OTTO A. MÜLLER RECYCLING since year 2000
2000 – Jens Ottmüller leads the newly founded company
2003 – Supplying power plants with ship loads of solid biomass
2005 – Entering the fertilizer market with new raw materials
2006 – The start of Jan Neuber creates a strong duo team
2007 – Start of trading liquid biomass
2010 – Celebration of 10th anniversary of OAM Recycling
2011 – Moving office from Hamburg to Ahrensburg
2012 – Innovation – Recycling Phosphates from waste materials
2013 – Expansion in Non-EU countries
2016 – Focussing on bio-based materials for a circular economy
2017 – Trading with cenospheres
2018 – Exhibition on upcycling and recycling 4.0
2019 – Relocation of our office space
2020 – Digital relaunch with new strategy and 1st portrait film
2021 – Record year – largest annual volume moved
2022 – Record year – highest annual turnover since the company was founded
2023 – Antonia Lahann extends the team to a trio
Jan Neuber (Proxy, Antonia Lahann (Materials Flow Manager) and Jens Ottmüller (Managing Director)
125 years of history Geschichte Otto A. Müller
The Founding Days (1890-1917)
Coal Import from England
With some inherited fortune and a loan from his principal, Otto Alfred Müller, the last of 13 children of a Saxon tanner, at the age of 31 years decides tobecome his own master when he is still working for a sugar trading company inHamburg . Thus, on the 6th of November 1890, he founds Otto A. Müller („OAM“). The small company imports English coal to Germany.The coal is shipped via King’s Lynn, later via Immingham and Leith to the Port of Hamburg where it is lightened with own barges and poled through the Alstercanals to the coal traders and endusers. In those days, coal is in high demand: it is used for heating houses and stoves, it fires locomobiles and engines.
The increase of the demand for `Bolsover coal` (named after the mine) leads OAM in 1908 to the building of the MS „GRETCHEN MÜLLER“ at the Rostock Shipyards, with a loading capacity of 1.700 tons. The vessel is mainly shipping coal from England to Hamburg. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914 she is just staying in English waters, but due to the captain’s skill she returns safely to Germany. Later it became known that the English Government had two destroyers follow the vessel but they were unable to find her as the captain had steered northward along the English coast crossing the North Sea far up North instead of taking the direct route to Hamburg.
At that time, the staff of Otto A. Müller consisted of seven persons: the accountants Muus and Niehus, the trader Schwede, the messenger Diedrich, the secretary Sauerland, the head clerk Sauerland and Otto Alfred Müller being the owner. In 1917, OAM sells its stock-pile to Raab Karcher, a branch of the Thyssen Group trading with ‚Ruhrkohle‘ as the outbreak of World War I had cut off the English coal supply.
First Shipownership (1918-1945)
Otto Alfred Müller is managing director of the company until his death in 1929. He is described by his staff as a typical member of the founder generation: thrifty and precise, always insisting on his rights,but at the same time being generous and charitable. Although the relationship between father and son is rather complicated, Otto Franz Jacob (OFJ) being sleeping partner of the company since 1920, becomes managing director in 1929. At the same time, Friedrich Sauerland being head clerk of OAM since 1910, joins the company as personally liable associated partner with a 33 % share.
The company survives the difficult period from 1918 to 1922 due to the „GRETCHEN MÜLLER“ not having incurred any debts resulting from War damage or repairs. In 1921, coal is again imported from England to Germany. Losses incurred during the inflation in 1923 are avoided by strictly buying forward the corresponding currencies for the imports In 1923 OAM moves into its own headquarters at Speersort 17 calling it „Bolsoverhaus“. In 1926, OAM takes part in delivering coal to England over a nine months period during the British miners‘ strike but retreats from this business just in time before the end of the strike, thereby avoiding the big losses being suffered by some of its competitors. In 1930, OAM purchases a 2300 tdw supply-ship from the Navy which is then renamed „ELSE MÜLLER“ and used for shipping coal. With a maximum speed of 12 kn/h she is one of the fastest freighters in those days, making three voyages from Immingham to Hamburg within two weeks. With 72 voyages over the year, she is holding the „blue ribbon“ of the Hamburg coal shipping vessels. A liner route between the Ports of Hamburg, King’s Lynn and Boston is suspended after ashort time due to hard competition from British shipowners.
