisition for title occurs when a government takes control of a vessel and becomes its owner, while requisition for hire occurs when a government takes control of a vessel and effectively becomes its charterer at dictated charter rates. Generally, requisitions occur during periods of war or emergency, although governments may elect to requisition vessels in other circumstances. Although we would be entitled to compensation in the event of a requisition of one or more of our vessels, the amount and timing of payment would be uncertain. Government requisition of one or more of our vessels may negatively impact our revenues.
Failure to comply with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”) could result in fines, criminal penalties, charter terminations and an adverse effect on our business.
We may operate in a number of countries throughout the world, including countries known to have a reputation for corruption. We are committed to doing business in accordance with applicable anti-corruption laws, including the FCPA. We are subject, however, to the risk that we, our affiliated entities or our or their respective officers, directors, employees and agents may take actions determined to be in violation of such anti-corruption laws. Any such violation could result in substantial fines, sanctions, civil and/or criminal penalties and curtailment of operations in certain jurisdictions, and might adversely affect our business, results of operations or financial condition. In addition, actual or alleged violations could damage our reputation and ability to do business. Furthermore, detecting, investigating, and resolving actual or alleged violations is expensive and can consume significant time and attention of our senior management.
Because we generate all of our revenues in U.S. dollars but incur a portion of our expenses in other currencies, exchange rate fluctuations could have an adverse impact on our results of operations.
We generate all of our revenue in U.S. dollars, and the majority of our expenses are denominated in U.S. dollars. However, a portion of our ship operating and administrative expenses are denominated in currencies other than U.S. dollars. In addition, a substantial portion of our recently committed capital expenditure for vessel upgrades (the Scrubber Retrofitting Program) is denominated in Euro. For the years ended December 31, 2017 and 2018, we incurred approximately 6% and 6%, respectively, of our operating expenses and 53% and 52%, respectively, of our general and administrative expenses in currencies other than U.S. dollars. This difference could lead to fluctuations in net income due to changes in the value of the dollar relative to the other currencies, in particular the Euro. Expenses incurred in foreign currencies against which the dollar falls in value can increase, decreasing our earnings. Declines in the value of the dollar could lead to higher expenses payable by us. In order to mitigate our exposure to the foreign currency risk arising from our commitment for vessel upgrades denominated in Euro, in 2018 we converted a substantial amount of our cash into Euro (approximately €70.8 million). We have and we may in the future enter into derivatives or non-derivative instruments from time to time in the future in order to minimize this risk. Any future use of financial derivatives or non- derivative instruments would involve certain risks, including the risk that losses on a hedged position could exceed the notional amount invested in the instrument and the risk that the counterparty to the derivative or non-derivative transaction may be unable or unwilling to satisfy its contractual obligations, which could have an adverse effect on our results.
We cannot assure you that we will be successful in finding employment for all of our vessels.
As of February 28, 2019, our existing fleet of 108 vessels had an aggregate capacity of approximately 12.1 million dwt. We have also acquired construction contracts for three newbuilding vessels, with scheduled deliveries to us between March 2019 and June 2019. We also hold call options and have sold corresponding put options on four Capesize vessels, with exercise dates in early April 2019. We intend to employ our vessels primarily in the spot market, under short term time charters or voyage charters. We cannot assure you that we will be successful in finding employment for our vessels in the volatile spot market immediately upon their deliveries to us or whether any such employment will be at profitable rates, nor can we assure you continued timely employment of our existing vessels. If demand for our vessels is not at desirable levels, we may not be able to generate enough revenues to operate profitably or to generate positive cash flows. In such a case, we may need to undertake further restructuring activities or deleveraging measures in the future, which could have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations and have a material and adverse effect on holders of our common shares.
We are highly leveraged, which could significantly limit our ability to execute our business strategy and has increased the risk of default under our debt obligations.
As of February 28, 2019, we had $1,458 million of outstanding indebtedness under our outstanding credit facilities and debt securities, including our capital lease obligations and the 2022 Senior Notes.
Our outstanding debt agreements impose operating and financial restrictions on us. These restrictions limit our ability, or the ability of our subsidiaries party thereto, to among other things:
pay dividends if there is an event of default under our credit facilities;
incur additional indebtedness, including the issuance of guarantees, or refinance or prepay any indebtedness, unless certain conditions exist;
create liens on our assets, unless otherwise permitted under our credit facilities;
change the flag, class or management of our vessels or terminate or materially amend the management agreement relating to each vessel;
acquire new or sell vessels, unless certain conditions exist;
merge or consolidate with, or transfer all or substantially all our assets to, another person; or
enter into a new line of business.
Therefore, we may need to seek permission from our lenders in order to engage in some corporate actions. Our lenders’ interests may be different from our interests and we may not be able to obtain our lenders’ permission when needed. This may limit our ability to pay dividends on our common shares if we determine to do so in the future, finance our future operations or capital requirements, make acquisitions or pursue business opportunities.
In addition, our debt agreements require us or our subsidiaries to maintain various financial ratios, including:
a minimum percentage of aggregate vessel value to secured loans (the “SCR”);
a maximum ratio of total liabilities to market value adjusted total assets;
Because some of these ratios are dependent on the market value of our vessels, should our charter rates or vessel values materially decline in the future, we may be required to take action to reduce our debt or to act in a manner contrary to our business objectives to meet any such financial ratios and satisfy any such financial covenants. We cannot assure you that we will meet these ratios or satisfy our financial or other covenants, or that our lenders will waive any failure to do so.
These covenants and restrictions may adversely affect our ability to finance future operations or limit our ability to pursue certain business opportunities or take certain corporate actions, restricting our growth and operations. The covenants may also restrict our flexibility in planning for changes in our business and the industry and make us more vulnerable to economic downturns and adverse developments. A breach of any of the covenants in, or our inability to maintain the required financial ratios under, our debt agreements could result in a default under our debt agreements. If a default occurs under our credit facilities, the lenders could elect to declare the outstanding debt, together with accrued interest and other fees, to be immediately due and payable and foreclose on the collateral securing that debt, which could constitute all or substantially all of our assets. Moreover, in connection with any waivers or amendments to our credit facilities that we may obtain, our lenders may impose additional operating and financial restrictions on us or modify the terms of our existing credit facilities. These restrictions may further restrict our ability to, among other things, pay dividends, repurchase our common shares, make capital expenditures, or incur additional indebtedness.
Our ability to meet our cash requirements, including our debt service obligations, is dependent upon our operating performance, which is subject to general economic and competitive conditions and to financial, business and other factors affecting our operations, many of which are or may be beyond our control. We cannot provide assurance that our business operations will generate sufficient cash flows from operations to fund these cash requirements and debt service obligations. If our operating results, cash flow or capital resources prove inadequate, we could face substantial liquidity problems and might be required to dispose of material assets or operations to meet our debt and other obligations. If we are unable to service our debt, we could be forced to reduce or delay planned expansions and capital expenditures, sell assets, further restructure or refinance our debt or seek additional equity capital, and we may be unable to take any of these actions on satisfactory terms or in a timely manner. Further, any of these actions may not be sufficient to allow us to service our debt obligations or may have an adverse impact on our business. Our debt agreements may limit our ability to take certain of these actions. Our failure to generate sufficient operating cash flow to pay our debts or to successfully undertake any of these actions could have a material adverse effect on us.
Our substantial leverage and the restrictions included in our debt agreements could materially and adversely affect our ability to obtain additional financing for working capital, capital expenditures, acquisitions, debt service requirements or other purposes, could make us more vulnerable to general adverse economic, regulatory and industry conditions, and could limit our flexibility in planning for, or reacting to, changes and opportunities in the markets in which we compete.
Furthermore, our debt agreements contain cross-default provisions that may be triggered if we default under the terms of any one of our financing agreements. In the event of default by us under one of our debt agreements, the lenders under our other debt agreements could determine that we are in default under such other financing agreements. Such cross defaults could result in the acceleration of the maturity of such debt under these agreements and the lenders thereunder may foreclose upon any collateral securing that debt, including our vessels, even if we were to subsequently cure such default. In the event of such acceleration or foreclosure, we might not have sufficient funds or other assets to satisfy all of our obligations, which would have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
We are subject to certain risks with respect to our counterparties on contracts, and failure of such counterparties to meet their obligations could cause us to suffer losses or otherwise adversely affect our business.
We have entered into, and may enter into in the future, various contracts, including charterparties and contracts of affreightment with our customers, newbuilding contracts with shipyards, credit facilities with our lenders and operating leases as charterers. These agreements subject us to counterparty risks. The ability of each of our counterparties to perform its obligations under a contract with us will depend on a number of factors that are beyond our control and may include, among other things, general economic conditions, the condition of the maritime industry, the overall financial condition of the counterparty, charter rates received for specific types of vessels, and various expenses. In addition, in the event any shipyards do not perform under their contracts, and we are unable to enforce certain refund guarantees with third-party lenders for any reason, we may lose all or part of our investment, and we may not be able to operate the vessels we ordered in accordance with our business plan. Should our counterparties fail to honor their obligations under agreements with us, we could sustain significant losses, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
We are currently free to make dividend payments under our debt agreements, but we may be unable to pay dividends in the future.
Under the terms of a number of our outstanding financing arrangements, we are subject to various restrictions on our ability to pay dividends. Our financing arrangements prevent us from paying dividends if an event of default exists under our credit facilities or if certain financial ratios are not met. See “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects-B. Liquidity and Capital Resources-Senior Secured Credit Facilities” and Note 8, “Long Term Debt” to our audited consolidated financial statements, for more information regarding these restrictions contained in our financing arrangements. In general, when dividends are paid, they are distributed from our operating surplus, in amounts that allow us to retain a portion of our cash flows to fund vessel or fleet acquisitions and for debt repayment and other corporate purposes, as determined by our management and board of directors.
In addition, the declaration and payment of dividends will be subject at all times to the discretion of our board of directors. The timing and amount of dividends will depend on our earnings, financial condition, cash requirements and availability, fleet renewal and expansion, restrictions in our loan agreements, the provisions of Marshall Islands law affecting the payment of dividends and other factors. The laws of the Republic of Marshall Islands generally prohibit the payment of dividends other than from surplus (retained earnings and the excess of consideration received for the sale of shares above the par value of the shares) or while a company is insolvent or would be rendered insolvent by the payment of such a dividend. We may not have sufficient surplus in the future to pay dividends and our subsidiaries may not have sufficient funds or surplus to make distributions to us. We can give no assurance that dividends will be paid at all.
We may be unable to attract and retain qualified, skilled employees or crew necessary to operate our business.
Our success depends in large part on the ability of us to attract and retain highly skilled and qualified personnel, both shoreside personnel and crew. We require technically skilled employees with specialized training who can perform physically demanding work. Competition to attract and retain qualified crew members and shoreside personnel is intense due to the increase in the size of the global shipping fleet. In addition, if we are not able to obtain higher charter rates to compensate for any crew cost and salary increases, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, cash flows and financial condition. If we cannot hire, train and retain a sufficient number of qualified employees, we may be unable to manage, maintain and grow our business, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
As we expand our fleet, we will need to expand our operations and financial systems and hire new shoreside staff and seafarers to staff our vessels; if we cannot expand these systems or recruit suitable employees, our performance may be adversely affected.
Our operating and financial systems may not be adequate as we expand our fleet, and our attempts to implement those systems may be ineffective. In addition, we rely on our managers for crew management. Shoreside personnel are recruited by Star Bulk Management Inc., Star Bulk Shipmanagement Company (Cyprus) Limited, and Starbulk S.A. through referrals from other shipping companies and traditional methods of securing personnel, such as placing classified advertisements in shipping industry periodicals. Our managers may not be able to continue to hire suitable employees as we expand our fleet. If we are unable to operate our financial and operations systems effectively, recruit suitable employees or if our managers encounter business or financial difficulties, our performance may be materially and adversely affected.
If we acquire and operate older secondhand vessels, we may be exposed to increased operating and other costs, which could adversely affect our earnings and, as our fleet ages, the risks associated with older vessels could adversely affect our ability to obtain profitable charters.
Our current business strategy includes additional growth which may, in addition to the acquisition of newbuilding vessels, include the acquisition of modern secondhand vessels. While we expect that we would typically inspect secondhand vessels prior to acquisition, this does not provide us with the same knowledge about their condition that we would have had if these vessels had been built for and operated exclusively by us. Generally, we, as a purchaser of secondhand vessels will not receive the benefit of warranties from the builders for the secondhand vessels that we acquire. In addition, unforeseen maintenance, repairs, special surveys or dry docking may be necessary for acquired secondhand vessels, which could also increase our costs and reduce our ability to employ the vessel to generate revenue.
In general, the cost of maintaining a vessel in good operating condition increases with the age of the vessel. As our vessels age they will typically become less fuel-efficient and more costly to maintain than more recently constructed vessels due to improvements in engine technology. Cargo insurance rates increase with the age of a vessel, making older vessels less desirable to charterers. Governmental regulations and safety or other equipment standards related to the age of vessels may also require expenditures for alterations or the addition of new equipment to our vessels and may restrict the type of activities in which our vessels may engage. As our vessels age, market conditions may not justify those expenditures or may not enable us to operate our vessels profitably during the remainder of their useful lives.
Technological innovation could reduce our charter hire income and the value of our vessels.
The charter rates and the value and operational life of a vessel are determined by a number of factors including the vessel’s efficiency, operational flexibility and physical life. Efficiency includes speed, fuel economy and the ability to load and discharge cargo quickly. Flexibility includes the ability to enter harbors, utilize related docking facilities and pass through canals and straits. The length of a vessel’s physical life is related to its original design and construction, its maintenance and the impact of the stress of operations. If new dry bulk carriers are built that are more efficient or more flexible or have longer physical lives than our vessels, competition from these more technologically advanced vessels could adversely affect the amount of charter hire payments we receive for our vessels once their initial charters expire and the resale value of our vessels could significantly decrease. In addition, although we view the fuel efficiency of our Eco-type vessels, which we define as vessels that are designed to be more fuel-efficient than standard vessels of similar size and age, as a competitive advantage, this competitive advantage may eventually erode (along with vessel value) as more Eco-type vessels are put into service by our competitors and older, less fuel-efficient vessels are retired. As a result, our business, results of operations, cash flows and financial condition could be adversely affected by technological innovation.
We rely on our information systems to conduct our business, and failure to protect these systems against security breaches could adversely affect our business and results of operations. Additionally, if these systems fail or become unavailable for any significant period of time, our business could be harmed.
The efficient operation of our business, including processing, transmitting and storing electronic and financial information, is dependent on computer hardware and software systems. Information systems are vulnerable to security breaches by computer hackers and cyber terrorists. We rely on industry accepted security measures and technology to securely maintain confidential and proprietary information maintained on our information systems. However, these measures and technology may not adequately prevent security breaches. In addition, the unavailability of the information systems or the failure of these systems to perform as anticipated for any reason could disrupt our business and could result in decreased performance and increased operating costs, causing our business and results of operations to suffer. Any significant interruption or failure of our information systems or any significant breach of security could adversely affect our business and results of operations.
In the highly competitive international shipping industry, we may not be able to compete for charters with new entrants or established companies with greater resources, and as a result, we may be unable to employ our vessels profitably.
Our vessels are and will be employed in a highly competitive market that is capital intensive and highly fragmented. Competition arises primarily from other vessel owners, some of whom have substantially greater resources than we do. Competition for the transportation of dry bulk cargo by sea is intense and depends on price, location, size, age, condition and the acceptability of the vessel and its operators to the charterers. Due in part to the highly fragmented market, competitors with greater resources could enter the dry bulk shipping industry and operate larger fleets through consolidations or acquisitions and may be able to offer lower charter rates and higher quality vessels than we are able to offer. If we are unable to successfully compete with other dry bulk shipping companies, our results of operations would be adversely impacted.
