Almost anyone who has crossed over a Houston Ship Channel bridge or driven along Galveston Bay has seen the massive tankers moving continually up and down the channel, feeding the region’s essential energy and petrochemical industry.

It’s easy to think of the ships as interchangeable. But in fact, each has a distinct cargo— and INC Nautical, L.P., a company based in the Hobby Area District near the airport, is responsible for ensuring for many of the biggest companies in the industry that the cargo is exactly what it should be.

In most cases, the product being shipped — whether crude oil, refined products, liquified natural gas, liquified petroleum gas, or biofuels — is carried in a ship not owned by the product owner.

Scott Bormaster, owner of INC Nautical, says it is his company’s job to make sure the product is of the quality the owner expects and in the right amount.

To do that, he has a team of 53 employees, most of whom work at the docks across North and South America. The Hobby area is ideal for a home base, he said, as it is close to one of the largest ports in the world and has convenient air access to the whole Western Hemisphere.

The far-ranging employees work in the company’s Loss Control and Marine Expediting divisions.

“Basically the Loss Control Division ensures not only that the operation goes correctly, but the quantity and quality of the oil and/or products that they’re buying or selling is exactly what they’re supposed to be buying or selling,” Bormaster said.

“We also expedite the operation via our marine advisors and make sure that the ship gets on and off the docks expeditiously. Time is money. The sooner that we can get that cargo loaded and off the docks, the more cost savings for the customer.”

Scott Bormaster

Time spent at the docks can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars an hour, so there’s a lot of incentive to move things along safely and quickly while avoiding risks to workers, the environment, the ship, or the dock.

Bormaster has been in the oil marketing and transportation business for 44 years, he said.

He worked for another company until 2005, when it was sold. Wanting to get out of corporate America, Bormaster bought INC Nautical in 2005.

“The company was founded in 1982 by a family, and they kept it a family business until I bought it, and I have continued that culture of a family business since then,” he said. “We’re a personal company that takes care of its customers and its employees. Those two groups are the backbone of the company.”

It’s a busy company though. Each job is complex, ensuring that all the details are in place. “We don’t actually perform the operations, we just oversee it,” Bormaster said.

The company is “trying to continually have a smooth, safe operation where everything goes smoothly and everybody’s getting what they need.”

Work on each job begins before the ship’s arrival with a review of paperwork and other preparations.

Then, an employee is at the dock about an hour before the ship’s arrival and remains until its departure.

“We do approximately 150 jobs per month, and I would say that 99 percent of our business is with the major oil companies,” Bormaster said.

“We do oil — all products, LNG (liquified natural gas) and LPG (liquified petroleum gas). We probably do 30 jobs a month in LNG (liquid natural gas). And recently (with) renewables. These portions of our business are going to grow, as we’re probably doing a minimum of 15 jobs a month in San Francisco.”

Bormaster said LNG and renewables like vegetable oil and grease are a growing part of the business.

— by Mark Fleming