During the economic depression in 1930/32, OAM is forced to lay up ships. Some customers stop their payments but OAM manages to survive the crisis relying on the minimum sales prices imposed by the German Government. On expiration of the agreement with Raab Karcher not allowing OAM to have its own coalstock for a 10 years‘ period, OAM buys in 1928 the port facility from O. Vidal located at the Grosse Elbstrasse.
With considerable technical improvements in the screening plant and loading facilities for lorries along with a good working moral „Altona“, as this place is called, attains to the top of the coal screening and handling sites in Hamburg. During the first shift the employees screen 1200 t of sized coal loading it into lorries of 3 – 7 t while the second shift loads another 1000 t for industrial use into barges.
This enables the vessels which have arrived early in the morning to sail back to Immingham by midnight. Part of the coal is distributed by 5 Kaelble-engines with more than 20 trailers owned by OAM. The „Bolsover Nuts“ are delivered to Marne/Holst. and to Itzehoe. Success in trade – the Pound Sterling is falling while the prices for coal remain stable – as well as Governmental subsidies for new shipbuildings give OAM the opportunity to place an order in 1934 with the Flensburger Shipyards for the first newbuildings after the economic crisis, together with another Hamburg shipowner.
With the MS „OTTO ALFRED MÜLLER“ and MS „MARIA S. MÜLLER„, both of 2500 tdw and built in 1934 and 1935, OAM continues its shipping activities. In 1936 OAM takes over the coaltrading company C. Carstens and its premises at Mittelweg and in 1937 O. Vidal with premises at Sierichstrasse right along the canal. In 1938 F. E. Rosenberg sells its company and premises at Gertigstrasse to OAM.
In 1937 OAM sells the MS „GRETCHEN MÜLLER“ and buys shares of the trawlers „OTTO N. ANDERSEN„, „NEPTUN“ and „DR. EICHELBAUM“ in order to secure the value of money and to pay the so-called reimbursement debts (i.e. invoices for coal deliveries from England could only be settled three months upon delivery as per governmental decree).
A steamer of 3500 tdw is ordered by OAM in 1938 but not built due to the outbreak of World War II. As a consequence, on September 1st, 1939 coal imports from England come to a standstill. Transport and transshipment of coal from Upper Silesia, as well as of brown coal from Midgermany and of sand for the construction of bunkers soon deteriorate to half of its former volume. The MS „MARIA S. MÜLLER“ runs on a mine and sinks near Hoek van Holland in 1942; „OTTO ALFRED MÜLLER“ burns out near Stettin in 1944 and the trawlers also get lost as war-ships. The „ELSE MÜLLER“ survives the war in spite of repeated damages suffered but has to be given to Norway in autumn 1945.
While the houses and properties at Mittelweg and Sierichstrasse remain undamaged and machines and lorries from F. E. Rosenberg can be saved in the great air raids, one of the cranes at the „Altona“ plant is destroyed by a bomb in 1945. In spite of the massive bombings and the great fire in July 1943, the „Bolsover-Haus“ is only lightly damaged.
The Rebuilding after the War (1945-1956)
The rebuilding after the war
After the end of the war, Otto A. Ottmüller, the eldest son of Otto Franz Jacob, joins the company as personally liable associated partner. Friedrich Sauerland dies in July, 1952 and Gert Ottmüller becomes member of the board in August 1952 being a personally liable associate as from the following year.
On April 30th, 1946 OAM is put under the surveillance of Captain Abott by the British Military Government and Mr. Taurek from the Schiffahrt und Kohlenhandelsgesellschaft is appointed trustee. OFJ is not allowed to do business for 18 months due to his designation for chief administrator of the English coal industry in case of a German occupation. The insurance payments for the sunken trawler „DR. EICHELBAUM“ enable OAM to order a new ship.
The rump built in 1944 is discovered by the authorities in 1946 in the reeds of the river Weser. With the support of Deutsche Werft, OAM has the building finished and the steamtrawler „THETIS“ is successful in deep sea fishing until the Dutch assert their claims for compensation in 1948. The situation turns out rather dramatic and the Dutch finally send destroyers to Cuxhaven forcing OAM to give up on the vessel without compensation As an alternative, OAM charters the US-motortrawler „DELAWARE“ and buys the steamtrawler „KAPITÄN SCHRÖDER„.
Until the currency reform in 1948 ruins are transported, rubble is broken, stumps and firewoods are sold for heating purposes and later, old customers are being supplied with coal and brown coal briquettes.