We may be subject to litigation that, if not resolved in our favor and not sufficiently insured against, could have a material adverse effect on us.
We may be, from time to time, involved in various litigation matters. These matters may include, among other things, contract disputes, shareholder litigation, personal injury claims, environmental claims or proceedings, asbestos and other toxic tort claims, property casualty claims, employment matters, governmental claims for taxes or duties, and other litigation that arises in the ordinary course of our business. Although we intend to defend these matters vigorously, we cannot predict with certainty the outcome or effect of any claim or other litigation matter, and the ultimate outcome of any litigation or the potential costs to resolve them may have a material adverse effect on us. Insurance may not be applicable or sufficient in all cases and/or insurers may not remain solvent which may have a material adverse effect on our financial condition.
We may have difficulty managing our planned growth properly.
Historically, we have grown through acquisitions, including the 2014 Transactions and the 2018 Transactions (each as defined below under “Item 4. Information on the Company”), and we have built a number of newbuilding vessels. In addition, one of our strategies is to continue to grow by expanding our operations and adding to our fleet. Our future growth will primarily depend upon a number of factors, some of which may not be within our control. These factors include our ability to:
identify suitable dry bulk carriers, including newbuilding slots at shipyards and/or shipping companies for acquisitions at attractive prices;
obtain required financing for our existing and new operations;
identify businesses engaged in managing, operating or owning dry bulk carriers for acquisitions or joint ventures;
integrate any acquired dry bulk carriers or businesses successfully with our existing operations, including obtaining any approvals and qualifications necessary to operate vessels that we acquire;
hire, train and retain qualified personnel and crew to manage and operate our growing business and fleet;
identify additional new markets;
enhance our customer base; and
improve our operating, financial and accounting systems and controls.
Our failure to effectively identify, acquire, develop and integrate any dry bulk carriers or businesses could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. The number of employees that perform services for us and our current operating and financial systems may not be adequate as we implement our plan to expand the size of our fleet in the dry bulk sector, and we may not be able to effectively hire more employees or adequately improve those systems.
Finally, acquisitions may require additional equity issuances, which may dilute our common shareholders if issued at lower prices than the price they acquired their shares, or debt issuances (with amortization payments), which could lower our available cash. If any such events occur, our financial condition may be adversely affected. We cannot give any assurance that we will be successful in executing our growth plans, obtain appropriate financings on a timely basis or on terms we deem reasonable or acceptable or that we will not incur significant expenses and losses in connection with our future growth.
In the 2014 Transactions, we acquired a 50% interest in Heron.
In the 2014 Transactions, we acquired a convertible loan to Heron, which has been converted into 50% of the equity of Heron. Heron is a 50-50 joint venture between Oceanbulk Shipping and ABY Group Holding Limited During 2015, all vessels previously owned by Heron either were sold to third parties or distributed to Heron’s equity holders. As part of these distributions, we acquired the two Heron Vessels. While Oceanbulk Shipping and ABY Group Holding Limited intend that Heron eventually will be dissolved shortly after local authorities in Malta permit, until that occurs, contingencies to us may arise. However, the pre-transaction investors in Heron will effectively remain as ultimate beneficial owners of Heron, until Heron is dissolved on the basis that, according to the Merger Agreement, any cash received from the final liquidation of Heron will be transferred to the sellers of the corresponding transaction. Under the Merger Agreement, we only agreed to issue 423,141 of our common shares, adjusted for the June 2016 Reserve Stock Split, and pay an amount of $25.0 million in cash, for the acquisition of the two Heron Vessels. In July 2018, ABY Group Holding Limited transferred to ABY Florianna Limited its interests to Heron.
We are and will be exposed to volatility in the LIBOR and intend to selectively enter into derivative contracts, which can result in higher than market interest rates and charges against our income.
The loans under our credit facilities are generally advanced at a floating rate based on LIBOR, which was volatile prior to 2008 and can affect the amount of interest payable on our debt, and which, in turn, could have an adverse effect on our earnings and cash flow. LIBOR has been at relatively low levels but has demonstrated an increasing trend during recent periods. Our financial condition could be materially adversely affected at any time that we have not entered into interest rate hedging arrangements to hedge our exposure to the interest rates applicable to our credit facilities and any other financing arrangements we may enter into in the future, including those we enter into to finance a portion of the amounts payable with respect to newbuildings. Moreover, even if we have entered into interest rate swaps or other derivative instruments for purposes of managing our interest rate exposure, our hedging strategies may not be effective and we may incur substantial losses.
We intend to selectively enter into derivative contracts to hedge our overall exposure to interest rate risk exposure. Entering into swaps and derivatives transactions is inherently risky and presents various possibilities for incurring significant expenses. The derivatives strategies that we employ in the future may not be successful or effective, and we could, as a result, incur substantial additional interest costs. See “Item 11. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk-Interest Rate” for a description of our interest rate swap arrangements.
In addition, in July 2017, the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority announced that it intends to stop collecting LIBOR rates from banks after 2021. The announcement indicates that LIBOR will not continue to exist on the current basis. We are unable to predict the effect of any changes to LIBOR, the establishment and success of any alternative reference rates, or any other reforms to LIBOR or any replacement of LIBOR that may be enacted in the United Kingdom or elsewhere. Such changes, reforms or replacements relating to LIBOR could have an adverse impact on the market for or value of any LIBOR-linked securities, loans, derivatives or other financial instruments or extensions of credit held by us. As such, LIBOR-related changes could affect our overall results of operations and financial condition.
We have made and in the future may make acquisitions and significant strategic investments and acquisitions, which may involve a number of risks. If we are unable to address these risks successfully, such acquisitions and investments could have a materially adverse impact on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We have undertaken a number of acquisitions and investments in the past, including the 2014 Transactions, the 2018 Transactions (as defined below under “Item 4. Information on the Company”), and the Scrubber Retrofitting Program, and may do so from time to time in the future. The risks involved with these acquisitions and investments include:
the possibility that we may not receive a favorable return on our investment or incur losses from our investment, or the original investment may become impaired;
failure to satisfy or set effective strategic objectives;
our assumption of known or unknown liabilities or other unanticipated events or circumstances;
the diversion of management’s attention from normal daily operations of the business;
difficulties in integrating the operations, technologies, products and personnel of the acquired company or its assets;
difficulties in supporting acquired operations;
difficulties or delays in the transfer of vessels, equipment or personnel;
failure to retain key personnel;
unexpected capital equipment outlays and related expenses;
insufficient revenues to offset increased expenses associated with acquisitions;
under-performance problems with acquired assets or operations;
issuance of common shares that could dilute our current shareholders;
recording of goodwill and non-amortizable intangible assets that will be subject to periodic impairment testing and potential impairment charges against our future earnings;
the opportunity cost associated with committing capital in such investments;
undisclosed defects, damage, maintenance requirements or similar matters relating to acquired vessels; and
becoming subject to litigation.
We may not be able to address these risks successfully without substantial expense, delay or other operational or financial problems. Any delays or other such operations or financial problems could adversely impact our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our costs of operating as a public company are significant, and our management is required to devote substantial time to complying with public company regulations.
We are a public company, and as such, we have significant legal, accounting and other expenses in addition to our registration and listing expenses. In addition, Sarbanes-Oxley, as well as rules subsequently implemented by the SEC, Nasdaq and Oslo Børs, have imposed various requirements on public companies, including changes in corporate governance practices, and these requirements may continue to evolve. We and our management personnel, and other personnel, if any, will need to devote a substantial amount of time to comply with these requirements. Moreover, these rules and regulations increase our legal and financial compliance costs and make some activities more time-consuming and costly.
Sarbanes-Oxley requires, among other things, that we maintain and periodically evaluate our internal control over financial reporting and disclosure controls and procedures. In particular, we need to perform system and process evaluation and testing of our internal control over financial reporting to allow management and our independent registered public accounting firm to report on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting, as required by Section 404 of Sarbanes-Oxley. Our compliance with Section 404 may require that we incur substantial accounting expenses and expend significant management efforts. If either management or our independent registered public accounting firm is unable to continue to provide reports as to the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting if required, our investors could lose confidence in the reliability of our financial statements, which could decrease the price of our common shares. Further, if we have a material weakness in our internal controls over financial reporting, we may not detect errors on a timely basis and our financial statements may be materially misstated.
There is a risk that we could be treated as a U.S. domestic corporation for U.S. federal income tax purposes after the merger of Star Maritime with and into Star Bulk, with Star Bulk as the surviving corporation, or the Redomiciliation Merger, which would adversely affect our earnings.
Section 7874(b) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”), provides that, unless certain requirements are satisfied, a corporation organized outside of the United States which acquires substantially all of the assets (through a plan or a series of related transactions) of a corporation organized in the United States will be treated as a U.S. domestic corporation for U.S. federal income tax purposes if shareholders of the U.S. corporation whose assets are being acquired own at least 80% of the non-U.S. acquiring corporation after the acquisition. If Section 7874(b) of the Code were to apply to Star Maritime and the Redomiciliation Merger (as defined below), then, among other consequences, we, as the surviving entity of the Redomiciliation Merger, would be subject to U.S. federal income tax as a U.S. domestic corporation on our worldwide income after the Redomiciliation Merger. Upon completion of the Redomiciliation Merger and the concurrent issuance of shares to TMT Co. Ltd., or “TMT”, a shipping company headquartered in Taiwan, under the acquisition agreements, the shareholders of Star Maritime owned less than 80% of the Company. Therefore, we believe that the Company should not be subject to Section 7874(b) of the Code after the Redomiciliation Merger. Star Maritime obtained an opinion of its counsel, Seward & Kissel LLP (“Seward & Kissel”), that Section 7874(b) of the Code should not apply to the Redomiciliation Merger. However, there is no authority directly addressing the application of Section 7874(b) of the Code to a transaction such as the Redomiciliation Merger where shares in a foreign corporation such as the Company are issued concurrently with (or shortly after) a merger. In particular, since there is no authority directly applying the “series of related transactions” or “plan” provisions to the post-acquisition share ownership requirements of Section 7874(b) of the Code, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, or the “IRS”, may not agree with Seward & Kissel’s opinion on this matter. Moreover, Star Maritime has not sought a ruling from the IRS on this point. Therefore, the IRS may seek to assert that we are subject to U.S. federal income tax on our worldwide income for taxable years after the Redomiciliation Merger, although Seward & Kissel is of the opinion that such an assertion should not be successful.
We may have to pay U.S. federal income tax on our U.S. source income, which would reduce our earnings.
Under the Code, 50% of the gross shipping income of a non-U.S. corporation, such as ourselves, that is attributable to transportation that begins or ends, but that does not both begin and end, in the United States is characterized as “United States source gross shipping income,” and such income is subject to a 4% U.S. federal income tax without allowance for any deductions, unless the corporation qualifies for exemption from U.S. federal income taxation under Section 883 of the Code and the Treasury Regulations promulgated thereunder.
We believe that we qualify for the exemption from U.S. federal income taxation under Section 883 of the Code for our 2018 taxable year. Accordingly, we do not believe that we will be subject to the 4% U.S. federal income tax on our United States source gross shipping income for our 2018 taxable year. Due to the factual nature of this inquiry, no assurance can be given of our ability to claim this exemption from U.S. federal income tax for future taxable years.
If a significant portion of our income is United States source gross shipping income, the imposition of such tax could have a negative effect on our business and would result in decreased earnings.
A change in tax laws, treaties or regulations, or their interpretation could result in a significant negative impact on our earnings and cash flows from operations.
We are an international company that conducts business throughout the world. Tax laws and regulations are highly complex and subject to interpretation. Consequently, a change in tax laws, treaties or regulations, or in the interpretation thereof, or in and between countries in which we operate, could result in a materially high tax expense or higher effective tax rate on our worldwide earnings, and such change could be significant to our financial results.
If any tax authority successfully challenges our operational structure, intercompany pricing policies or the taxable presence of our key subsidiaries in certain countries, or if the terms of certain income tax treaties are interpreted in a manner that is adverse to our structure, or if we lose a material tax dispute in any country, our effective tax rate on our worldwide earnings from our operations could increase substantially and our earnings and cash flows from these operations could be materially adversely affected.
We and our subsidiaries may be subject to taxation in the jurisdictions in which we and our subsidiaries conduct business. Such taxation would result in decreased earnings.
Investors are encouraged to consult their own tax advisors concerning the overall tax consequences of the ownership of our common shares arising in an investor’s particular situation under U.S. federal, state, local and foreign law.
The Internal Revenue Service could treat us as a “passive foreign investment company,” which could have adverse U.S. federal income tax consequences to U.S. shareholders.
A non-U.S. corporation will be treated as a “passive foreign investment company” (a “PFIC”) for U.S. federal income tax purposes if either (1) at least 75% of its gross income for any taxable year consists of certain types of “passive income” (e.g., dividends, interest, capital gains and rents derived other than in the active conduct of a rental business) or (2) at least 50% of the average value of the corporation’s assets produce or are held for the production of passive income. For purposes of determining the PFIC status of a non-U.S. corporation, income earned in connection with the performance of services does not constitute passive income, but rental income generally is treated as passive income unless the non-U.S. corporation is treated under specific rules as deriving its rental income in the active conduct of a trade or business. We intend to take the position that income we derive from our voyage and time chartering activities is services income, rather than rental income, and accordingly, that such income is not passive income for purposes of determining our PFIC status. Based on this characterization of income from voyage and time charters and the expected composition of our income and assets, we believe that we currently are not a PFIC, and we do not expect to become a PFIC in the future. Additionally, we believe that our contracts for newbuilding vessels are not assets held for the production of passive income, because we intend to use these vessels for voyage and time chartering activities. However, there is no direct legal authority under the PFIC rules addressing our characterization of income from our voyage and time chartering activities nor our characterization of contracts for newbuilding vessels. Moreover, the determination of PFIC status for any year can only be made on an annual basis after the end of such taxable year and will depend on the composition of our income, assets and operations from time to time. Because of the above described uncertainties, there can be no assurance that the Internal Revenue Service will not challenge the determination made by us concerning our PFIC status or that we will not be a PFIC for any taxable year.
If we were classified as a PFIC for any taxable year during which a U.S. shareholder owns common shares (regardless of whether we continue to be a PFIC), the U.S. shareholder would be subject to special adverse rules, including taxation at maximum ordinary income rates plus an interest charge on both gains on sale and certain dividends, unless the U.S. shareholder makes an election to be taxed under an alternative regime. Certain elections may be available to U.S. shareholders if we were classified as a PFIC.
Risks Related to Our Relationships with Mr. Pappas, Oaktree and Other Parties
Affiliates of Oaktree own a significant portion of our common shares, subject to certain restrictions on voting, acquisitions and dispositions thereof.
As of February 28, 2019, Oaktree and its affiliates beneficially own 31,587,490 common shares, which would represent approximately 33.9% of our outstanding common shares. However, pursuant to the Oaktree Shareholders Agreement, Oaktree and certain affiliates thereof have agreed to voting restrictions, ownership limitations and standstill restrictions. For instance, Oaktree and its affiliates will be entitled to nominate a maximum of four out of nine members of our board of directors, subject to certain additional limitations. In addition, Oaktree and its affiliates will be required to vote their voting securities in excess of 33% of the outstanding voting securities (subject to adjustment as set forth in the Oaktree Shareholders Agreement) proportionately with the votes cast by the other shareholders, subject to certain exceptions, which include (i) voting against a change of control transaction with an unaffiliated buyer and (ii) voting in favor of a change of control transaction with an unaffiliated buyer (but only if such transaction is approved by a majority of disinterested directors). In addition, Oaktree and affiliates thereof will be subject to certain standstill restrictions, and may not receive a control premium for their common shares as part of a change of control transaction. Despite the foregoing limitations, Oaktree and its affiliates are able to exert considerable influence over us. Oaktree and its affiliates may be able to prevent or delay a change of control of us and could preclude any unsolicited acquisition of us. The concentration of ownership and voting power in Oaktree may make some transactions more difficult or impossible without the support of Oaktree, even if such events are in the best interests of our other shareholders. The concentration of voting power in Oaktree may have an adverse effect on the price of our common shares. As a result of such influence, we may take actions that our other shareholders do not view as beneficial, which may adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition and cause the value of your investment to decline.
