Damen Dredging Equipment at the heart of the Dutch dredging industry
If you aren’t from the Netherlands there’s a reasonable good chance you haven’t heard of Nijkerk. In the distant past, the small city was a celebrated centre of commerce. For most of history, Nijkerk has enjoyed a relatively anonymous existence, at least in international terms. For the Dutch dredging industry, however, this town, on the shores of the Ijsselmeer Lake, is prime territory. For that reason, it is home to Damen Dredging Equipment.
All around the IJsselmeer are to be found the ports and harbours of ancient fi shing villages. Some of these are still home to fishing communities, whilst others nowadays make their living via tourism. It’s not hard to see the attraction to visitors; many of these places retain their traditional look and feel. Cosy, cobbled streets of brick gabled houses wind down to wooden quayside buildings where sail masts can still be seen bobbing on the water.
All of these ports have one thing in common – a need for regular dredging. It was this that led to De Groot Nijkerk setting up contracting operations in Nijkerk in the 1930s and playing its part in keeping these harbours open. At that same time, in addition to the regular maintenance dredging, something was happening that was to firmly cement the industry’s relationship with the area. This was something that would radically alter the landscape of the Netherlands forever.
From the 1920s onwards, the project to realise the plans of Cornelis Lely was underway. Lely, as Minister of Transport and Water – a position he was to hold no less than three times – had suggested an ambitious engineering project of epic proportion. His idea was to cut off the Zuiderzee from the North Sea, minimising the risk of flooding and so paving the way for the reclamation of vast tracts of land. The term ‘reclaimed’ is frequently used to describe land taken from the sea. In this case, however, it is a literal term – this land had not always been underwater.
The land beneath the Zuiderzee was lost to the water in the disastrous St Lucia’s Flood of December 1287. Many thousands of people lost their lives in one of the largest recorded floods of all time. It would take another flood – this time in 1916 – before Lely’s plans were put into action.
The first step began in 1927 with the construction of the Afsluitdijk. Taking six years to construct, this created a 32 kilometre barrier between the former Zuiderzee – at this point renamed as the IJsselmeer – and the North Sea, creating a land bridge between the provinces of North Holland and Friesland. With this impressive dam in place, it became possible to commence land reclamation; the serious dredging work could begin.
Let the work commence
The Noordoostpolder (North-East polder) came first in 1937. In total over 460,000 km2 of land was created with the new polder. This included a number of former islands that now found themselves landlocked. One of these, the former island of Schokland, is still visible today, its boundaries apparent as they stand higher than the rest of the land around them.
The Noordoostpolder was followed by the Flevopolder – beginning in 1955 with the eastern part and continued in 1968 with the southern section. With all this land reclamation taking place, the number of dredging companies operating in the area rose significantly and so did the requirements for the repair of their equipment.
De Groot Nijkerk, originally operating as a contractor carrying out dredging work in the ports and on the polders, began to realise new opportunities. With the growing presence of dredging contractors that this large-scale polderisation entailed, there was an increased demand for repair and maintenance of equipment.
A change of focus
De Groot Nijkerk gradually began to work more actively in this sector, finally ceasing to act as a contractor. In this way, the Nijkerk yard became a repair and maintenance site, producing stationary, custom-built cutter suction dredgers and trailing suction pipe systems.
This continued for some years, with De Groot making a name for itself in newbuild and repair activities. As the company’s reputation grew, it secured more and more work further afield – notably in the Benelux region, but also outside of Europe. It remained, however, a relatively small enterprise. A big change came in 1988 when the company was acquired by the Damen Shipyards Group.
The benefit there was the potential brought about by combining the knowledge and experience of the two companies. For some time, the company continued to trade under the De Groot name, supplying custom-built dredgers to its clients. However, in 2004, the company became Damen Dredging Equipment (DDE) and adopted a standardised product portfolio.
Since then the company has grown considerably in every way. The production capacity has been increased a number of times in line with rising sales. Most recently, Damen Chairman Kommer Damen officially re-opened DDE’s offices in November 2016 after an extensive refurbishment.
Standardisation & diversification
The product portfolio today has become very diverse. It features a range of Cutters Suction Dredgers – 250, 350, 450 and 500 models (the numbers representing the pipe diameter in mm) – renowned for their durability, power and the numerous standard options that are available for them. Crucially, the CSD range is modularly built so that it can be transported for easy assembly anywhere in the world.
Another notable success has been the Damen DOP Pump. This is a submersible, versatile dredging tool with a wear resistant, hydraulic or electrical driven pump. It has a range of suction heads available so that the DOP can carry out dredging work in all kinds of situations. Additionally, DDE offers a range of Trailing Suction Hopper Dredgers for maintenance operations, and trailing suction pipe kits that can be delivered globally.
Additionally, DDE offers a range of solutions to complement other products in the Damen portfolio – such as trailing suction pipe kits for use on the Trailing Suction Hopper Dredgers. The synergy with DDE and the Damen portfolio is made clear by the recent addition of the Marine Aggregate Dredger (MAD) series – aggregate dredgers for extracting sand and gravel offshore. Other DDE products include booster stations and dredging instrumentation.
Today, with the work on the Flevopolder complete, DDE’s proximity to the IJsselmeer still holds relevance. The valuable experience gained by the numerous generations who have worked in the dredging industry in the area have ensured the development of a regional skills set and knowledge base the equal of any in the world.