In 1950, OAM sells the premises at Grosse Elbstrasse 174 to the city of Hamburg, re-renting it and carrying on with handling on rented ground. The money received for this sale is put into new shipbuilding activities. The same year, OAM gives the necessary support to one of its former employees to finish the building of a 750 tdw coaster that was under construction in 1945 putting it to work under the name „HANS HOTH„. Having revised the military government the restrictions for shipbuildings in 1950, OAM orders two singledeckers of 999 BRT/each with a loading capacity of 1450 tdw at the Howaldtswerke: MV „GRETCHEN MÜLLER“ sailing in 1951, and MV „ELSE MÜLLER“ in 1952.
The distribution channels for coal regularized since 1939 are finally liberated in 1951. Endusers and traders are free to choose their suppliers. Hence, prices for fuels decrease. OAM now visits its customers on a regular basis, supports its salesmen with moderate advertising and hires the services of an independent surveillance institute for market research.
The same year, the British mines under the National Coal Board re-start their deliveries to Germany. Besides domestic coal which is no longer of high demand due to an adaptation from high-volatile coal of British origin to low-volatile coal coming from Ruhrkohle, OAM now supplies coal to HEW, Metallhüttenwerk Lübeck, Nordwest-deutsche Kraftwerke and other customers. Some American coal is imported as well.
The MS „FRIEDRICH S. MÜLLER“ (1350 tdw), bought in 1953, is sold after only three years due to its apparently unprofitable construction. Another vessel ordered in 1955 at the Kremerwerft in Elmshorn and with 850 tons conceived to serve SchwarzhÜtten/Oste is enlarged while still under construction up to a capacity of 1300 tdw sailing as MS „ORTRUD MÜLLER“ in 1956. The vessels mainly ship coal from Goole to Hamburg, Kiel and Lübeck returning in ballast.
In the middle of 1956, OAM retreats from importing American coal, and puts emphasis on importing coal from privately owned mines not under the control of the National Coal Board, thus being saved from the disastrous consequences of the market collapse.
The total tonnage of imported coal per year – 20 mio tons in 1955 – is limited by the German government to 5 mio tons in an attempt to guarantee sales of domestic coal. Predictions of the develop-ment of the energy market prove true: most customers now use fuel oil for heating purpose as does for example Breitenburg Portland Cement factory in Lägerdorf. For the transportation of heavy fuel oil over the Elbe, the Stör and the Breitenburger chanal OAM orders the building of three tankers of 150 tdw each shipping 80.000 t per year with good economic results to Lägerdorf, being the total tonnage 1 mio until 1972.
Changing Markets (1957-1973)
Otto F. J. Ottmüller dies in 1960. OTTO A. MÜLLER is changed into a „KG“ (partnership with unlimited liability). Next to Otto A. Ottmüller and Gert Ottmüller as personally liable associates, Rolf Ottmüller joins the company as partner with limited liability.
Following the signs of time, OAM is ready for expansion of its service line. Dr. Ewald Giebelmann as jurist and Ernst Schoepf as merchant join the board. Kurt E. Gehrts, whose father is heading the Altona facility since 1929 takes over management of the shipping department whereas Peter Schröder controls the chartering department and Klaus Bäätjer becomes manager of the trade department.
Based on predictions for the development of the energy market it is expected that only imported coal will be able to compete. Users of industrial and domestic coal would most probably turn to fuel oil. The prognosis proves true and the conversion of the Hamburg fishing fleet, which has been supplied with 60.000 t of coal per year since 1950 through the Altona facility, is completed until 1964.
OAM is still importing coal from England under the restrictions of the decrees of 1957, mainly for the Hamburg Electricity Plants (HEW) and the Nordwestdeutsche Kraftwerke (NWK).
Heating Systems/Air Conditioner
With the levelling off of the coal business, OAM engages also in other new ventures. Günther Stamer & Co., started as a technical consultant company and later specialised in building heating systems, gets into troubles in 1960 due to mismanagement, and, as a consequence, OAM stops this business. With some of the remains and know how a new company is established. Together with Arnold Polenz and OAM as minority shareholder a production of a new product is started: air-conditioners, making the company one of the early leaders in this trade.
Since 1962, OAM experiments with centrifuges for drying peat as alternative fuel, later with even more specialised machines. But no profit is shown on this one and OAM drops the idea.