Additionally, Oaktree is in the business of making investments in companies and currently holds, and may from time to time in the future acquire, interests in the shipping industry that directly or indirectly compete with certain portions of our business. Further, if Oaktree pursues acquisitions or makes further investments in the shipping industry, those acquisitions and investment opportunities may not be available to us, and we have agreed to renounce any interest or expectancy in, or in being offered an opportunity to participate in, any corporate opportunities that may be presented to or become known to Oaktree or any of its affiliates.
In addition, the members of the board of directors nominated by Oaktree will have fiduciary duties to us and in addition may have duties to Oaktree. As a result, such circumstances may entail real or apparent conflicts of interest with respect to matters affecting both us and Oaktree, whose interests, in some circumstances, may be adverse to ours.
Members of management and our directors may have relationships and affiliations with other entities that could create conflicts of interest.
While we do not expect that our Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Petros Pappas, will have any material relationships with any companies in the dry bulk shipping industry other than us, he will continue to be involved in other areas of the shipping industry, including as the founder of Oceanbulk Maritime, a dry cargo shipping company, and as a member of the management of PST Tankers LLC, which is a joint venture between Oaktree and entities controlled by the family of Mr. Petros Pappas involved in the product tanker businesses. Both children of our Chief Executive Officer are equity holders of Oceanbulk Maritime and/or Interchart, and in various other entities, some of which are involved in the dry bulk shipping industry. These other affiliations and ventures could cause distraction to Mr. Pappas as our Chief Executive Officer if he focuses a substantial portion of his time on them, and the involvement of Mr. Pappas with other ventures could cause conflicts of interest with us.
Any of these affiliations and relationships of Mr. Pappas, certain members of his family and certain members of our senior management may create conflicts of interest not in the best interest of us or our shareholders from time to time. This could result in an adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. We use our best efforts to cause such individuals to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in addressing such conflicts of interest.
Two of our directors are affiliated with Oaktree. Our directors who are affiliates of Oaktree have fiduciary duties to us and in addition have duties to Oaktree. In addition, under the Oaktree Shareholders Agreements, none of our officers or directors who is also an officer, director, employee or other affiliate of Oaktree or an officer, director or employee of an affiliate of Oaktree will be liable to us or our shareholders for breach of any fiduciary duty by reason of the fact that any such individual directs a corporate opportunity to Oaktree or its affiliates instead of us, or does not communicate information regarding a corporate opportunity to us that such person or affiliate has directed to Oaktree or its affiliates. As a result, such circumstances may entail real or apparent conflicts of interest with respect to matters affecting both us and Oaktree, whose interests, in some circumstances, may be adverse to ours. In addition, as a result of Oaktree’s ownership interest, conflicts of interest could arise with respect to transactions involving business dealings between us and Oaktree or their affiliates, including potential business transactions, potential acquisitions of businesses or properties, the issuance of additional securities, the payment of dividends by us and other matters.
Our executive officers will not devote all of their time to our business, which may hinder our ability to operate successfully.
Our executive officers participate in business activities not associated with us, including serving as members of the management teams of Oceanbulk Maritime and PST Tankers LLC, and are not required to work full-time on our affairs. Initially, we expect that each of our executive officers will devote a substantial portion of his/her business time to the completion of our newbuilding program and management of our Company. Our executive officers may devote less time to us than if they were not engaged in other business activities and may owe fiduciary duties to the shareholders of other companies with which they may be affiliated, including those companies listed above. This structure may create conflicts of interest in matters involving or affecting us and our customers and it is not certain that any of these conflicts of interest will be resolved in our favor. This could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
We are dependent on our managers and their ability to hire and retain key personnel.
Our success depends to a significant extent upon the abilities and efforts of our management team. For example, Mr. Pappas is integral to our business, and our success depends significantly on his abilities, industry knowledge, relationships and reputation. We do not maintain “key man” life insurance on any of our officers, and the loss of any of these individuals could adversely affect our business prospects and financial condition.
Our continued success will depend upon our and our managers’ ability to hire and retain key members of our management team. Difficulty in hiring and retaining personnel could adversely affect our results of operations. In crewing our vessels, we require technically skilled employees with specialized training who can perform physically demanding work. Competition to attract and retain qualified crew members is intense due to the increase in the size of the global shipping fleet. If we are not able to obtain higher charter rates to compensate for any crew cost increases, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, cash flows and financial condition. If we cannot hire, train and retain a sufficient number of qualified employees, we may be unable to manage, maintain and grow our business, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. As we expand our fleet, we will also need to expand our operational and financial systems and hire new shoreside staff and seafarers to crew our vessels; if we cannot expand these systems or recruit suitable employees, its performance may be adversely affected.
Our reliance upon “foreign private issuer” exemptions may afford less protection to holders of our common shares.
The corporate governance rules of the Nasdaq require, subject to exceptions, listed companies to have, among other things, a majority of their board members be independent and independent director oversight of executive compensation, nomination of directors and corporate governance matters. Nevertheless, a “foreign private issuer” (as defined in Rule 3b-4 of the Exchange Act) is permitted to follow its home country practice in lieu of the above requirements.
We are a foreign private issuer, and, as such, we may follow the laws of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, our home country, with respect to the foregoing requirements. For example, our board of directors is not required by the laws of the Republic of the Marshall Islands to have a majority of independent directors, so, while our board of directors includes seven members that would likely be deemed independent for purposes of the Nasdaq rules, we are not required to comply with the Nasdaq rule that requires us to have a majority of independent directors, and we may in the future have less than a majority of directors who would be deemed independent for purposes of the Nasdaq rules. Consequently, for so long as we remain a foreign private issuer, the approach of our board of directors may be different from that of a board of directors required to have a majority of independent directors, and as a result, our management oversight may be more limited than if we were required to comply with the Nasdaq rules applicable to U.S. domestic listed companies.
As a “foreign private issuer,” we are not required to comply with all of the periodic disclosure and current reporting requirements of the Exchange Act applicable to U.S. domestic companies whose securities are registered under the Exchange Act.
The determination of foreign private issuer status is made annually on the last business day of an issuer’s most recently completed second fiscal quarter, and accordingly the next determination will be made with respect to us on June 30, 2019. We will lose our foreign private issuer status if more than 50% of our outstanding voting securities are directly or indirectly held of record by residents of the U.S., and:
more than a majority of our executive officers and directors are U.S. citizens or residents;
more than 50% of our assets are located in the U.S.; or
our business is administered principally in the U.S.
We may therefore lose our foreign private issuer status in the future.
If we were to lose our foreign private issuer status, we would be required to comply with the rules of the Nasdaq applicable to U.S. domestic listed companies within six months, including filing with the SEC periodic reports and registration statements on U.S. domestic issuer forms, which are more detailed and extensive than the forms available to a foreign private issuer. We would also have to comply with U.S. federal proxy requirements, and our officers, directors and 10% shareholders would become subject to the short-swing profit disclosure and recovery provisions of Section 16 of the Exchange Act. In addition, we would lose our ability to rely upon exemptions from certain Nasdaq corporate governance requirements. As a result, the regulatory and compliance costs to us under U.S. securities laws as a U.S. domestic issuer could be significantly higher.
Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure and Our Common Shares
We are a holding company, and we depend on the ability of our subsidiaries to distribute funds to us in order to satisfy our financial obligations and to make dividend payments.
We are a holding company, and our subsidiaries conduct all of our operations and own all of our operating assets. We have no significant assets other than the equity interests in our subsidiaries. As a result, our ability to satisfy our financial obligations and to make dividend payments in the future depends on our subsidiaries and their ability to distribute funds to us. If we are unable to obtain funds from our subsidiaries, our board of directors may exercise its discretion not to declare or pay dividends. We do not intend to obtain funds from other sources to pay dividends. Furthermore, certain of our outstanding financing arrangements restrict the ability of some of our subsidiaries to pay us dividends under certain circumstances, such as if an event of default exists. To the extent we do not receive dividends from our subsidiaries, our ability to pay dividends will be restricted.
Because we are organized under the laws of the Marshall Islands and because substantially all of our assets are located outside of the United States, it may be difficult to serve us with legal process or enforce judgments against us, our directors or our management.
We are organized under the laws of the Marshall Islands and substantially all of our assets are located outside of the United States. In addition, the majority of our directors and officers are or will be non-residents of the United States and all or a substantial portion of the assets of these non-residents are located outside the United States. As a result, it may be difficult or impossible for you to bring an action against us or against our directors and officers in the United States if you believe that your rights have been infringed under securities laws or otherwise. Even if you are successful in bringing an action of this kind, the laws of the Marshall Islands and of other jurisdictions may prevent or restrict you from enforcing a judgment against our assets or the assets of our directors or officers.
We are incorporated in the Marshall Islands, which does not have a well-developed body of corporate law.
Our corporate affairs are governed by our Fourth Amended and Restated Articles of Incorporation (the “Articles of Incorporation”) and our Third Amended and Restated Bylaws (the “Bylaws”) and by the Marshall Islands Business Corporations Act (the “MIBCA”). The provisions of the MIBCA resemble provisions of the corporation laws of a number of states in the United States. However, there have been few judicial cases in the Marshall Islands interpreting the MIBCA. The rights and fiduciary responsibilities of directors under the laws of the Marshall Islands are not as clearly established as the rights and fiduciary responsibilities of directors under statutes or judicial precedent in existence in the United States. The rights of shareholders of companies incorporated in the Marshall Islands may differ from the rights of shareholders of companies incorporated in the United States. While the MIBCA provides that it is to be interpreted according to the laws of the State of Delaware and other states with substantially similar legislative provisions, there have been few, if any, court cases interpreting the MIBCA in the Marshall Islands and we cannot predict whether Marshall Islands courts would reach the same conclusions as United States courts. Thus, you may have more difficulty in protecting your interests in the face of actions by the management, directors or controlling shareholders than would shareholders of a corporation incorporated in a United States jurisdiction that has developed a relatively more substantial body of case law. Additionally, the Republic of the Marshall Islands does not have a legal provision for bankruptcy or a general statutory mechanism for insolvency proceedings. As such, in the event of a future insolvency or bankruptcy, our shareholders and creditors may experience delays in their ability to recover their claims after any such insolvency or bankruptcy.
The international nature of our operations may make the outcome of any bankruptcy proceedings difficult to predict.
We are incorporated under the laws of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and certain of our subsidiaries are also incorporated under the laws of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Liberia, Cyprus, Malta and Switzerland, and we conduct operations in countries around the world. The Marshall Islands has passed an act implementing the U.N. Commission on Internal Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency, or the Model Law. The adoption of the Model Law is intended to implement effective mechanisms for dealing with issues related to cross-border insolvency proceedings and encourages cooperation and coordination between jurisdictions. Notably, the Model Law does not alter the substantive insolvency laws of any jurisdiction and does not create a bankruptcy code in the Marshall Islands. Instead, the Act allows for the recognition by the Marshall Islands of foreign insolvency proceedings, the provision of foreign creditors with access to courts in the Marshall Islands, and the cooperation with foreign courts. Consequently, in the event of any bankruptcy, insolvency or similar proceedings involving us or one of our subsidiaries, bankruptcy laws other than those of the United States could apply. We have limited operations in the United States. If we become a debtor under the United States bankruptcy laws, bankruptcy courts in the United States may seek to assert jurisdiction over all of our assets, wherever located, including property situated in other countries. There can be no assurance, however, that we would become a debtor in the United States or that a United States bankruptcy court would be entitled to, or accept, jurisdiction over such bankruptcy case or that courts in other countries that have jurisdiction over us and our operations would recognize a United States bankruptcy court’s jurisdiction if any other bankruptcy court would determine it had jurisdiction.
The price of our common shares may be highly volatile.
The price of our common shares may fluctuate due to factors such as:
actual or anticipated fluctuations in our quarterly and annual results and those of other public companies in our industry;
mergers and strategic alliances in the dry bulk shipping industry;
market conditions in the dry bulk shipping industry;
changes in market valuations of companies in our industry;
changes in government regulation;
the failure of securities analysts to publish research about us, or shortfalls in our operating results from levels forecast by securities analysts;
announcements concerning us or our competitors; and
the general state of the securities markets.
The seaborne transportation industry has been highly unpredictable and volatile. The market for our common shares in this industry may be equally volatile. Further, there may be no continuing active or liquid public market for our common shares. Consequently, you may not be able to sell the common shares at prices equal to or greater than those paid by you, or you may not be able to sell them at all.
Future sales of our common shares could cause the market price of our common shares to decline.
Our Articles of Incorporation authorize us to issue 300,000,000 common shares, of which 92,627,349 shares had been issued and 92,285,986 (excluding 341,363 treasury shares) were outstanding as of December 31, 2018. Sales of a substantial number of shares of our common shares in the public market, or the perception that these sales could occur, may depress the market price for our common shares. These sales could also impair our ability to raise additional capital through the sale of our equity securities in the future. We intend to issue additional shares of our common shares in the future. Our shareholders may incur dilution from any future equity offering and upon the issuance of additional shares of our common shares upon the exercise of options we have granted to certain of our executive officers or upon the issuance of additional common shares pursuant to our equity incentive plans.
We may fail to meet the continued listing requirements of the Nasdaq, which could cause our common shares to be delisted.
Pursuant to the listing requirements of the Nasdaq Global Select Market, if a company’s share price is below $1.00 per share for 30 consecutive trading days, Nasdaq will notify the company that it is no longer in compliance with the Nasdaq listing qualifications, which are set forth in Nasdaq Listing Rule 5450(a). If a company is not in compliance with the minimum bid price rule, the company will have 180 calendar days to regain compliance. The company may regain compliance if the bid price of its common shares closes at $1.00 per share or more for a minimum of ten consecutive business days at any time during the 180-day cure period.
On January 6, 2016, we received notice from Nasdaq that the minimum bid price for our common shares was below $1.00 per share for a period of 30 consecutive business days, and that we therefore did not meet the minimum bid price requirement for the Nasdaq Global Select Market. Following the June 2016 Reverse Stock Split, effective June 20, 2016, on July 6, 2016 we received notice from Nasdaq that we had regained compliance with the minimum bid price requirement for the Nasdaq Global Select Market.
There can be no assurance that we will remain in compliance with the other Nasdaq listing qualification rules, or that our common shares will not be delisted. A delisting of our common shares could have an adverse effect on the market price, and the efficiency of the trading market for, our common shares and could cause an event of default under certain of our Senior Secured Credit Facilities.
Certain shareholders hold registration rights, which may have an adverse effect on the market price of our common shares.
On September 26, 2018, we filed a registration statement on Form F-3 (File No. 333-227538), which became effective on October 5, 2018. This registration statement covers the resale of up to 44,294,986 of our common shares by Oaktree, affiliates of Mr. Petros Pappas, affiliates of York, affiliates of Augustea and OCC (each as defined below under “Item 4. Information on the Company”). Additionally, we are a party to the Registration Rights Agreement, as amended, with Oaktree, affiliates of Mr. Petros Pappas, York and Augustea, see “Item 7. Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions—B. Related Party Transactions.” The acquisition agreement with E.R. (as defined below under “Item 4. Information on the Company”) also provides E.R. with certain registration rights. The Registration Rights Agreement and the acquisition agreement with E.R. provide certain demand registration rights and shelf registration rights to Oaktree, affiliates of Mr. Petros Pappas, York, Augustea and E.R. in respect of common shares held by them, subject to certain conditions. In the event that we register additional common shares for sale to the public, we will be required to give notice to Oaktree, affiliates of Mr. Petros Pappas, York, Augustea and E.R. of our intention to effect such registration and, subject to certain limitations, we will be required to include common shares held by those holders in such registration. The resale of these common shares in addition to the offer and sale of the other securities included in such registration statements may have an adverse effect on the market price of our common shares. If Oaktree, affiliates of Mr. Petros Pappas, York, Augustea or E.R. were to sell large blocks of our common shares or the perception that such sales could occur, the market price of our common shares could drop significantly, it could become difficult for us to raise funds through future offerings of our common shares or acquire other businesses using our common shares as consideration.
