Finance and InsuranceMaritime CEO

Nobu Su: Out to shake up shipping

It’s easy to characterise Nobu Su as shipping’s malcontent. It’s been two years since Maritime CEO profiled the Taiwanese shipping tycoon, but in that time Su has quietly made his exit from shipowning and commenced a number of high-profile lawsuits.

Su won’t be drawn on precisely how many vessels his company TMT still owns, saying “almost nothing”. The company’s last VLCC E Elephant (317,800 dwt, built 2011) was reported sold at auction in May to Minerva Marine for $55.6m.

With shipping markets being as bad as they are, Su doesn’t think it makes sense for him to go back in as an owner. Instead, he wants to focus on being an innovator, using new technology to help revolutionise what he sees as a conservative industry.

Su is an inventor, but his ambitions don’t only extend to individual technological concepts. He tells Maritime CEO he wants to redesign “the entire ship”, and create a step-change in propulsion similar to when vessels changed from wind to steam power.

At Posidonia this month, Su formally unveiled his Hybrid Ship system, a hybrid propulsion system that aims to mitigate marine pollution by reducing the required volume of ballast water by 90%.

Su calls his patented Hybrid Ship concept a “gamechanger” because it uses less ballast water, thus reducing the ship’s ability to contaminate the marine environment with invasive species or (Su worries) chemical agents from ballast water treatment systems.

He likens the concept to the Toyota Prius and says adoption will come little by little, but remains too controversial at the moment – he says widespread commercial adoption would be more likely if the concept had been developed by shipyards, rather than being attached to his own name.

Su remains a divisive figure. This, after all, is the man who claims RBS “engineered” the banking crisis for the benefit of bankers.

Su is suing former RBS employees Fred Goodwin, the bank’s former chief executive; Neena Birdie and Marie Chang. To date, only Chang has been served with court papers. Goodwin “tried to run away”, Su said, and Birdie has “gone missing”.

The TMT chairman alleges that, between 2007 and 2009, Goodwin, along with Birdie, Chang and RBS Greenwich Futures, the RBS Singapore Branch “conspired to injure Mr Su by unlawful means”.

The bank opened a two secret accounts under Su’s name which “they used as ATM machines” to the tune of $3.6bn, he says. “How can they make a mistake with $3.6bn?” Su asks. It is, as he puts it, a fraud “too big to hide”. (Su explains the alleged mechanics of the transactions in his interview with Max Keiser below).

It’s easy to write off Su’s RBS litigation as paranoia but his claim is the product of over four years of research and is more convincing than perhaps one would expect (at least according to the documentary evidence Su showed Maritime CEO).

But why target TMT? Su says he was the perfect target to have his funds misappropriated because he is foreign, owns a privately owned company and is a billionaire.

He took over the family shipping business from his father in around 2000, but things really took off for Su and TMT when China and Taiwan joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001 and 2002 respectively.

Su jokes that during the first seven years of his career he made $1m a day, and lost the same amount during the next seven years.

Hollywood is full of David-and-Goliath stories about the little guy who takes on the giant, faceless entity. As Su notes, RBS has yet to slam his claims with a counter-suit for defamation – which he takes as a sign that he’s on the right track. A lawsuit against Clarksons’ FFA business is also in the works.

Shipowning, he says, can wait until the truth has been outed. Su wants his day in court (or maybe more than one).


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