With its know-how gained in trade, transport and handling of bulk goods OAM starts in 1964 to supply fine gravel, mainly coming from quarries in England. The introduction of pre-stressed concrete and the change in the production of concrete observed in the central mixing facilities lead to a higher demand on the gravel market than the Schleswig-Holstein Gravel Pits as the traditional supplier is able to cover. Thus, OAM transports and handles over a period of 10 years gravel sucked from the bottom of the Baltic by Danish dredgers and refined by the Rathjens-Group.
Together with the Breitenburg Portland Cement Factories and the Alsen Cement Factory OAM buys the Hanseatic Gravel Works (capital share: 4 %)
which has run into financial difficulties, taking over management of the Gesellschaft für Kiesgewinnung und Kiesvertrieb, GfKK against payment for administration and handling. With the dredger „HANSEAT III“ 350.000 t of gravel are gained off Gjedser Riff, refined in Lübeck-Schlutup and shipped with either owned or chartered vessels to the producer factories of ready-mixed concrete in the Hamburg Area.
Near Güster, close to Mölln, 800.000 t of sand and gravel are refined per year and then shipped with 3-700 t barges through the Elbe-Lübeck-Chanal to the end-users in Hamburg.
As regards the shipping activities, OAM shows a growing discontent with the traditional ways of calculation (voyage estimates). Comparaison of voyage estimated with effective earnings only allow an inadequate analysis of factors that have led to losses or gains and give indications what improvements should be made. With new simple statistics charterers are able to review their decisions mainly dictated by the market. Consistent machine-refined data collection would allow insights into business leading to higher efficiency of vessels in the European maritime business.
From 1958 to 1963 OAM employs five time-charter vessels of 700 tdw each engaged to ship coal and fertilizers. At the same time, OAM’s own fleet, i.e. three vessels of 1400 tdw each, is increased by the „BIRGIT MÜLLER“, 815 tdw/built in 1960. Two years later the „RETHI MÜLLER“, 1550 tdw, joins the fleet. In 1964, the „ORTRUD MÜLLER“ is sold, followed by „GRETCHEN MÜLLER“ and „ELSE MÜLLER“ in 1965 due to rising costs for repairs.
OAM is forced in 1967 by the crisis in coastal shipping to review its industrial management resorts. Traditionally, the market values an offer for time-charter by calculating the price per tdw. OAM develops calculations where apart from loading capacity speed performance, volume, construction of hatches and holds and measurements are considered. The objectively determined profitability (opportunity cost) of the vessels allow a comparison of profitability between ships of similar construction. OAM proposes to other ship-owners to put their ships to work together with those of the OAM-fleet pooling the profits and redistributing them in relation to the earning capabilities of their vessels.
In the course of the economic reforms in Hungary in 1968, the Budapest Shipyards and Craneworks offer favourable conditions for newbuildings. OAM orders two ships with 1950 tdw each („BASALT“, „DIABAS“), paying with equity funds.
Other interested parties are found and OAM is able to use its options for four more vessels („DIORIT“, „GABRO“, „GRANIT“, „DOLOMIT“). The contractual partners agree upon payment of 70% in US-$ by five years‘ instalments after delivery. When payment becomes due, the US-$ has fallen from 3.50 DM to 2.80 DM. Furthermore, the shipyards have strengthened certain areas on OAM’s request enabling OAM to extend the loading capacity up to 2.200 and, with a further lengthening, to 2.500 tdw.
Between 1972 and 1974 the unions succeed in their demands for far better conditions for sailors. This results in a sharp cost increase for crews forcing OAM to leave the national flag with all but one of the Hungarian built vessels.
New Horizons in the Seventies
The Renaissance of Coal
When in the beginning of the seventies the OPEC causes the first oil crisis and the Club of Rome publishes its study on the finiteness of resources, Otto Ottmüller is convinced, that there will be a renaissance for coal. Hardly active in the coal business any longer, he is looking for a new start in the market. As it happened, on one of his flights he is sitting next to the geologist Prof. Burchhard who is touring the world in search of new oil fields. He gives him the hint at a coal mine located in East Canada near Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. Although the marketing manager of this mine, Mr. Lloyd Creaser, tells him that the mine has no coal to sell being used exclusively in the domestic market, Otto Ottmüller visits the site being the first person going there. He leaves Canada with the vague promise that he will be contacted as soon as coal would be available for export. In 1976 OAM buys the first lot of about 23.000 t of coal from the Cape Breton Development Corporation (DEVCO) with destination for the Hamburg Electricity plants in Wedel. An excellent professional and personal relationship between Lloyd Creaser and Otto Ottmüller is the result of a creative spirit of business leading for example in Canada to the acquisition and storage of coal by the Hamburg Electricity Company HEW.