Anti-takeover provisions in our organizational documents could have the effect of discouraging, delaying or preventing a merger or acquisition, or could make it difficult for our shareholders to replace or remove our current board of directors, which could adversely affect the market price of our common shares.
Several provisions of our Articles of Incorporation and our Bylaws could make it difficult for our shareholders to change the composition of our board of directors in any one year, preventing them from changing the composition of management. In addition, the same provisions may discourage, delay or prevent a merger or acquisition that shareholders may consider favorable. These provisions include:
authorizing our board of directors to issue “blank check” preferred stock without shareholder approval;
providing for a classified board of directors with staggered, three-year terms;
establishing certain advance notice requirements for nominations for election to our board of directors or for proposing matters that can be acted on by shareholders at shareholder meetings;
prohibiting cumulative voting in the election of directors;
limiting the persons who may call special meetings of shareholders;
authorizing the removal of directors only for cause and only upon the affirmative vote of the holders of a majority of the outstanding shares of our common shares entitled to vote for the directors; and
establishing supermajority voting provisions with respect to amendments to certain provisions of our Articles of Incorporation and our Bylaws.
These anti-takeover provisions could substantially impede the ability of public shareholders to benefit from a change in control and, as a result, may adversely affect the market price of our common shares and your ability to realize any potential change of control premium.
Information on the Company
History and Development of the Company
We, Star Bulk Carriers Corp., were incorporated in the Marshall Islands on December 13, 2006. Our executive offices are located at c/o Star Bulk Management Inc., 40 Agiou Konstantinou Str., Maroussi 15124, Athens, Greece and its telephone number is 011-30-210-617-8400. Our registered office is located at Trust Company Complex, Ajeltake Road, Ajeltake Island, Majuro, Marshall Islands, MH 96960.
Star Maritime Acquisition Corp. (“Star Maritime”), was organized under the laws of the State of Delaware on May 13, 2005 as a blank check company formed to acquire, through a merger, capital stock exchange, asset acquisition or similar business combination, one or more assets or target businesses in the shipping industry. On December 21, 2005, Star Maritime consummated its initial public offering. Star Maritime’s common stock and warrants started trading on the American Stock Exchange under the symbols “SEA” and “SEA.WS,” respectively, on December 21, 2005.
On January 12, 2007, Star Maritime and Star Bulk entered into definitive agreements to acquire a fleet of eight dry bulk carriers, referred to as the initial fleet.
On November 2, 2007, the Commission declared effective our joint proxy/registration statement filed on Forms F-1/F-4 and on November 27, 2007, we obtained shareholders’ approval for the acquisition of the initial fleet and for effecting a merger (the “Redomiciliation Merger”) as a result of which Star Maritime merged into Star Bulk with Star Maritime merging out of existence and Star Bulk being the surviving entity. The Redomiciliation Merger became effective on November 30, 2007, and the common shares and warrants of Star Maritime ceased trading on the American Stock Exchange under the symbols SEA and SEA.WS, respectively. Our common shares and warrants started trading on the Nasdaq Global Select Market on December 3, 2007, under the ticker symbols “SBLK” and “SBLKW,” respectively. All of our warrants expired worthless and ceased trading on the Nasdaq Global Select Market on March 15, 2010. We began our operations on December 3, 2007, with the delivery of our first vessel Star Epsilon.
On February 25, 2014, we acquired 33% of the total outstanding common stock of Interchart, a Liberian company affiliated with family members of our Chief Executive Officer, which acts as chartering broker to our fleet, for a total consideration of $0.2 million in cash and 4,520 restricted common shares issued on April 1, 2014. The ownership interest was purchased from an entity affiliated with family members of our Chief Executive Officer, including our former director Ms. Milena-Maria Pappas. We and Interchart are parties to a services agreement for chartering, brokering and commercial services for our vessels for a monthly fee of $0.3 million. The agreement following consecutive renewals is currently effective until December 31, 2019.
On July 11, 2014, we completed a merger (the “Merger”), pursuant to which we acquired Oceanbulk Shipping LLC (“Oceanbulk Shipping”) and Oceanbulk Carriers LLC (“Oceanbulk Carriers” and, together with Oceanbulk Shipping, “Oceanbulk”) from entities affiliated with family members of Mr. Petros Pappas, our Chief Executive Officer, and Oaktree Capital Management. Oceanbulk owned and operated a fleet of 12 dry bulk carrier vessels and owned contracts for the construction of 25 newbuilding dry bulk fuel-efficient Eco-type vessels at shipyards in Japan and China. The consideration paid by us in the Merger to the sellers of Oceanbulk was 9,679,153 common shares. Concurrently with the Merger, we acquired two Kamsarmax vessels (the “Heron Vessels”) from Heron Ventures Ltd. (“Heron”). On November 11, 2014, we entered into two separate agreements with Heron to acquire the two Heron Vessels, namely Star Gwyneth and Star Angelina, which were delivered to us on December 5, 2014. The cost for the acquisition of these vessels was determined based on the fair value of the 423,141 common shares, issued on July 11, 2014, in connection with the Heron Transaction, of $25.1 million and $25.0 million in cash payment which was financed by a secured term loan agreement with CiT Finance LLC in the amount of $25.3 million (“the Heron Vessels Facility”). In addition, as part of the Merger we acquired the issued and outstanding shares of Dioriga Shipping Co. and Positive Shipping Company (collectively, the “Pappas Companies”), which were entities owned and controlled by affiliates of the family of Mr. Petros Pappas, our Chief Executive Officer. The Pappas Companies owned and operated a dry bulk carrier vessel, Tsu Ebisu and had a contract for the construction of a newbuilding dry bulk carrier vessel, Indomitable (ex-HN 5016), which was delivered to us in January 2015. The consideration paid for the Pappas Companies was 718,546 common shares. We refer to the above transactions as the “July 2014 Transactions.”
In connection with the July 2014 Transactions, Mr. Petros Pappas became our Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Hamish Norton became our President, Mr. Christos Begleris became our Co-Chief Financial Officer and Mr. Nicos Rescos became our Chief Operating Officer. Mr. Spyros Capralos resigned as our Chief Executive Officer but remained with us as our Non-Executive Chairman, and Mr. Zenon Kleopas (our former Chief Operating Officer) continued as our Executive Vice President—Technical Operations. Executive management for the year ended December 31, 2018 consists of our CEO, President, Co-CFOs and COO. For more information, see “Item 6. Directors, Senior Management and Employees.”
In connection with the July 2014 Transactions, we entered into a shareholders agreement with Oaktree and a shareholders agreement with Mr. Petros Pappas and his children, Ms. Milena-Maria Pappas (our former director) and Mr. Alexandros Pappas, and entities affiliated with them (“Pappas Shareholders”) (see “Item 7. Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions—B. Related Party Transactions.”). We also entered into an Amended and Restated Registration Rights Agreement among us, Oaktree, affiliates of Mr. Petros Pappas and Monarch Alternative Capital LP (“Monarch”) (the “Registration Rights Agreement”). For more information regarding the terms of the Registration Rights Agreement, see “Item 7. Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions—B. Related Party Transactions.”
On August 19, 2014, we entered into definitive agreements with Excel Maritime Carriers Ltd. (“Excel”) pursuant to which we acquired 34 operating dry bulk vessels, consisting of six Capesize vessels, 14 Kamsarmax vessels, 12 Panamax vessels and two Handymax vessels (the “Excel Vessels”). The transfers of the Excel Vessels were completed on a vessel-by-vessel basis, in general upon reaching port after their voyages and cargoes were discharged. We refer to the foregoing transactions, together, as the “Excel Transactions.” The total consideration for the Excel Transactions was 5,983,462 common shares and $288.4 million in cash. We refer to the July 2014 Transactions and the Excel Transactions collectively, as the “2014 Transactions.”
As a result of the 2014 Transactions, we acquired 49 additional vessels and 26 additional newbuilding contracts.
On June 28, 2018, we completed the acquisition of three newbuilding Newcastlemax vessels (the “OCC Vessels”) with an aggregate capacity of 0.62 million dwt from Oceanbulk Container Carriers LLC (“OCC”), an entity affiliated with Oaktree Capital Management L.P. and with family members of our CEO, Mr. Petros Pappas (the “OCC Vessel Acquisition”), for an aggregate consideration of 3,304,735 common shares.
On July 6, 2018, we completed the acquisition of 15 operating vessels with an aggregate capacity of 1.48 million dwt (the “Songa Vessels”) from Songa Bulk ASA (“Songa”) for aggregate consideration of 13,725,000 common shares of the Company and $145.0 million in cash (the “Songa Vessel Acquisition”). Following, and in connection with, this transaction, our common shares commenced trading on the Oslo Stock Exchange under the ticker “SBLK”. Companies controlled by Messrs. Arne Blystad, Magnus Roth and Herman Billung, represent approximately 29% of the outstanding shares of Songa. Upon completion of the Songa Vessel Acquisition, Mr. Arne Blystad was appointed to our board of directors as class C Director and Mr. Herman Billung joined our management team as Senior Vice President.
On August 3, 2018, we completed the acquisition of 16 vessels (the “Augustea Vessels”) with an aggregate capacity of 1.94 million dwt from entities affiliated with Augustea Atlantica SpA (“Augustea”) and York Capital Management (“York”) in an all-share transaction (the “Augustea Vessel Acquisition”). As consideration for the Augustea Vessel Acquisition, we issued 10,277,335 common shares to the sellers of the Augustea Vessels. Under the terms of the agreement governing the Augustea Vessel Acquisition, the consideration was determined based on the average vessel valuations by independent vessel appraisers. As part of the transaction, we assumed debt of approximately $308.3 million. Upon completion of the Augustea Vessel Acquisition, Mr. Raffaele Zagari was appointed to our board of directors as a Class C Director.
In connection with the OCC Vessel Acquisition and the Augustea Vessel Acquisition, we amended the Registration Rights Agreement to add OCC, Augustea and York as parties. See “Item 7. Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions—B. Related Party Transactions—Registration Rights Agreement.”
On August 27, 2018, we entered into a definitive purchase agreement for the acquisition of three operating dry bulk vessels (the “Step 1 Vessels”) within 2018 ( the “Step 1 Acquisition”), and options to acquire additional four operating dry bulk vessels (the “Step 2 Vessels”) and, together with the Step 1 Vessels, the (“E.R Vessels”) in 2019 (the “Step 2 Acquisition”) from entities affiliated with E.R. Capital Holding GmbH & Cie. KG (“E.R.”). Pursuant to a three party novation agreement with charterers and E.R., the charterparties existing at the time of the deliveries of each of the E.R. Vessels were novated to Star Bulk. The Step 1 Vessels consisted of two Capesize and one Supramax vessel and the Step 2 Vessels consisted of four Capesize vessels. The first Step 1 Vessel was delivered in October 2018 and the remaining two of the Step 1 Vessels, Star Marianne and Star Janni were delivered to us in January 2019.
The Step 1 Vessels were acquired for an aggregate of approximately 1.34 million common shares of Star Bulk (the “Step 1 Consideration Shares”) and $41.70 million in cash subject to adjustments for our cash, debt and remaining capital expenditures as of one business day prior to the delivery date of each of the Step 1 Vessels. In relation to the Step 2 Vessels, E.R. granted us a separate call option to acquire each of the four Step 2 Vessels for an aggregate exercise price of $115.39 million or $28.85 million per Step 2 Vessel (the “Call Options”), exercisable on April 1, 2019. Concurrently, we granted E.R. a separate put option to acquire each of the four Step 2 Vessels with an aggregate exercise price of $105.39 million or $26.35 million per Step 2 Vessel (the “Put Options”) exercisable by E.R. from April 2, 2019 to April 4, 2019 (inclusive), if we do not exercise the Call Options. The aggregate exercise price of the Call and Put Options is payable at our option in either, 2/3 cash and 1/3 common shares (the “Step 2 Consideration Shares”) or 100% cash. The number of Step 2 Consideration Shares to be issued to E.R. (if any) will be determined on the basis of the net asset value of the Company, which will be based on the average vessel valuations by independent vessel appraisers as of March 31, 2019 and will be subject to adjustments for our cash, debt and remaining capital expenditures as of one business day prior to the delivery date of each of the Step 2 Vessels. This transaction is collectively herein referred to as “E.R. Vessel Purchase Transaction.”
In connection with the E.R. Vessel Purchase Transaction, we granted E.R. certain demand registration rights and shelf registration rights.
We refer to the above transactions as the “2018 Transactions.” In connection with the 2018 Transactions, we entered into, amended or assumed a number of credit facilities. See “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects – B. Liquidity and Capital Resources – Senior Secured Credit Facilities”.
From time to time, in response to changing market conditions, we have disposed certain of our vessels (the majority of which were older vessels) and have sold, cancelled or transferred some of our newbuilding vessels. As a result, our fleet currently includes 108 operating vessels, with three additional newbuilding vessels under construction in China with expected deliveries in the first half of 2019, and is well-positioned to take advantage of any recovery in the dry bulk market.
We are an international shipping company with extensive operational experience that owns and operates a fleet of dry bulk carrier vessels. Taking into consideration the sales of vessels Star Aurora and Star Kappa, discussed elsewhere herein, as well as the delivery of our three new building vessels, we will have a fleet of 109 vessels consisting of Newcastlemax, Capesize, mini- Capesize, Post Panamax, Kamsarmax, Panamax, Ultramax and Supramax vessels with a carrying capacity between 52,055 dwt and 209,537 dwt. Our vessels transport a broad range of major and minor bulk commodities, including ores, coal, grains and fertilizers, along worldwide shipping routes. Our highly experienced executive management team, with an extensive shipping industry experience, is led by Mr. Petros Pappas, who has more than 40 years of shipping industry experience and has managed more than 390 vessel acquisitions and dispositions.
As of February 28, 2019, our operating fleet of 108 vessels had an aggregate capacity of approximately 12.1 million dwt. We have also acquired contracts for the construction of three of the latest generation “Eco-type” vessels at a shipyard in China, which we define as vessels that are designed to be more fuel-efficient than standard vessels of similar size and age. As of February 28, 2019, the remaining payments for our three newbuilding vessels were expected to be $90.8 million. The vessels are expected to be delivered between March 2019 and June 2019. We also had call options and sold respective put options on four Capesize vessels, with exercise dates in early April 2019.
Scrubber Retrofitting Program
The IMO announced on October, 2016 that as of January 1, 2020, there will be a cap on sulfur content in vessel air emissions globally, with the exhaust gas from burning bunker fuel being limited to 0.5% m/m sulfur content, instead of 3.5% m/m sulfur currently. From January 1, 2020 vessels will be required to remove sulfur from emissions through installing scrubbers or burning more expensive marine fuel with lower sulfur content. Our scrubber-equipped vessels will be able to continue using the lower-priced standard 3.5% sulfur marine bunker fuel, making them more desirable to charterers because of their lower total fuel costs compared to vessels not equipped with scrubbers, which will be forced to burn low-sulfur fuel (which we expect will be much more expensive). As such, we have decided to install scrubbers on the majority of our vessels in order to comply with this regulation (the “Scrubber Retrofitting Program”). We expect the Scrubber Retrofitting Program will be completed by early 2020. We expect the Scrubber Retrofitting Program will cost an aggregate of $173.9 million. As of February 28, 2019, we have entered into agreements to finance $134.2 million of these costs with the proceeds of new indebtedness.
