Future insights with Nordisk's Managing Director, Mats E Sæther

You are a fan of maritime history and something of an expert when it comes to Nordisk’s long unique history, why do you think Nordisk has endured over the years and how do you plan to develop the club’s strengths further in the future?

I have been a fan of ships and the sea since I was a kid and always enjoyed maritime history. It is therefore no coincidence that I became a shipping lawyer and ultimately a Nordisk lawyer.

When Nordisk celebrated its 125 anniversary, I wrote about the history of Nordisk for our anniversary edition of the Annual Report.  When writing the piece, I was struck by both how much has changed over the years, but also how much has stayed the same: Ships become delayed by weather or other reasons, which causes legal issues.  Ships deviate or use more fuel than expected; sanctions and other restrictions caused problems 132 years ago and still do today. I was also struck by how Nordisk has been involved in so many of the pivotal cases and issues shipping has faced through the generations.

I believe Nordisk has endured because we are an independent club that has a relentless focus on service and practical advice, grounded in a strong legal tradition. We bridge legal and commercial considerations and strive to be a stress reliever and problem solver for our members.

A key ingredient in the secret sauce is the people. Working at Nordisk is demanding, but very fulfilling and always interesting. It is a great place to work, and many of my colleagues have worked here for 25 years or more, helping develop Nordisk into the modern and agile club we are today. Our aim has always been to employ and develop the very best maritime lawyers, assistants and staff. The young lawyers that have joined Nordisk in recent years are further testament to that goal and I am confident they will ensure our continued success for the next 132 years.

Secondly, when we receive a case, we provide the members with a frank assessment of whether a case is worth pursuing before we set off. Our members expect us to help ensure they do not spend their time and resources in vain. I remember this well from my ten years in commercial law firms. We knew that if Nordisk had considered the case and found it to be worth pursuing, then we would have a formidable opponent. Our members can be certain that cases that are worth pursuing will be pursued with passion and enthusiasm. This very often results in a successful outcome. I think it is key to Nordisk’s enduring success and will be in the future as well.

Both the marine insurance industry and the legal industry are constantly shifting both geographically and topically. What do you see as some of the biggest challenges that Nordisk will face in the coming years and how can Nordisk address future challenges?

The outlook for the marine insurance industry is very positive in many ways. The Scandinavian clubs maintain a large share of the world marine insurance market, and Nordisk has grown in recent years to house almost twice as many ships as in the 90s. Asian shipping has been growing fast and the decision to establish an office in Singapore in 2007 has proven to have been a good one. I have no doubt that Nordisk will continue to grow and will have a bigger footprint in Asia in the years to come.

A key challenge ahead is the industry’s carbon footprint. Nordisk has for years worked to reduce its own footprint by taking measures to reduce waste and avoiding unnecessary travel.  We had pioneered methods for electronic closing meetings for vessel sales in the years before covid, and the use of technology to conduct business has of course accelerated by leaps since then. I believe the future will likely see a lot of travel replaced by digital meetings on a permanent basis.

Finally, there are a host of topical legal issues that we continue to grapple with including digital bills of lading and other documents, drafting standard clauses to help members adopt a more “green” agenda like our Nordisk Responsible Ship Recycling Clauses 2020, or assisting in the ordering of battery, hybrid, ammonia, hydrogen or LNG powered vessels. Nordisk is proud to be involved in projects on the cutting edge of legal and technological developments.

It is probably fair to say that you are a self-professed tech “geek” and the shipping industry is presently exploring a lot of new technology from green energy to block chain solutions.  Do you think that emerging tech relating to the digitalisation and monitoring of ships will affect the claims process in the future?

It might not affect the claims procedure that much, but it has become much easier to get information about facts – what happened, when, and perhaps even why.  In salvage cases these days we have pictures, video and the AIS plot right away. Containers are tracked as they transit land and the seas. AIS data provides live vessel updates which assists with arrests and sanctions considerations.  It means we know more about where to start.

This also means that litigation has become more time consuming and complex. Cases in the old days had three letters, a telegram and five witnesses. These days cases often have thousands of e-mails and other electronic evidence, which requires different methods of case handling. The method of proceeding is still the same as before: organise the evidence well, always do your utmost to get to the bottom of things, focus on the core issues, and be ready to change your assessment if new facts are uncovered.

On a similar topic, autonomous vessels seem to be the way of the future. What are some of the key areas of risk that you foresee in the ever-continuing shift to automation?

While I am excited about the prospect of autonomous vessels and hope to see them sailing the seas soon, it probably won’t be the reality for many years to come for deep sea shipping.  However, we are seeing more automation onboard and further specialised training of seafarers for high-tech jobs at sea.  However, I am concerned that the developments will impact seafarer jobs, which are important for so many people in countries around the world. The industry has a responsibility to see that this transition happens in a socially responsible way.

Finally, you have spent some time on ships yourself.  What ship would you choose for your next sea-going voyage if you could have your pick and why? 

Yes, I spent a year on a naval vessel while in law school and have been on board many ships since then. Two of the most exciting have been VLCCs and LNG carriers, a trip on “Edda Fides” to see all the FPSOs and platforms in the Norwegian Sea, and not least the “Boka Vanguard” when it arrived in Norway with the “Aasta Hansteen” SPAR platform a while back. I will make sure the Nordisk team gets to visit more ships in the future, to learn even more about the inner workings of the vessels we work for every day.

My choice for my next sea-going voyage would be to go to an offshore wind farm on one of the many new SOVs being built for the offshore wind industry, or perhaps a battery powered ship to hear the silence of the motors and sounds of the seas passing by.


Mats was interview by Paige Halvorsen.