A tragic incident in 1982, the explosion on the MS „KAPETAN GEORGIS“ on its way from Sydney to Hamburg with a cargo of DEVCO-coal, leads to a temporary crisis of DEVCO coal sales. Having steered the vessel for Rotterdam as port of refuge, the coal is discharged into storage, being arrested and released only four months later. This enables a great number of German power plants mainly located in the Rhine area, to test samples of this high quality coal. In the following year, OAM achieves to place 700.000 t of DEVCO-coal in spite of a market recession for imported coal, exceeding by far the results of the previous years.
The shipowners united under the Euro-Minibulker-Pool since 1972 are able to counter the falling freight rates which follow the rather strong market in 1974 and 1975 lasting until 1979, through a relatively good contractual coverage. Due to this positive development other shipowners follow the Pool (Sylvia Cargo B.V., Turnbull Scott).
Exports of Nigerian coal is failing due to the inability of the Nigerians to organise the transport from the mine to Port Harcourt where it should be shipped to Europe.
Nigeria, by then, faces considerable difficulties in the handling of cargo. Sudden wealth from sharply increased oil prices leads to uncoordinated purchases of cement by various ministries and within a few weeks a fleet of several hundreds of vessels is assembled off Lagos, all waiting on demurrage for discharge causing losses of millions every day with no chance for the government to escape. The situation is chaotic and simple calculations show that it would be cheaper to throw the cement away or even sink the vessels than leave them waiting to get their turn for discharge.
Together with the Hamburg Port constructor Sellhorn OAM starts soil drilling, sounding and planning as well as negotiations with the Nigerian Government with regard to the construction of a conveyor port in the shallow protected lagoon area behind the chaotic city traffic of Lagos. Barges which are not employed any more for carrying gravel in Germany should be brought by OAM to Nigeria, shipping goods from incoming vessels to the area behind Lagos.
But the Government in Nigeria changes and the Prime Minister Gowon is overthrown. The new ministers still need some time and, finally, the order is placed with a Dutch company being faster in finding out the respective governmental official.
Saudi Arabia faces the same Problem of sharply increased imports and insufficient Port facilities. Vessels ar being discharged by helicopters as a last resort! The OAM subsidiary „COMCO“ forms a joint-venture together with the cement importer Abdallah Baroom of Jeddah for the transport of cement from vessels lying on roads to shore.
„COMCO“ delivers barges, cranes, generators and other equipment to Jeddah totalling DM 10 Mio. but due to the inexperience with local conditions and the lack of co-operation of Baroom’s this joint-venture ends with a big loss in 1977 which can be recovered through a second contract by which the joint-venture Baroom takes control over the stevedores working on the vessels achieving better rates per ton and far better productivity. But Baroon still refuses payments causing, again, a considerable loss for OAM.
The Lübisch-Hanseatische Schiffahrtsgesellschaft is involved in a similar operation in the Port of Gizan from August 1978 till spring 1979. Along with 15 specialists coming from Germany, 600 workers are recruited in Pakistan. The performance meets the expectations. OAM does this job with little profit, thus proving that the failed operation in Jeddah can only be attributed on a small scale to mismanagement.
OAM Handel und Umschlag GmbH
Rising demands for building quality in buildings require building materials of top quality. Following this demand and in addition to its traditional business, OAM is able to supply the market with materials from large northern quarries, landed by selfdischargers. Due storage- and distribution facilities are being conceived by OAM. The outcome of these projections will highly influence the future development of the company.
Taking the model of advanced German management abroad and extending the post-post war economic miracle to far away regions has been an extensive and exciting experience but it had not led to the financial success OAM had hoped for. While the local trade was growing successfully and the Pool was going steady ahead some of the valuable resources had been tied up in the new ventures. When the shipping Markets collapsed in the mid 80’s and contracts with American coal producers were not honoured OAM did not have a lot of reserves.