We have decided to install scrubbers on the majority of our vessels, which we are financing, in part, with the proceeds of new indebtedness and believe will increase our competitive advantage commercially making our fleet more attractive to charterers and cargo owners. As of December 31, 2018, the remaining payments under our Scrubber Retrofitting Program are expected to be $141.0 million and will be made through 2020 when the installation will be completed.
As of February 28, 2019, we had $160.9 million of cash on hand and we had obtained commitments for $225.6 million, in the form of secured credit facilities or lease arrangements to finance our newbuilding and Scrubber Retrofitting Program discussed above. Taking into consideration the sales of vessels Star Aurora and Star Kappa, discussed elsewhere herein, as well as the delivery of our three new building vessels, by end of June 2019, we expect our fleet to consist of 109 wholly owned vessels, with an average age of 8.0 years and an aggregate capacity of 12.5 million dwt. On a fully delivered basis and based on publicly available information, we believe our fleet will make us one of the largest U.S. publicly traded dry bulk shipping companies by deadweight tonnage.
We have built a fleet through timely and selective acquisitions of secondhand and newbuilding vessels. Our fleet is well-positioned to take advantage of economies of scale in commercial, technical and procurement management. Because of the industry reputation and relationships of Mr. Pappas and our senior management, we have contracted with leading Japanese and Chinese shipyards for the construction of our newbuilding vessels. We have a large, modern, fuel-efficient and high-quality fleet, which emphasizes the largest Eco-type Capesize and Newcastlemax vessels, built at leading shipyards and featuring the latest technology. As a result, we believe we will have an opportunity to capitalize on rising market demand during a period of reduced fleet growth, customer preferences for our ships and economies of scale, while enabling us to capture the benefits of fuel cost savings through spot time charters or voyage charters.
Each of our newly delivered and newbuilding vessels is equipped with a vessel remote monitoring system that provides data to monitor fuel and lubricant consumption and efficiency on a real-time basis. While these monitoring systems are generally available in the shipping industry, we believe that they can be cost-effectively employed only by large-scale shipping operators, such as us.
In addition, as discussed above, pursuant to our Scrubber Retrofitting Program, the majority of our fleet will be fitted with emissions scrubbers by January 2020 when the IMO sulfur cap regulations come into force. We believe that the new maritime regulations will have a strong impact on the maritime industry and will distinguish us from other dry bulk owners that will have conventional dry bulk vessels that will not be able to consume less expensive bunker fuel with higher sulfur content.
Our large size vessels, primarily transports minerals from the Americas and Australia to East Asia, particularly China, but also Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia. Our lower size vessels carry minerals, grain products and steel between the Americas, Europe, Africa, Australia and Indonesia and from these areas to China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia.
The following tables summarize key information about our operating and newbuilding fleet, as of February 28, 2019:
We own a modern, diverse, high quality fleet of dry bulk carrier vessels. As of February 28, 2019, our fleet consists of 108 vessels currently in the water, and three additional Newcastlemax newbuilding vessels to be delivered from SWS by the end of June 2019. Taking into consideration the sales of vessels Star Aurora and Star Kappa, discussed elsewhere herein, as well as the delivery of our three new building vessels by end of June, 2019, our fleet will consist of 109 vessels, with an aggregate carrying capacity of 12.5 million dwt and an average age of 8.0 years. We also hold call options and have sold corresponding put options on four modern Capesize vessels, with exercise dates in early April 2019. In addition, we expect the majority of the fleet to be scrubber fitted by January 2020.
We believe that owning a modern, high quality fleet reduces operating costs, improves safety and provides us with a competitive advantage in securing favorable time charters. We maintain the quality of our vessels by carrying out regular inspections, both while in port and at sea, and adopting a comprehensive maintenance program for each vessel. Furthermore, we take a proactive approach to safety and environmental protection through comprehensively planned maintenance systems, preventive maintenance programs and by retaining and training qualified crews.
Based on the scale, scope and quality of our fleet and our commercial and technical management capabilities and because much of our fleet is currently chartered on the spot market, we believe we are well-positioned to take advantage of the ongoing recovery in the dry bulk market.
In-house commercial and technical management of our fleet enable us to have very competitive operating expenses and high vessel maintenance standards
We conduct a significant portion of the commercial and technical management of our vessels in-house through our wholly owned subsidiaries, Star Bulk Management Inc., Star Bulk Shipmanagement Company (Cyprus) Limited and Starbulk S.A. We believe having control over the commercial and technical management provides us with a competitive advantage over many of our competitors by allowing us to more closely monitor our operations and to offer higher quality performance, reliability and efficiency in arranging charters and the maintenance of our vessels. We also believe that these management capabilities contribute significantly in maintaining a lower level of vessel operating and maintenance costs, without sacrificing the quality of our operations. Reflecting the continued quality of our vessels, as of February 28, 2019, we are considered as a top quality service provider and we are rated among the top five operators among approximately 70 shipowners by Rightship, a ratings agency that evaluates the condition of dry bulk vessels.
Focus on scrubber fitted fuel efficient vessels and new technology to improve vessel operations
Because of emissions standards that limit the sulfur content of vessel emissions that are expected to go into effect on January 1, 2020, through our Scrubber Retrofitting Program, we are investing in installing emissions scrubbers on the vast majority of our fleet. Our scrubber-equipped vessels will be able to continue using the lower-priced standard 3.5% sulfur marine bunker fuel, making them more desirable to charterers because of their lower total fuel costs compared to vessels not equipped with scrubbers, which will be forced to burn low-sulfur fuel (which we expect will be much more expensive). The lower fuel costs will give us the opportunity to generate advantageous TCE rates. In addition, our Eco-type vessels (all of our vessels built from 2014 onwards), enable us to take advantage of available fuel cost savings and operational efficiencies. Most of our operating vessels have been or are in the process of being equipped with sliding engine valves and alpha lubricators, which provide increased fuel efficiency and decreased lubricant consumption, and approximately 30% of our operating fleet has been equipped with a sophisticated vessel remote monitoring system. The vessel remote monitoring system allows us to collect real-time information on the performance of critical on-board equipment, with a particular focus on fuel consumption and engine performance. Using this information, we are able to be proactive in identifying potential problems and to evaluate optimum operating parameters during various sea passage conditions. We also are able to compare actual vessel performance to reported vessel performance and provide feedback to crews in real time, thereby reducing the likelihood of errors or omissions by our crews. The vessel remote monitoring system is designed to enhance our ability to manage the operations of our vessels, thereby increasing operational efficiency and reducing maintenance costs and off-hire time. Finally, because of the similarities between certain of our vessels, we can take advantage of efficiencies in crewing, training and spare parts inventory management and can apply technical and operational knowledge of one ship to its sister ships.
Experienced management team with a strong track record in the shipping industry
Our company’s leadership has considerable shipping industry expertise. Our founder and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Pappas, has an established track record in the dry bulk industry, with more than 40 years of experience and more than 390 vessel acquisitions and dispositions. Mr. Pappas has extensive experience in operating and investing in shipping, including through his family’s principal shipping operations and investment vehicle, Oceanbulk Maritime. Mr. Pappas also has extensive relationships in the shipping industry, and he has leveraged his deep relationships with shipbuilders to formulate our newbuilding program.
Mr. Hamish Norton, our President, is an executive of Oceanbulk Maritime and the Chief Financial Officer and Head of Corporate Development of Oceanbulk’s joint ventures with Oaktree since 2012 with an extensive experience in the shipping industry. Prior to joining Oceanbulk Maritime, from 2007 through 2012, Mr. Norton was Managing Director and the Global Head of the Maritime Group at Jefferies LLC, and from 2000 to 2007, he was head of the shipping practice at Bear Stearns. Mr. Norton has advised in numerous capital markets and mergers and acquisitions transactions by shipping companies.
Mr. Christos Begleris, our Co-Chief Financial Officer, is an executive of Oceanbulk Maritime since 2013 and the Deputy Chief Financial Officer of Oceanbulk’s joint ventures with Oaktree. He has been involved in the shipping industry since 2008 and has considerable banking and capital markets experience.
Mr. Simos Spyrou, our Co-Chief Financial Officer, has served as Chief Financial Officer of Star Bulk since September 2011. Mr. Spyrou also has approximately 14 years of experience in the Greek equity and derivative markets at the Hellenic Exchanges Group.
Mr. Nicos Rescos, our Chief Operating Officer, has served as the Chief Operating Officer of Oceanbulk Maritime since April 2010 and had served as the Commercial Director of Goldenport Holdings Inc. since 2000. He has been involved in the shipping industry in key commercial positions since 1993 and has strong expertise in the dry bulk, container and product tanker markets.
Mrs. Charis Plakantonaki, our Chief Strategy Officer, joined us in 2015. She has been involved in the shipping industry in key strategic planning positions since 2008 and has also extensive experience in strategic development projects for multinational companies across different industries.
For more information on our management team, see “Item 6. Directors, Senior Management and Employees - Directors, Senior Management and Employees.”
Extensive relationships with customers, lenders, shipyards and other shipping industry participants
Through Mr. Pappas and our senior management team, we have strong global relationships with shipping companies, charterers, shipyards, brokers and commercial shipping lenders. Our senior management and chartering teams have a long track record in the voyage and time chartering of dry bulk ships, which we expect will have great benefit to us in increasing the profitability of our fleet. We believe that these relationships with these counterparties and our strong sale and purchase track record and reputation as a creditworthy counterparty should provide us with access to attractive asset acquisitions, chartering and ship financing opportunities. Mr. Pappas has also leveraged his deep relationships with various shipyards to enable us to implement our newbuilding program with vessels of high specification.
Our primary objectives are to grow our business profitably and to continue to grow as a successful owner and operator of dry bulk vessels. The key elements of our strategy are:
Capitalize on potential increases in charter rates for dry bulk shipping
The dry bulk shipping industry is cyclical in nature. The supply of dry bulk carriers is dependent on the delivery of new vessels and the removal of vessels from the global fleet, either through scrapping or loss, and the demand for dry bulk shipping is often dependent on economic conditions, and international trade. The recent historically low dry bulk charter rates seen in 2016 acted as a catalyst for ship owners, who scrapped a significant number of vessels, until equilibrium between demand and supply of vessels was achieved. Based on our analysis of industry dynamics, we believe that dry bulk charter rates will rise in the medium term due to historically low vessel deliveries. As of February 28, 2019, the global dry bulk carrier order book amounted to approximately 11.2% of the existing fleet at that time. During 2018, a total of 4.5 million dwt was scrapped, representing the lowest annual scrapping figure in a decade, as the dry bulk freight market improved. As of February 28, 2019, the year to date 2019 demolition rate is 1.5 million dwt, which represents a 36% increase over the demolition rate for the corresponding period in 2018 due to a series of dry bulk export disruptions and the US-China trade war having weighed on freight during the seasonally low first quarter. Historically, from 2006 to 2017, vessel annual demolition rate averaged 16.2 million dwt per year, with a high of 33.41 million dwt scrapped in 2012. Given the relatively low dry bulk orderbook and the upcoming IMO 2020 sulfur regulation, vessel supply is likely to be relatively constrained during the next two years. While the charter market remains at current levels, we intend to operate our vessels in the spot market under short-term time charter market or voyage charters in order to benefit from any future increases in charter rates and the increased attractiveness of our scrubber-equipped vessels as sulfur emissions standards go into effect on January 1, 2020.
Charter our vessels in an active and sophisticated manner
Our business strategy is centered on arranging voyage and short-term time charters for our vessels given the current market levels. This approach is also tailored specifically to the fuel efficiency of our younger vessels. While this process is more difficult and labor intensive than placing our vessels on longer-term time charters, it can lead to greater profitability, particularly for vessels that have lower fuel consumption than typical vessels. When operating a vessel on a voyage charter, we (as owner of the vessel) will incur fuel costs, and therefore, we are in a position to benefit from fuel savings (particularly for our Eco-type vessels). If charter market levels rise, we may employ part of our fleet in the long-term time charter market, while we may be able to more advantageously employ our newer Eco-type vessels in the voyage charter market and/or short-term time charters in order to capture the benefit of available fuel cost savings. Our large, diverse and high quality fleet provides scale to major charterers, such as iron ore miners, utility companies and commodity trading houses. On December 17, 2014, we announced the formation of a long-term strategic partnership with a significant iron ore mining company for the chartering of three Newcastlemax vessels, under an index-linked voyage charter for a five-year period. This arrangement allows us to take the full benefit of the vessels’ increased cargo carrying capacity as well as potential savings arising from their fuel efficiency, as we will be compensated on a $/ton basis, while being responsible for the voyage expenses of the vessels. We seek similar arrangements with other charterers, providing the scale required for the transportation of large commodity volumes over a multitude of trading routes around the world.
On January 25, 2016, we entered into a Capesize vessel pooling agreement (“CCL”) with Bocimar International NV, Golden Ocean Group Limited and C Transport Holding Ltd. As of December 31, 2018, we operated eight of our Capesize dry bulk vessels as part of one combined CCL fleet. The CCL fleet consists of approximately 77 modern Capesize vessels and is being managed out of Singapore and Antwerp. Each vessel owner is responsible for the operating, accounting and technical management of its respective vessels. The objective of this pool is to provide improved scheduling ability through the joint marketing opportunity that CCL represents for our Capesize vessels, with the overall aim of enhancing economic efficiencies.
On October 3, 2017, we formed Star Logistics LLC ( “Star Logistics”) as a new subsidiary, through which we charter-in a number of third-party vessels on a short- to medium- term basis (usually not exceeding one year) to increase our operating capacity in order to satisfy our clients’ needs. The creation of Star Logistics has and is expected to further expand our commercial capability through additional commercial expertise on the Kamsarmax and geared bulk carriers (i.e. Ultramax and Supramax vessels). Moreover, Star Logistics provides us with access to considerable cargo flow and market information as it is staffed by an experienced team of shipping logistics professionals and is based in Geneva, Switzerland, giving us a significant presence in a main center of the dry bulk commodities market.
Expand and renew our fleet through opportunistic acquisitions of high-quality vessels at attractive prices
As market conditions continue to improve, we may opportunistically acquire high-quality vessels at attractive prices that are accretive to our cash flow. We also look to opportunistically renew our fleet by replacing older vessels that have higher maintenance and survey costs and lower operating efficiency with newer vessels that have lower operating costs, fewer maintenance and survey requirements, lower fuel consumption and overall enhanced commercial attractiveness to our charterers. When evaluating acquisitions, we will consider and analyze, among other things, our expectations of fundamental developments in the dry bulk shipping industry sector, the level of liquidity in the resale and charter market, the cash flow earned by the vessel in relation to its value, its condition and technical specifications with particular regard to fuel consumption, expected remaining useful life, the credit quality of the charterer and duration and terms of charter contracts for vessels acquired with charters attached, as well as the overall diversification of our fleet and customers. We believe that these circumstances combined with our management’s knowledge of the shipping industry may present an opportunity for us to continue to grow our fleet at favorable prices.
Maintain a strong balance sheet through moderate use of leverage
We finance our fleet, including future vessel acquisitions, with a mix of debt (subject to certain restrictions in our debt agreements) and equity, and we intend to maintain moderate levels of leverage over time, even though we may have the capacity to obtain additional financing. As of December 31, 2018, our debt to total capitalization ratio was approximately 49%. Charterers have increasingly favored financially solid vessel owners, and we believe that our balance sheet strength will enable us to access more favorable chartering opportunities, as well as give us a competitive advantage in pursuing vessel acquisitions from commercial banks and shipyards, which in our experience have recently displayed a preference for contracting with well-capitalized counterparties.
Demand for dry bulk carriers fluctuates in line with the main patterns of trade of the major dry bulk cargoes and varies according to their supply and demand. We compete with other owners of dry bulk carriers in the Newcastlemax, Capesize, mini-Capesize, Post Panamax, Panamax (including the Kamsarmax subcategory), Ultramax and Supramax size sectors. Ownership of dry bulk carriers is highly fragmented. We compete for charters on the basis of price, vessel location, size, age and condition of the vessel, as well as on our reputation as an owner and operator.
We have well-established relationships with major dry bulk charterers, which we serve by carrying a variety of cargoes over a multitude of routes around the globe. We charter out our vessels to first class iron ore miners, utilities companies, commodity trading houses and diversified shipping companies.
For the year ended December 31, 2018, we derived 15% of our voyage revenues from one of our customers.
Demand for vessel capacity has historically exhibited seasonal variations and, as a result, fluctuations in charter rates. This seasonality may result in quarter-to-quarter volatility in our operating results for vessels trading in the spot market. The dry bulk sector is typically stronger in the fall and winter months in anticipation of increased consumption of coal and other raw materials in the northern hemisphere. Seasonality in the sector in which we operate could materially affect our operating results and cash flows.
In-house Management of the Fleet
Star Bulk Management, Star Bulk Shipmanagement Company (Cyprus) Limited and Starbulk S.A., three of our wholly-owned subsidiaries, perform the operational and technical management services for the majority of the vessels in our fleet, including chartering, marketing, capital expenditures, personnel, accounting, paying vessel taxes and maintaining insurance.
On October 3, 2017, we formed a new wholly owned subsidiary, Star Logistics. Star Logistics charters-in a number of third-party vessels on a short- to medium- term basis (usually not exceeding one year) to increase its operating capacity in order to satisfy its clients’ needs. In addition, Star Logistics contributes to the expansion of the commercial capability of Star Bulk through additional commercial expertise and advanced tools on the Kamsarmax and geared bulk carriers. Star Logistics is based in Geneva, Switzerland.
As of December 31, 2018, we had 169 employees engaged in the day to day management of our fleet, including our executive officers, through Star Bulk Management Inc, Star Bulk Shipmanagement Company (Cyprus) Limited, Starbulk S.A. and Star Logistics. Star Bulk Management Inc., Star Bulk Shipmanagement Company (Cyprus) Limited, Starbulk S.A. and Star Logistics employ a number of additional shore-based executives and employees designed to ensure the efficient performance of our activities. We reimburse and/or advance funds as necessary to our in-house managers in order for them to conduct their activities and discharge their obligations, at cost.
Star Bulk Management Inc. is responsible for the management of the vessels. Star Bulk Management’s responsibilities include, inter alia, locating, purchasing, financing and selling vessels, deciding on capital expenditures for the vessels, paying vessels’ taxes, negotiating charters for the vessels, managing the mix of various types of charters, developing and managing the relationships with charterers and the operational and technical managers of the vessels. Star Bulk Management Inc. subcontracts certain vessel management services to Starbulk S.A.
Starbulk S.A. provides the technical and crew management of the majority of our vessels. Technical management includes maintenance, dry docking, repairs, insurance, regulatory and classification society compliance, arranging for and managing crews, appointing technical consultants and providing technical support.
Star Bulk Shipmanagement Company (Cyprus) Limited provides technical and operation management services in respect of 17 of our vessels. The management services include arrangement and supervision of dry docking, repairs, insurance, regulatory and classification society compliance, provision of crew, appointment of surveyors and technical consultants.
Starbulk S.A. and Star Bulk Shipmanagement Company (Cyprus) Limited are responsible for recruiting, either directly or through a technical manager or a crew manager, the senior officers and all other crew members for the vessels in our fleet. Both companies have the responsibility to ensure that all seamen have the qualifications and licenses required to comply with international regulations and shipping conventions, and that the vessels are manned by experienced and competent and trained personnel. Starbulk S.A. and Star Bulk Shipmanagement Company (Cyprus) Limited are also responsible for insuring that seafarers’ wages and terms of employment conform to international standards or to general collective bargaining agreements to allow unrestricted worldwide trading of the vessels and provides the crewing management for all the vessels in our fleet.
As of January 1, 2015, we engaged Ship Procurement Services S.A. (“SPS”), a third-party company, to provide to our fleet certain procurement services at a daily fee of $295 per vessel.
Outsourced Management of the fleet
Following the completion of the Songa Vessel Purchase Transaction, we appointed Songa Shipmanagement Ltd, an entity affiliated with certain of the sellers of the corresponding transaction and specifically with one of our directors, Mr. Blystad (see Item 6. Directors, Senior Management and Employees, A. Directors, Senior Management and Employees) as the technical manager of certain of our vessels.
Following the completion of the Augustea Vessel Purchase Transaction, we appointed Augustea Technoservices Ltd., an entity affiliated with certain of the sellers of the corresponding transaction and specifically with one of the Company’s directors, Mr. Zagari (see Item 6. Directors, Senior Management and Employees, A. Directors, Senior Management and Employees) as the technical manager of certain of our vessels.
During 2018, we have also appointed Equinox Maritime Ltd, Zeaborn GmbH & Co. KG and Technomar Shipping Inc., which are third party management companies, to provide certain management services to our vessels.
Songa Shipmanagement Ltd, Augustea Technoservices Ltd, Equinox Maritime Ltd, Zeaborn GmbH & Co. KG and Technomar Shipping Inc., provide technical, operation and crewing management services to certain of the vessels in our fleet.
As of December 31, 2018, Songa Shipmanagement Ltd, Augustea Technoservices Ltd, Equinox Maritime Ltd, Zeaborn GmbH & Co. KG and Technomar Shipping Inc., provided management services to 33 of the 107 vessels of our fleet.
Basis for Statements
The International Dry Bulk Shipping Industry
Dry bulk cargo is cargo that is shipped in large quantities and can be easily stowed in a single hold with little risk of cargo damage. In 2018, based on preliminary figures, it is estimated that approximately 5.2 billion tons of dry bulk cargo was transported by sea.
The demand for dry bulk carrier capacity is derived from the underlying demand for commodities transported in dry bulk carriers, which is influenced by various factors such as broader macroeconomic dynamics, globalization trends, industry specific factors, geological structure of ores, political factors, and weather. The demand for dry bulk carriers is determined by the volume and geographical distribution of seaborne dry bulk trade, which in turn is influenced by general trends in the global economy and factors affecting demand for commodities. During the 1980s and 1990s seaborne dry bulk trade increased by 1-2% per annum. However, over the last decade, between 2008 and 2018, seaborne dry bulk trade increased at a compound annual growth rate of 4.0%, substantially influenced by the entrance of China in the World Trade Organization. The global dry bulk carrier fleet may be divided into seven categories based on a vessel’s carrying capacity. These main categories consist of:
Newcastlemax vessels, which are vessels with carrying capacities of between 200,000 and 210,000 dwt. These vessels carry both iron ore and coal and they represent the largest vessels able to enter the port of Newcastle in Australia. There are relatively few ports around the world with the infrastructure to accommodate vessels of this size.
Capesize vessels, which are vessels with carrying capacities of between 100,000 and 200,000 dwt. These vessels generally operate along long-haul iron ore and coal trade routes. There are relatively few ports around the world with the infrastructure to accommodate vessels of this size.
Post-Panamax vessels, which are vessels with carrying capacities of between 90,000 and 100,000 dwt. These vessels tend to have a shallower draft and larger beam than a standard Panamax vessel, and a higher cargo capacity. These vessels have been designed specifically for loading high cubic cargoes from draft restricted ports, and they can transit the Panama Canal following the completion of its latest expansion.
Panamax vessels, which are vessels with carrying capacities of between 65,000 and 90,000 dwt. These vessels carry coal, grains, and, to a lesser extent, minor bulks, including steel products, forest products and fertilizers. Panamax vessels can pass through the Panama Canal.
Ultramax vessels, which are vessels with carrying capacities of between 60,000 and 65,000 dwt. These vessels carry grains and minor bulks and operate along many global trade routes. They represent the largest and most modern version of Supramax bulk carrier vessels (see below).
Handymax vessels, which are vessels with carrying capacities of between 35,000 and 60,000 dwt. The subcategory of vessels that have a carrying capacity of between 45,000 and 60,000 dwt are called Supramax. Handymax vessels operate along a large number of geographically dispersed global trade routes mainly carrying grains and minor bulks. Vessels below 60,000 dwt are sometimes built with on-board cranes enabling them to load and discharge cargo in countries and ports with limited infrastructure.
Handysize vessels, which are vessels with carrying capacities of up to 35,000 dwt. These vessels carry exclusively minor bulk cargo. Increasingly, these vessels have been operating along regional trading routes. Handysize vessels are well suited for small ports with length and draft restrictions that lack the infrastructure for cargo loading and unloading.
The supply of dry bulk carriers is dependent on the delivery of new vessels and the removal of vessels from the global fleet, either through scrapping or loss, and the demand for dry bulk shipping is often dependent on economic conditions, and international trade. The recent historically low dry bulk charter rates seen in 2016 acted as a catalyst for ship owners, who scrapped a significant number of vessels, until equilibrium between demand and supply of vessels was achieved. Based on our analysis of industry dynamics, we believe that dry bulk charter rates will rise in the medium term due to historically low vessel deliveries. As of February 28, 2019, the global dry bulk carrier order book amounted to approximately 11.2% of the existing fleet at that time. During 2018, a total of 4.5 million dwt was scrapped, representing the lowest annual scrapping figure in a decade, as the dry bulk freight market improved. As of February 28, 2019, the year to date 2019 demolition rate is 1.5 million dwt, which represents a 36% increase over the demolition rate for the corresponding period in 2018 due to a series of dry bulk export disruptions and the US-China trade war having weighed on freight during the seasonally low first quarter. Historically, from 2006 to 2017, vessel annual demolition rate averaged 16.2 million dwt per year, with a high of 33.41 million dwt scrapped in 2012. Given the relatively low dry bulk orderbook and the upcoming IMO 2020 sulfur regulation, vessel supply is likely to be relatively constrained during the next two years. While the charter market remains at current levels, we intend to operate our vessels in the spot market under short-term time charter market or voyage charters in order to benefit from any future increases in charter rates and the increased attractiveness of our scrubber-equipped vessels as sulfur emissions standards go into effect on January 1, 2020.
Charter rates paid for dry bulk carriers are primarily a function of the underlying balance between vessel supply and demand, although at times other factors may play a role. Furthermore, the pattern seen in charter rates is broadly similar across the different charter types and between the different dry bulk carrier categories. However, because demand for larger dry bulk carriers is affected by the volume and pattern of trade in a relatively small number of commodities, charter rates (and vessel values) of larger ships tend to be more volatile than those for smaller vessels.
In the time charter market, rates vary depending on the length of the charter period and vessel specific factors such as age, speed and fuel consumption. In the voyage charter market, rates are also influenced by cargo size, commodity, port dues and canal transit fees, as well as delivery and redelivery regions. In general, a larger cargo size is quoted at a lower rate per ton than a smaller cargo size. Routes with costly ports or canals generally command higher rates than routes with low port dues and no canals to transit.
Voyages with a load port within a region that includes ports where vessels usually discharge cargo or a discharge port within a region with ports where vessels load cargo are generally quoted at lower rates, because such voyages generally increase vessel utilization by reducing the unloaded portion (or ballast leg) that is included in the calculation of the return charter to a loading area.
Within the dry bulk shipping industry, the charter rate references most likely to be monitored are the freight rate indices issued by the Baltic Exchange, such as the Baltic Dry Index (“BDI”). These references are based on actual charter rates under charter entered into by market participants, as well as daily assessments provided to the Baltic Exchange by a panel of major shipbrokers.
The BDI declined from a high of 11,793 in May 2008 to a low of 290 in February 2016, which represents a decline of 98%. In 2018, the BDI ranged from a low of 948 in April 2018, to a high of 1,774 in July 2018. As of the last week of February 2019 the BDI stood at 649. Even though charter hire levels have increased compared to the lows of 2016, there can be no assurance that they will increase further, and the market could decline again.
Environmental and Other Regulations in the Shipping Industry
Government regulation and laws significantly affect the ownership and operation of our fleet. We are subject to international conventions and treaties, national, state and local laws and regulations in force in the countries in which our vessels may operate or are registered relating to safety and health and environmental protection including the storage, handling, emission, transportation and discharge of hazardous and non-hazardous materials, and the remediation of contamination and liability for damage to natural resources. Compliance with such laws, regulations and other requirements entails significant expense, including vessel modifications and implementation of certain operating procedures.
A variety of government and private entities subject our vessels to both scheduled and unscheduled inspections. These entities include the local port authorities (applicable national authorities such as the United States Coast Guard (“USCG”), harbor master or equivalent), classification societies, flag state administrations (countries of registry) and charterers, particularly terminal operators. Certain of these entities require us to obtain permits, licenses, certificates and other authorizations for the operation of our vessels. Failure to maintain necessary permits or approvals could require us to incur substantial costs or result in the temporary suspension of the operation of one or more of our vessels.
Increasing environmental concerns have created a demand for vessels that conform to stricter environmental standards. We are required to maintain operating standards for all of our vessels that emphasize operational safety, quality maintenance, continuous training of our officers and crews and compliance with United States and international regulations. We believe that the operation of our vessels is in substantial compliance with applicable environmental laws and regulations and that our vessels have all material permits, licenses, certificates or other authorizations necessary for the conduct of our operations. However, because such laws and regulations frequently change and may impose increasingly stricter requirements, we cannot predict the ultimate cost of complying with these requirements, or the impact of these requirements on the resale value or useful lives of our vessels. In addition, a future serious marine incident that causes significant adverse environmental impact could result in additional legislation or regulation that could negatively affect our profitability.
The International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency for maritime safety and the prevention of pollution by vessels (the “IMO”), has adopted the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto, collectively referred to as MARPOL 73/78 and herein as “MARPOL,” adopted the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea of 1974 (“SOLAS Convention”), and the International Convention on Load Lines of 1966 (the “LL Convention”). MARPOL establishes environmental standards relating to oil leakage or spilling, garbage management, sewage, air emissions, handling and disposal of noxious liquids and the handling of harmful substances in packaged forms. MARPOL is applicable to drybulk, tanker and LNG carriers, among other vessels, and is broken into six Annexes, each of which regulates a different source of pollution. Annex I relates to oil leakage or spilling; Annexes II and III relate to harmful substances carried in bulk in liquid or in packaged form, respectively; Annexes IV and V relate to sewage and garbage management, respectively; and Annex VI, lastly, relates to air emissions. Annex VI was separately adopted by the IMO in September of 1997.
In September of 1997, the IMO adopted Annex VI to MARPOL to address air pollution from vessels. Effective May 2005, Annex VI sets limits on sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from all commercial vessel exhausts and prohibits “deliberate emissions” of ozone depleting substances (such as halons and chlorofluorocarbons), emissions of volatile compounds from cargo tanks, and the shipboard incineration of specific substances. Annex VI also includes a global cap on the sulfur content of fuel oil and allows for special areas to be established with more stringent controls on sulfur emissions, as explained below. Emissions of “volatile organic compounds” from certain vessels, and the shipboard incineration (from incinerators installed after January 1, 2000) of certain substances (such as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs) are also prohibited. We believe that all our vessels are currently compliant in all material respects with these regulations.
The MEPC, adopted amendments to Annex VI regarding emissions of sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter and ozone depleting substances, which entered into force on July 1, 2010. The amended Annex VI seeks to further reduce air pollution by, among other things, implementing a progressive reduction of the amount of sulfur contained in any fuel oil used on board ships. On October 27, 2016, at its 70th session, the MEPC agreed to implement a global 0.5% m/m sulfur oxide emissions limit (reduced from 3.50%) starting from January 1, 2020. This limitation can be met by using low-sulfur compliant fuel oil, alternative fuels, or certain exhaust gas cleaning systems. Once the cap becomes effective, ships will be required to obtain bunker delivery notes and International Air Pollution Prevention (“IAPP”) Certificates from their flag states that specify sulfur content. Additionally, at MEPC 73, amendments to Annex VI to prohibit the carriage of bunkers above 0.5% sulfur on ships were adopted and will take effect March 1, 2020. These regulations subject ocean-going vessels to stringent emissions controls, and may cause us to incur substantial costs.