Building Materials and Recycling
Rising demands for quality in buildings require building materials of top quality. Following this demand and in addition to its traditional business, OAM is able to supply the market with materials from large northern quarries, landed by self discharging vessels. Missing storage- and distribution facilities are being conceived by OAM. The outcome of these projections will highly influence the future development of the company.
When the production sites of the GfKK close down, the market for building materials is served with materials which are being imported or coming from other sources. The co-operation with a Danish shipowner and later with a British shipping agency enable OAM to deliver sea-sucked gravel to Hamburg. The limitation to the trade with high-qualified building materials results in a great demand for OAM materials for buildings of high engineering standards in Northern Germany, e.g. the draw-works at the Elbe-Seitenkanal, the Köhlbrandbridge, the Elbtunnel, the nuclear powerplant in Krümmel as well as almost every new constructed part of the north German highways.
In 1980, the handling site at Grosse Elbstrasse is closed down, but activities can be continued on the East side of the Sandauhafen, after an agreement with Hansaport has been reached. The 25 000 m2 storage area for building materials located in the vicinity strengthen OAM’s position in the market during the following years. With the bulk of activities being located at Sandauhafen, the trading department is moved into rented offices in this area.
Higher standards for prevention of air pollution require the installation of filters in utilities producing residuals hard to handle. OAM is aware of these problems and develops recycling proceedings in part patented.
The growing market for recycling activities require the restructuring of the trade department. In 1980, the „OAM Handel und Umschlag GmbH“ is established for the trade of building materials and the „ETH Entsorgung Transport und Handel“ for the recycling activities. Due to the increasing pressure for recycling industrial residuals, ETH is looking for a production site. In 1986, both companies move to the reactivated concrete production plant at Peute on the south bank of the river Elbe. With the technical installations already available there from former owners, fly ashes from power plants can be processed, muds are solidified and new recycling products are being developed.
OAM disposes of its shares in 1991 to concentrate on its core business.
At the beginning of the eighties OAM establishes the Bulkship (Nederland) B.V. in Haaren together with the Bulkship, S.A., Fribourg. The business of Bulkship Switzerland is handed over to Bulkship (Nederland) B.V. At that time, eight ship owners with a total of 32 ships belong to the Pool. By re-locating the Pool in the Netherlands, it is expected that other Dutch ship owners will join. Apart from the German fleet the Netherlands have the greatest number of ships suitable for the Pool in size and construction. The appointment of Holger Schween (former head of the OAM shipping agency) as managing director of Bulkship B.V. clearly demonstrates its function and importance.
Dissatisfied with the results of the shipping business in 1978/79, Turnbull Scott leaves the Pool in 1979 changing its whole business into brokering activities after a short interim. Hence, the Pool looses eight ships.
Parallel to this, new contacts can be established with Spanish ship owners who evidently have difficulties in finding connections to the North European freight market. The Pool can offer them a fair and adequate solution for their vessels. In 1986, the number of ships in the Pool is totalling 30, nine of which belong to Spanish ship owners. The collapse of the freight market in 1986/87 leads to severe actions from the financing banks especially in Spain. More than 500 ships are embargoed, in part suspended from business and sold to foreign countries, with great losses for the banks . None of the Pool vessels are being affected by these measures. Compulsory sales of Dutch and German ships by European banks do not affect ships in the Pool either. Some of the vessels sold by Spanish banks are brought later into the Pool by North European ship owners.
Communication problems, protectionism of the Spanish government and fears that the Pool would co-operate closely with the Spanish banks are leading in 1987 to irritations among the Spanish ship owners who leave the Pool after a short period of obstruction.
This setback is accompanied by the departure of a large part of the chartering staff from OAM, but after a few difficult years with a reduced fleet the Pool gathers momentum again. With the combination of a number of time-chartered newbuildings and a newbuilding program of the Pool partners, the Pool in the last decade of the century is equipped with a fleet of more than 20 vessels again. With most of the tonnage being more modern than ever, it is very attractive to both owners and charterers. After more than 20 years, it is now accepted as a solid basis even for financiers of ship mortgages.
Shipping activities of OAM
Acceptable freight rates and absurd tax allowances at the beginning of the eighties lead to intense shipbuilding activities in Germany. OAM develops the concept of a top-loader, but as calculations prove an insufficient profitability it remains conceptual. The steadily growing excess capacity in coastal shipping remains obscured by the British miners‘ strike until 1984, but when it is over, the market collapses. With five vessels owned by OAM, the company faces falling profits and rising costs for foreign crew, worsened by the strengthening US-Dollar. Finally, OAM sells the vessels and closes down its ship managing department. An acceptable sales price is only achieved by offering a three years‘ re-charter to the new owner. With a still falling market, this re-charter leads to further losses until they are finally redelivered at the end of the 80’s.
In the early 80’s, the Dutch shipping company Sylvia Cargo goes bankrupt. OAM takes over 50 % of two of the six ships renaming them MS „Silke“ and MS „Elise“. The freight market recovers during the third quarter of 1987, allowing OAM to take over 75 % of two more ships and the remaining 25 % in 1988. One of these vessels is then sold to a Pool partner. Crewing and technical management are handled by a Dutch company.
Besides DEVCO as main supplier, OAM revives old connections to the British National Coal Board delivering British coal to cement factories in Germany and Switzerland. Logistics go to the timing of vessels‘ arrival at Rotterdam in accordance with the time-table of the Swiss Federal Railway from Basel to the cement factories. ‚Singles‘ are obtained from Scotland for greenhouse-gardeners who have switched to coal combustion after the second oil crisis in 1981.
In search for other non-European suppliers Otto Ottmüller flies to Columbia. In 1986 the HEW receives the first sample from there for testin but due to complicated logistics and falling prices on the world market, Columbian coal is unable to compete. But at the same time, these activities generate important contacts to the „La Loma“ project by the Americans concluding with a marketing agreement for this coal for the German area at the beginning of the nineties.
Especially in the second half of the eighties, OAM has to prevail against a concentration process within the German coal importing industry. The entry of the financially potent oil companies into this segment of the power market along with the shrinking German import market („Jahrhundertvertrag“) lead to stronger competition leaving OAM in 1989 the only independent coal importer in the German Federal Republic.
This development is further complicated by a completely unexpected change in top management. Otto A. Ottmüller and his wife Ortrud die in a plane crash on March 1st, 1988 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Their son Kai-Peter Ottmüller inherits the shares of his father managing the company together with Dr. Ewald Giebelmann who has already been member of the board for many years. Unfortunately, Dr. Giebelmann dies only four weeks later, on March 30th, 1988. Dr Hans Werner Oberlack joins the board of directors and a few months later Ulrich Kranzusch, a former employee of OAM, also becomes managing director.
The last decade of the Millennium
Coal flying High
Ambitious dreams of fast expansion despite of a narrow German market lead to investments in a coal stockpiling, handling and screening operation in Sunderland (UK) and later Immingham.
The opening of the East grants new opportunities to OAM. New trade relations with coal mines in Workuta (Russia) and Kasachstan are improved and become particularly important in the following years: the growing differential between the coking and the steam coal market dry up the traditional supply from Canada.
New trades with South Africa and Venezuela are being developed. While some of the new and the traditional trades are producing a healthy increase of profits a few of the new ventures lead to a severe indebtedness.
Mr Kranzusch’s directorship of the company ends after five years.
Otto A. Müller has to dispose of its participation in the aggregates trade, the environmental company, the AC trade and two vessels in order to reduce the imminent pressure from its banks. The British venture is sold under the pressure of liquidation procedures from its creditors.
For the next few years OAM is left with very limited resources in a difficult coal market and under pressure for further consolidation.
Despite of the known problems which are shaking Eastern Europe during the period of transition when necessary changes take place, tonnage can be increased year by year. Dropping prices on the world energy market and an artificial stable Russian Rubel lead to increasing pressure and an almost complete withdrawal of the Russian coal from the international market in the late 90ies until the Rubel alternates to free fall in late 1998 and hopes are revived.
The Asian Crisis dominates the raw material (and indeed shipping-) markets from 1998 onwards.
At Devco severe mining disruptions due to geological problems lead to another severe cut back of operations. The hope for Devco to come back to the export market seizes completely.
One after another Russian coal mine is bought up by the new conglomerates of the new Russian industrial magnates drying out the supplies for OAM.
Indonesia, after a sharp devaluation of their currency and an over supply of coal in the pacific region becomes even more keen to place tonnage on the European market. OAM makes contacts with a variety of suppliers for large vessels, the only economic way to haul the coal over the long distance. After a number of efforts eventually a shipment of a self loading vessel is agreed with one of the smaller independent producers.
In a nerve-racking balance between hope and disaster the vessel waits 3 moth’s before she is loaded. The demurrage bill leaves the Indonesian supplier bankrupt but the coal eventually arrives in the Rostock power plant.
In 2003 OAM Coal Trade buys South African Coal through a source in the Czech Republic. The Coal is sold to some German utilities but it is not delivered. With a second purchasing contract the coal is contracted with Russia, but the contract is frustrated as well and after the coal prices reach a historic peak with a world wide energy shortage OAM Coal Trade has to give up.
Difficult parting of good friends
After acquiring 25 % in two 4.000 t newbuildings, MS „Magdalena“ and MS „Cemile“, OAM had started a newbuilding program for four sister vessels in joint venture with Dutch partners. This leads to the idea of stronger integration also in other activities. During the negotiations for setting up a new venture with two Dutch partners it transpires that one of the Dutch partners is in financial difficulties. This finally ends in a new joint venture set up with equal participation between OAM and Heinrich Hanno & Co. BV (Rotterdam) covering all aspects of shipping, i.e. chartering, technical management, crewing and financing. The two new companies are set up in Hamburg (OAM – Hanno Shipping GmbH) and Rotterdam (Hanno OAM Shipping vof).
This joint venture lasts for three years only before the POOL brakes apart in 1997 after about 25 years of operation. OAM and Hanno dissolve their joint venture and divide their investments leaving Hanno with a fleet of 11 vessels and OAM with a little bit of cash in a depressed shipping market (two years later Hanno sells his shipping interests to Arklow Shipping Ltd. in Ireland.)
A new Beginning
Shipping back to Basics
In early 1997 Hermann Rautert rejoins OAM in a new company. Otto A. Müller Schiffahrt GmbH is set up after some 24 years with his own company Delphin Schiffahrt GmbH.
While OAM-Hanno and the Pool become obsolete, the two new companies at Domstraße 11 operate successfully and completely independent of each other with different ownership and interests, OAM it pursuing its commercial ship management and Delphin its operator/brokerage side, thereby avoiding possible conflict of interest, but in the combination able to give its joint customers a broader service.
The first vessel in the new OAM set-up is the M/V „Priwall“ – A 1992 built Rhyn type vessel of 3.700 DWAT. Followed in 1998 by two sister vessels from the Kormano Shipyard being the „Eva Maria Müller“ and „Monika Müller“.
In early 1999 3 further sister vessels are ordered, unfortunately they never get delivered due to the tragic Kossovo war resulting in the Danube river being blocked by bombed bridges.
In the very beginning of the new century and after the end of the war the order is renewed to the shipyard in a still very quiet shipping market, and possible investors on the German capital market are more than hard to come by, hence the shipyard presents OAM with a very competitive offer along with a Hamburg shipfinancier… only to blow up the whole deal a year later, just days prior to the delivery of the first vessel, breaking the contract and leading to a long arbitration battle in Vienna.
As from 1998 till 2006 OAM operates a constant fleet of around 8-11 minibulkers, with the traditional north European bulk business being pursued with its loyal old and growing customer base.
In mid 2006 the world is faced with record high oil prices of US$ 75 per barrel meaning alarming bunker prices of some € 550, this compared with bunker prices in 1997 of say € 161, the extreme influence on the daily running cost becomes a major challenge to cope with in the subsequent years.
Four Newbuilding orders are being placed with Damen Shipyards in 2005 for deliveries between 2006 until 2008. The firs one, the „Blue Bay“ starts it’s service in 11/2006.
Recycling: With new Ideas for Environment and Energy
In early 2000 Jens Ottmüller joins the OAM trading team. By November 2000 he leads the newly founded Otto A. Müller Recycling GmbH, focussing on new ideas for environment and energy. In picking up the raising demand for biofuels it solved complex sourcing-, trading- and transport-requirements of co-fireing in coal-fired power stations with high flexibility, personal efforts and the backup by OAM’s transport expertise.
Nowadays it is expanding internationally and engages in trading with biofuels for industrial and domestic purposes, fertilizers and by-products. Based on an expanding network and mutual trust, individual solutions for the unique needs of different industries are developed in close co-operation with suppliers and customers. Its target: Search for successful niches in the ever changing megamarkets of the energy-, food- and feedindustry.
Cease of shipping activites
In the mid of the 8th year of international shipping depression OAM Shipping and it’s closest partners have chosen to follow the hint given by their financiers and bankers to withdraw from the fight of survival in 2016.