Sulfur content standards are even stricter within certain “Emission Control Areas,” or (“ECAs”). As of January 1, 2015, ships operating within an ECA were not permitted to use fuel with sulfur content in excess of 0.1%. Amended Annex VI establishes procedures for designating new ECAs. Currently, the IMO has designated four ECAs, including specified portions of the Baltic Sea area, North Sea area, North American area and United States Caribbean area. Ocean-going vessels in these areas will be subject to stringent emission controls and may cause us to incur additional costs. If other ECAs are approved by the IMO, or other new or more stringent requirements relating to emissions from marine diesel engines or port operations by vessels are adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) or the states where we operate, compliance with these regulations could entail significant capital expenditures or otherwise increase the costs of our operations.
Amended Annex VI also establishes new tiers of stringent nitrogen oxide emissions standards for marine diesel engines, depending on their date of installation. At the MEPC meeting held from March to April 2014, amendments to Annex VI were adopted which address the date on which Tier III Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) standards in ECAs will go into effect. Under the amendments, Tier III NOx standards apply to ships that operate in the North American and U.S. Caribbean Sea ECAs designed for the control of NOx produced by vessels with a marine diesel engine installed and constructed on or after January 1, 2016. Tier III requirements could apply to areas that will be designated for Tier III NOx in the future. At MEPC 70 and MEPC 71, the MEPC approved the North Sea and Baltic Sea as ECAs for nitrogen oxide for ships built after January 1, 2021. The EPA promulgated equivalent (and in some senses stricter) emissions standards in late 2009. As a result of these designations or similar future designations, we may be required to incur additional operating or other costs.
As determined at the MEPC 70, the new Regulation 22A of MARPOL Annex VI became effective as of March 1, 2018 and requires ships above 5,000 gross tonnage to collect and report annual data on fuel oil consumption to an IMO database, with the first year of data collection commencing on January 1, 2019. The IMO intends to use such data as the first step in its roadmap (through 2023) for developing its strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships, as discussed further below.
As of January 1, 2013, MARPOL made mandatory certain measures relating to energy efficiency for ships. All ships are now required to develop and implement Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plans (“SEEMPS”), and new ships must be designed in compliance with minimum energy efficiency levels per capacity mile as defined by the Energy Efficiency Design Index (“EEDI”). Under these measures, by 2025, all new ships built will be 30% more energy efficient than those built in 2014.
We may incur costs to comply with these revised standards. Additional or new conventions, laws and regulations may be adopted that could require the installation of expensive emission control systems and could adversely affect our business, results of operations, cash flows and financial condition.
Safety Management System Requirements
The SOLAS Convention was amended to address the safe manning of vessels and emergency training drills. The Convention of Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims (the “LLMC”) sets limitations of liability for a loss of life or personal injury claim or a property claim against ship owners. We believe that our vessels are in substantial compliance with SOLAS. Owners’ compliance with LLMC requirements is covered under the Protection & Indemnity insurance.
Under Chapter IX of the SOLAS Convention, or the International Safety Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention (the “ISM Code”), our operations are also subject to environmental standards and requirements. The ISM Code requires the party with operational control of a vessel to develop an extensive safety management system that includes, among other things, the adoption of a safety and environmental protection policy setting forth instructions and procedures for operating its vessels safely and describing procedures for responding to emergencies. We rely upon the safety management system that we and our technical management team have developed for compliance with the ISM Code. The failure of a vessel owner or bareboat charterer to comply with the ISM Code may subject such party to increased liability, may decrease available insurance coverage for the affected vessels and may result in a denial of access to, or detention in, certain ports.
The ISM Code requires that vessel operators obtain a safety management certificate for each vessel they operate. This certificate evidences compliance by a vessel’s management with the ISM Code requirements for a safety management system. No vessel can obtain a safety management certificate unless its manager has been awarded a document of compliance, issued by each flag state, under the ISM Code. We have obtained applicable documents of compliance for our offices and safety management certificates for all of our vessels for which the certificates are required by the IMO. The document of compliance and safety management certificate are renewed as required.
Regulation II-1/3-10 of the SOLAS Convention governs ship construction and stipulates that ships over 150 meters in length must have adequate strength, integrity and stability to minimize risk of loss or pollution. Goal-based standards amendments in SOLAS regulation II-1/3-10 entered into force in 2012, with July 1, 2016 set for application to new oil tankers and bulk carriers. The SOLAS Convention regulation II-1/3-10 on goal-based ship construction standards for bulk carriers and oil tankers, which entered into force on January 1, 2012, requires that all oil tankers and bulk carriers of 150 meters in length and above, for which the building contract is placed on or after July 1, 2016, satisfy applicable structural requirements conforming to the functional requirements of the International Goal-based Ship Construction Standards for Bulk Carriers and Oil Tankers (GBS Standards).
Amendments to the SOLAS Convention Chapter VII apply to vessels transporting dangerous goods and require those vessels be in compliance with the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (“IMDG Code”). Effective January 1, 2018, the IMDG Code includes (1) updates to the provisions for radioactive material, reflecting the latest provisions from the International Atomic Energy Agency, (2) new marking, packing and classification requirements for dangerous goods, and (3) new mandatory training requirements.
The IMO has also adopted the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (“STCW”). As of February 2017, all seafarers are required to meet the STCW standards and be in possession of a valid STCW certificate. Flag states that have ratified SOLAS and STCW generally employ the classification societies, which have incorporated SOLAS and STCW requirements into their class rules, to undertake surveys to confirm compliance.
The IMO's Maritime Safety Committee and MEPC, respectively, each adopted relevant parts of the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Water (the “Polar Code”). The Polar Code, which entered into force on January 1, 2017, covers design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue as well as environmental protection matters relevant to ships operating in the waters surrounding the two poles. It also includes mandatory measures regarding safety and pollution prevention as well as recommendatory provisions. The Polar Code applies to new ships constructed after January 1, 2017, and after January 1, 2018, ships constructed before January 1, 2017 are required to meet the relevant requirements by the earlier of their first intermediate or renewal survey.
Furthermore, recent action by the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee and United States agencies indicate that cybersecurity regulations for the maritime industry are likely to be further developed in the near future in an attempt to combat cybersecurity threats. For example, cyber-risk management systems must be incorporated by ship-owners and managers by 2021. This might cause companies to create additional procedures for monitoring cybersecurity, which could require additional expenses and/or capital expenditures. The impact of such regulations is hard to predict at this time.
Pollution Control and Liability Requirements
The IMO has negotiated international conventions that impose liability for pollution in international waters and the territorial waters of the signatories to such conventions. For example, the IMO adopted an International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (the “BWM Convention”) in 2004. The BWM Convention entered into force on September 9, 2017. The BWM Convention requires ships to manage their ballast water to remove, render harmless, or avoid the uptake or discharge of new or invasive aquatic organisms and pathogens within ballast water and sediments. The BWM Convention’s implementing regulations call for a phased introduction of mandatory ballast water exchange requirements, to be replaced in time with mandatory concentration limits, and require all ships to carry a ballast water record book and an international ballast Water management certificate.
On December 4, 2013, the IMO Assembly passed a resolution revising the application dates of BWM Convention so that the dates are triggered by the entry into force date and not the dates originally in the BWM Convention. This, in effect, makes all vessels delivered before the entry into force date “existing vessels” and allows for the installation of ballast water management systems on such vessels at the first International Oil Pollution Prevention (“IOPP”) renewal survey following entry into force of the convention. The MEPC adopted updated guidelines for approval of ballast water management systems (G8) at MEPC 70. At MEPC 71, the schedule regarding the BWM Convention’s implementation dates was also discussed and amendments were introduced to extend the date existing vessels are subject to certain ballast water standards. Ships over 400 gross tons generally must comply with a “D-1 standard,” requiring the exchange of ballast water only in open seas and away from coastal waters. The “D-2 standard” specifies the maximum amount of viable organisms allowed to be discharged, and compliance dates vary depending on the IOPP renewal dates. Depending on the date of the IOPP renewal survey, existing vessels must comply with the D-2 standard on or after September 8, 2019. For most ships, compliance with the D-2 standard will involve installing on-board systems to treat ballast water and eliminate unwanted organisms. Ballast Water Management systems, which include systems that make use of chemical, biocides, organisms or biological mechanisms, or which alter the chemical or physical characteristics of the Ballast Water, must be approved in accordance with IMO Guidelines (Regulation D-3). Costs of compliance with these regulations may be substantial.
The cost of compliance with the BWM Convention could increase for ocean carriers and may have a material effect on our operations. Many countries already regulate the discharge of ballast water carried by vessels from country to country to prevent the introduction of invasive and harmful species via such discharges. The U.S., for example, requires vessels entering its waters from another country to conduct mid-ocean ballast exchange, or undertake some alternate measure, and to comply with certain reporting requirements.
The cost of compliance with the BWM Convention, cost of compliance could increase for ocean carriers and may have a material effect on our operations. Many countries already regulate the discharge of ballast water carried by vessels from country to country to prevent the introduction of invasive and harmful species via such discharges. The U.S., for example, requires vessels entering its waters from another country to conduct mid-ocean ballast exchange, or undertake some alternate measure, and to comply with certain reporting requirements.
In 2001, the IMO adopted the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti‑fouling Systems on Ships, or the “Anti‑fouling Convention.” The Anti‑fouling Convention, which entered into force on September 17, 2008, prohibits the use of organotin compound coatings to prevent the attachment of mollusks and other sea life to the hulls of vessels. Vessels of over 400 gross tons engaged in international voyages will also be required to undergo an initial survey before the vessel is put into service or before an International Anti‑fouling System Certificate is issued for the first time; and subsequent surveys when the anti‑fouling systems are altered or replaced. We have obtained Anti‑fouling System Certificates for all of our vessels that are subject to the Anti‑fouling Convention.
Noncompliance with the ISM Code or other IMO regulations may subject the ship owner or bareboat charterer to increased liability, may lead to decreases in available insurance coverage for affected vessels and may result in the denial of access to, or detention in, some ports. The USCG and European Union authorities have indicated that vessels not in compliance with the ISM Code by applicable deadlines will be prohibited from trading in U.S. and European Union ports, respectively. As of the date of this report, each of our vessels is ISM Code certified. However, there can be no assurance that such certificates will be maintained in the future. The IMO continues to review and introduce new regulations. It is impossible to predict what additional regulations, if any, may be passed by the IMO and what effect, if any, such regulations might have on our operations.
United States Regulations
The U.S. Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act
The U.S. Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (“OPA”) established an extensive regulatory and liability regime for the protection and cleanup of the environment from oil spills. OPA affects all “owners and operators” whose vessels trade or operate within the U.S., its territories and possessions or whose vessels operate in U.S. waters, which includes the U.S.’s territorial sea and its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone around the U.S. The U.S. has also enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), which applies to the discharge of hazardous substances other than oil, except in limited circumstances, whether on land or at sea. OPA and CERCLA both define “owner and operator” in the case of a vessel as any person owning, operating or chartering by demise, the vessel. Both OPA and CERCLA impact our operations.
Under OPA, vessel owners and operators are “responsible parties” and are jointly, severally and strictly liable (unless the spill results solely from the act or omission of a third party, an act of God or an act of war) for all containment and clean-up costs and other damages arising from discharges or threatened discharges of oil from their vessels, including bunkers (fuel). OPA defines these other damages broadly to include:
injury to, destruction or loss of, or loss of use of, natural resources and related assessment costs;
injury to, or economic losses resulting from, the destruction of real and personal property;
loss of subsistence use of natural resources that are injured, destroyed or lost;
net loss of taxes, royalties, rents, fees or net profit revenues resulting from injury, destruction or loss of real or personal property, or natural resources;
lost profits or impairment of earning capacity due to injury, destruction or loss of real or personal property or natural resources; and
net cost of increased or additional public services necessitated by removal activities following a discharge of oil, such as protection from fire, safety or health hazards, and loss of subsistence use of natural resources
OPA contains statutory caps on liability and damages; such caps do not apply to direct cleanup costs. Effective December 21, 2015, the USCG adjusted the limits of OPA liability for non-tank vessels, edible oil tank vessels, and any oil spill response vessels, to the greater of $1,100 per gross ton or $939,800 (subject to periodic adjustment for inflation). These limits of liability do not apply if an incident was proximately caused by the violation of an applicable U.S. federal safety, construction or operating regulation by a responsible party (or its agent, employee or a person acting pursuant to a contractual relationship), or a responsible party's gross negligence or willful misconduct. The limitation on liability similarly does not apply if the responsible party fails or refuses to (i) report the incident where the responsible party knows or has reason to know of the incident; (ii) reasonably cooperate and assist as requested in connection with oil removal activities; or (iii) without sufficient cause, comply with an order issued under the Federal Water Pollution Act (Section 311 (c), (e)) or the Intervention on the High Seas Act.
CERCLA contains a similar liability regime whereby owners and operators of vessels are liable for cleanup, removal and remedial costs, as well as damages for injury to, or destruction or loss of, natural resources, including the reasonable costs associated with assessing the same, and health assessments or health effects studies. There is no liability if the discharge of a hazardous substance results solely from the act or omission of a third party, an act of God or an act of war. Liability under CERCLA is limited to the greater of $300 per gross ton or $5.0 million for vessels carrying a hazardous substance as cargo and the greater of $300 per gross ton or $500,000 for any other vessel. These limits do not apply (rendering the responsible person liable for the total cost of response and damages) if the release or threat of release of a hazardous substance resulted from willful misconduct or negligence, or the primary cause of the release was a violation of applicable safety, construction or operating standards or regulations. The limitation on liability also does not apply if the responsible person fails or refused to provide all reasonable cooperation and assistance as requested in connection with response activities where the vessel is subject to OPA.
OPA and CERCLA each preserve the right to recover damages under existing law, including maritime tort law. OPA and CERCLA both require owners and operators of vessels to establish and maintain with the USCG evidence of financial responsibility sufficient to meet the maximum amount of liability to which the particular responsible person may be subject. Vessel owners and operators may satisfy their financial responsibility obligations by providing a proof of insurance, a surety bond, qualification as a self-insurer or a guarantee. We comply and plan to comply going forward with the USCG’s financial responsibility regulations by providing applicable certificates of financial responsibility.
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in additional regulatory initiatives or statutes, including higher liability caps under OPA, new regulations regarding offshore oil and gas drilling, and a pilot inspection program for offshore facilities. However, several of these initiatives and regulations have been or may be revised. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s (“BSEE”) revised Production Safety Systems Rule (“PSSR”), effective December 27, 2018, modified and relaxed certain environmental and safety protections under the 2016 PSSR. Additionally, the BSEE released proposed changes to the Well Control Rule, which could roll back certain reforms regarding the safety of drilling operations, and the U.S. President proposed leasing new sections of U.S. waters to oil and gas companies for offshore drilling, expanding the U.S. waters that are available for such activity over the next five years. The effects of these proposals are currently unknown. Compliance with any new requirements of OPA and future legislation or regulations applicable to the operation of our vessels could impact the cost of our operations and adversely affect our business.
OPA specifically permits individual states to impose their own liability regimes with regard to oil pollution incidents occurring within their boundaries, provided they accept, at a minimum, the levels of liability established under OPA and some states have enacted legislation providing for unlimited liability for oil spills. Many U.S. states that border a navigable waterway have enacted environmental pollution laws that impose strict liability on a person for removal costs and damages resulting from a discharge of oil or a release of a hazardous substance. These laws may be more stringent than U.S. federal law. Moreover, some states have enacted legislation providing for unlimited liability for discharge of pollutants within their waters, although in some cases, states which have enacted this type of legislation have not yet issued implementing regulations defining vessel owners’ responsibilities under these laws. The Company intends to comply with all applicable state regulations in the ports where the Company’s vessels call.
We currently maintain pollution liability coverage insurance in the amount of $1.0 billion per incident for each of our vessels. If the damages from a catastrophic spill were to exceed our insurance coverage, it could have an adverse effect on our business and results of operation.
Other United States Environmental Initiatives
The U.S. Clean Air Act of 1970 (including its amendments of 1977 and 1990) (“CAA”) requires the EPA to promulgate standards applicable to emissions of volatile organic compounds and other air contaminants. The CAA requires states to adopt State Implementation Plans, or SIPs, some of which regulate emissions resulting from vessel loading and unloading operations which may affect our vessels.
The U.S. Clean Water Act (“CWA”) prohibits the discharge of oil, hazardous substances and ballast water in U.S. navigable waters unless authorized by a duly-issued permit or exemption, and imposes strict liability in the form of penalties for any unauthorized discharges. The CWA also imposes substantial liability for the costs of removal, remediation and damages and complements the remedies available under OPA and CERCLA. In 2015, the EPA expanded the definition of “waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”), thereby expanding federal authority under the CWA. Following litigation on the revised WOTUS rule, in December 2018, the EPA and Department of the Army proposed a revised, limited definition of “waters of the United States.” The effect of this proposal on U.S. environmental regulations is still unknown.
The EPA and the USCG have also enacted rules relating to ballast water discharge, compliance with which requires the installation of equipment on our vessels to treat ballast water before it is discharged or the implementation of other port facility disposal arrangements or procedures at potentially substantial costs, and/or otherwise restrict our vessels from entering U.S. Waters. The EPA will regulate these ballast water discharges and other discharges incidental to the normal operation of certain vessels within United States waters pursuant to the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (“VIDA”), which was signed into law on December 4, 2018 and will replace the 2013 Vessel General Permit (“VGP”) program (which authorizes discharges incidental to operations of commercial vessels and contains numeric ballast water discharge limits for most vessels to reduce the risk of invasive species in U.S. waters, stringent requirements for exhaust gas scrubbers, and requirements for the use of environmentally acceptable lubricants) and current Coast Guard ballast water management regulations adopted under the U.S. National Invasive Species Act (“NISA”), such as mid-ocean ballast exchange programs and installation of approved USCG technology for all vessels equipped with ballast water tanks bound for U.S. ports or entering U.S. waters. VIDA establishes a new framework for the regulation of vessel incidental discharges under Clean Water Act (CWA), requires the EPA to develop performance standards for those discharges within two years of enactment, and requires the U.S. Coast Guard to develop implementation, compliance, and enforcement regulations within two years of EPA’s promulgation of standards. Under VIDA, all provisions of the 2013 VGP and USCG regulations regarding ballast water treatment remain in force and effect until the EPA and U.S. Coast Guard regulations are finalized. Non-military, non-recreational vessels greater than 79 feet in length must continue to comply with the requirements of the VGP, including submission of a Notice of Intent (“NOI”) or retention of a PARI form and submission of annual reports. We have submitted NOIs for our vessels where required. Compliance with the EPA, U.S. Coast Guard and state regulations could require the installation of ballast water treatment equipment on our vessels or the implementation of other port facility disposal procedures at potentially substantial cost, or may otherwise restrict our vessels from entering U.S. waters.
European Union Regulations
In October 2009, the European Union amended a directive to impose criminal sanctions for illicit ship-source discharges of polluting substances, including minor discharges, if committed with intent, recklessly or with serious negligence and the discharges individually or in the aggregate result in deterioration of the quality of water. Aiding and abetting the discharge of a polluting substance may also lead to criminal penalties. The directive applies to all types of vessels, irrespective of their flag, but certain exceptions apply to warships or where human safety or that of the ship is in danger. Criminal liability for pollution may result in substantial penalties or fines and increased civil liability claims. Regulation (EU) 2015/757 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2015 (amending EU Directive 2009/16/EC) governs the monitoring, reporting and verification of carbon dioxide emissions from maritime transport, and, subject to some exclusions, requires companies with ships over 5,000 gross tonnage to monitor and report carbon dioxide emissions annually starting on January 1, 2018, which may cause us to incur additional expenses.
The European Union has adopted several regulations and directives requiring, among other things, more frequent inspections of high-risk ships, as determined by type, age, and flag as well as the number of times the ship has been detained. The European Union also adopted and extended a ban on substandard ships and enacted a minimum ban period and a definitive ban for repeated offenses. The regulation also provided the European Union with greater authority and control over classification societies, by imposing more requirements on classification societies and providing for fines or penalty payments for organizations that failed to comply. Furthermore, the EU has implemented regulations requiring vessels to use reduced sulfur content fuel for their main and auxiliary engines. The EU Directive 2005/33/EC (amending Directive 1999/32/EC) introduced requirements parallel to those in Annex VI relating to the sulfur content of marine fuels. In addition, the EU imposed a 0.1% maximum sulfur requirement for fuel used by ships at berth in EU ports.
Greenhouse Gas Regulation
Currently, the emissions of greenhouse gases from international shipping are not subject to the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which entered into force in 2005 and pursuant to which adopting countries have been required to implement national programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with targets extended through 2020. International negotiations are continuing with respect to a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, and restrictions on shipping emissions may be included in any new treaty. In December 2009, more than 27 nations, including the U.S. and China, signed the Copenhagen Accord, which includes a non-binding commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris resulted in the Paris Agreement, which entered into force on November 4, 2016 and does not directly limit greenhouse gas emissions from ships. On June 1, 2017, the U.S. President announced that the United States intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The timing and effect of such action has yet to be determined, but the Paris Agreement provides for a four-year exit process.
At MEPC 70 and MEPC 71, a draft outline of the structure of the initial strategy for developing a comprehensive IMO strategy on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships was approved. In accordance with this roadmap, in April 2018, nations at the MEPC 72 adopted an initial strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships. The initial strategy identifies “levels of ambition” to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including (1) decreasing the carbon intensity from ships through implementation of further phases of the EEDI for new ships; (2) reducing carbon dioxide emissions per transport work, as an average across international shipping, by at least 40% by 2030, pursuing efforts towards 70% by 2050, compared to 2008 emission levels; and (3) reducing the total annual greenhouse emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 while pursuing efforts towards phasing them out entirely. The initial strategy notes that technological innovation, alternative fuels and/or energy sources for international shipping will be integral to achieve the overall ambition. These regulations could cause us to incur additional substantial expenses.
The EU made a unilateral commitment to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions from its member states from 20% of 1990 levels by 2020. The EU also committed to reduce its emissions by 20% under the Kyoto Protocol’s second period from 2013 to 2020. Starting in January 2018, large ships calling at EU ports are required to collect and publish data on carbon dioxide emissions and other information.
In the United States, the EPA issued a finding that greenhouse gases endanger the public health and safety, adopted regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions from certain mobile sources, and proposed regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions from large stationary sources. However, in March 2017, the U.S. President signed an executive order to review and possibly eliminate the EPA’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA or individual U.S. states could enact environmental regulations that would affect our operations.
Any passage of climate control legislation or other regulatory initiatives by the IMO, the EU, the U.S. or other countries where we operate, or any treaty adopted at the international level to succeed the Kyoto Protocol or Paris Agreement, that restricts emissions of greenhouse gases could require us to make significant financial expenditures which we cannot predict with certainty at this time. Even in the absence of climate control legislation, our business may be indirectly affected to the extent that climate change may result in sea level changes or certain weather events.
The International Labor Organization (the “ILO”) is a specialized agency of the UN that has adopted the Maritime Labor Convention 2006 (“MLC 2006”). A Maritime Labor Certificate and a Declaration of Maritime Labor Compliance is required to ensure compliance with the MLC 2006 for all ships above 500 gross tons in international trade. We believe that all our vessels are in substantial compliance with and are certified to meet MLC 2006.
Vessel Security Regulations
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States, there have been a variety of initiatives intended to enhance vessel security such as the U.S. Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (“MTSA”). To implement certain portions of the MTSA, the USCG issued regulations requiring the implementation of certain security requirements aboard vessels operating in waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and at certain ports and facilities, some of which are regulated by the EPA.
Similarly, Chapter XI-2 of the SOLAS Convention imposes detailed security obligations on vessels and port authorities and mandates compliance with the International Ship and Port Facilities Security Code (“the ISPS Code”). The ISPS Code is designed to enhance the security of ports and ships against terrorism. To trade internationally, a vessel must attain an International Ship Security Certificate (“ISSC”) from a recognized security organization approved by the vessel’s flag state. Ships operating without a valid certificate may be detained, expelled from, or refused entry at port until they obtain an ISSC. The various requirements, some of which are found in the SOLAS Convention, include, for example, on-board installation of automatic identification systems to provide a means for the automatic transmission of safety-related information from among similarly equipped ships and shore stations, including information on a ship’s identity, position, course, speed and navigational status; on-board installation of ship security alert systems, which do not sound on the vessel but only alert the authorities on shore; the development of vessel security plans; ship identification number to be permanently marked on a vessel’s hull; a continuous synopsis record kept onboard showing a vessel's history including the name of the ship, the state whose flag the ship is entitled to fly, the date on which the ship was registered with that state, the ship's identification number, the port at which the ship is registered and the name of the registered owner(s) and their registered address; and compliance with flag state security certification requirements.
The USCG regulations, intended to align with international maritime security standards, exempt non-U.S. vessels from MTSA vessel security measures, provided such vessels have on board a valid ISSC that attests to the vessel’s compliance with the SOLAS Convention security requirements and the ISPS Code. Future security measures could have a significant financial impact on us. We intend to comply with the various security measures addressed by MTSA, the SOLAS Convention and the ISPS Code.
The cost of vessel security measures has also been affected by the escalation in the frequency of acts of piracy against ships, notably off the coast of Somalia, including the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea area. Substantial loss of revenue and other costs may be incurred as a result of detention of a vessel or additional security measures, and the risk of uninsured losses could significantly affect our business. Costs are incurred in taking additional security measures in accordance with Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy, notably those contained in the BMP5 industry standard.
Inspection by Classification Societies
The hull and machinery of every commercial vessel must be classed by a classification society authorized by its country of registry. The classification society certifies that a vessel is safe and seaworthy in accordance with the applicable rules and regulations of the country of registry of the vessel and SOLAS. Most insurance underwriters make it a condition for insurance coverage and lending that a vessel be certified “in class” by a classification society which is a member of the International Association of Classification Societies, the IACS. The IACS has adopted harmonized Common Structural Rules, or the Rules, which apply to oil tankers and bulk carriers constructed on or after July 1, 2015. The Rules attempt to create a level of consistency between IACS Societies. All of our vessels are certified as being “in class” by all the applicable Classification Societies (e.g., American Bureau of Shipping, Lloyd's Register of Shipping).
A vessel must undergo annual surveys, intermediate surveys, drydockings and special surveys. In lieu of a special survey, a vessel’s machinery may be on a continuous survey cycle, under which the machinery would be surveyed periodically over a five-year period. Every vessel is also required to be drydocked every 30 to 36 months for inspection of the underwater parts of the vessel. If any vessel does not maintain its class and/or fails any annual survey, intermediate survey, drydocking or special survey, the vessel will be unable to carry cargo between ports and will be unemployable and uninsurable which could cause us to be in violation of certain covenants in our loan agreements. Any such inability to carry cargo or be employed, or any such violation of covenants, could have a material adverse impact on our financial condition and results of operations.
Risk of Loss and Liability Insurance
The operation of any cargo vessel includes risks such as mechanical failure, physical damage, collision, property loss, cargo loss or damage and business interruption due to political circumstances in foreign countries, piracy incidents, hostilities and labor strikes. In addition, there is always an inherent possibility of marine disaster, including oil spills and other environmental mishaps, and the liabilities arising from owning and operating vessels in international trade. OPA, which imposes virtually unlimited liability upon shipowners, operators and bareboat charterers of any vessel trading in the exclusive economic zone of the United States for certain oil pollution accidents in the United States, has made liability insurance more expensive for shipowners and operators trading in the United States market. We carry insurance coverage as customary in the shipping industry. However, not all risks can be insured, specific claims may be rejected, and we might not be always able to obtain adequate insurance coverage at reasonable rates.
Hull and Machinery Insurance
We maintain hull and machinery and war risks insurance, which include the risk of actual or constructive total loss, for all of our vessels. Our vessels are each covered for hull and machinery risks up to at least their fair market value with deductibles of $100,000-$150,000 per vessel per incident. We also maintain increased value insurance for most of our vessels. Under this increased value insurance, in the event of total loss of a vessel, we will be able to recover the sum insured under the increased value policy in addition to the sum insured under the hull and machinery policy. Increased value insurance also covers excess liabilities which are not recoverable under our hull and machinery policy.
Protection and Indemnity Insurance
Protection and indemnity insurance is provided by mutual protection and indemnity associations, or P&I Associations, covers our third-party liabilities in connection with our shipping activities. This includes third-party liability and other related expenses of injury or death of crew members and other third parties, loss or damage to cargo, claims arising from collisions with other vessels, damage to other third-party property, pollution arising from oil or other substances, and salvage, towing and other related costs, including wreck removal. Protection and indemnity insurance is a form of mutual indemnity insurance, extended by protection and indemnity mutual associations, or “clubs.”
Our current protection and indemnity insurance coverage for pollution is $1 billion per vessel per incident and for seamen or crew risks is limited to $3 billion. The 13 P&I Associations that comprise the International Group insure approximately 90% of the world’s commercial tonnage and have entered into a pooling agreement to reinsure each association’s liabilities. The International Group’s website states that the Pool provides a mechanism for sharing all claims in excess of US$ 10 million up to, currently, approximately US$ 8.2 billion. As a member of a P&I Association, which is a member of the International Group, we are subject to calls payable to the associations based on our claim records as well as the claim records of all other members of the individual associations and members of the shipping pool of P&I Associations comprising the International Group.
As of December 31, 2018, we are the sole owner of all of the outstanding shares of the subsidiaries listed in Note 1 of our consolidated financial statements under Item 18. “Financial Statements.”
Property, plant and equipment
We do not own any real property. Our interests in the vessels in our fleet are our only material properties. See Item 4. “Business overview-General.”
Unresolved Staff Comments
Operating and Financial Review and Prospects
The following management’s discussion and analysis of financial condition and results of operations should be read in conjunction with “Item 3. Key Information - Selected Financial Data”, “Item 4. Business Overview” and our historical consolidated financial statements and accompanying notes included elsewhere in this report. This discussion contains forward-looking statements that reflect our current views with respect to future events and financial performance. Our actual results may differ materially from those anticipated in these forward-looking statements as a result of certain factors, such as those set forth in “Item 3. Key Information - D. Risk Factors” and elsewhere in this report.
We are an international shipping company with extensive operational experience that owns and operates a fleet of dry bulk carrier vessels. Our vessels transport a broad range of major and minor bulk commodities, including ores, coal, grains and fertilizers, along worldwide shipping routes.
We deploy our vessels on a mix of short to medium time charters or voyage charters contracts of affreighment, or in dry bulk carrier pools, according to our assessment of market conditions. We adjust the mix of these charters to take advantage of the relatively stable cash flow and high utilization rates associated with medium to long-term time charters, or to profit from attractive spot charter rates during periods of strong charter market conditions, or to maintain employment flexibility that the spot market offers during periods of weak charter market conditions.
Key Performance Indicators
Our business consists primarily of:
employment and operation of dry bulk vessels constituted our operating fleet; and
management of the financial, general and administrative elements involved in the conduct of our business and ownership of dry bulk vessels constituted our operating fleet.
The employment and operation of our vessels require the following main components: