Damen Shiprepair Curaçao starts operations in the Caribbean
A new addition to the family
On 2 February 2017, a new shipyard joined the Damen Group. Representing a timely expansion of the company’s ship repair activities, Damen Shiprepair Curaçao will focus on the local Caribbean market as well as the considerable amount of marine traffic sailing to and from the Panama Canal.
The yard’s Managing Director, Jaap de Lange, explains how the yard became part of Damen: “In fact it was a process of more than 7 years. Our first attempt was around 2010, but was blocked by a governmental change in Curaçao. We were invited again at the end of 2015 and signed a concession agreement with the Curaçao Government in 2016 for the operation of what was then known as the Curaçao Drydock Company. And then, in February of this year, we took over the management of the yard,” he explains.
“You can look at our position here as a strategic partnership with the island of Curaçao. We have taken over the operational activities of the yard including all the employees, while the island retains ownership of the infrastructure. This initial contract is for 20 years – our intention is to be here for the long-term.”
Backing up Mr De Lange’s words is the commitment to invest 40 million US dollars in the yard over the coming years. This will see the installation of a third floating dock of more than 200 metres and maybe a fourth, smaller dock for service activities. “We are, of course, looking to include training and education of local technical staff into the investment plans,” he adds.
Damen Shiprepair Curaçao is part of Damen Shiprepair & Conversion (DSC) Division – the part of the business that offers ship repair, conversion, refit and maintenance services at 16 specialist yards located throughout the world. What is notable about the Curaçao repair yard is that it is the first to break into the Americas region.
“Our geographical location is quite special,” states Mr De Lange. “This is an area with a lot of maritime traffic. If you look at the amount of annual ship movements to and from the Panama Canal, for example, that in itself is between 10,000 and 12,000 ship movements per year. Added to that is the large amount of vessels that operate permanently in this area – the availability of a more local yard will reduce their financial burden considerably if you consider their fuel costs and sailing time for using a European yard for repairs.”
Another important characteristic of the yard’s location is one that cannot be overstated: because the island of Curaçao does not lie in the Caribbean Hurricane Belt, more stable weather conditions allow for optimised planning of visiting vessels. This, in turn, keeps the downtime of the wide variety of vessels visiting the yard – oil and gas tankers, bulk carriers, dredgers, cruise ships, and naval and coast guards vessels – to a minimum.
And, of course, any new business venture also has to look at the competition: “Dock capacity – especially large dock capacity – is limited in the region. This is a major aspect, particularly bearing in mind our plans for the near future. In 3 years’ time we will have really differentiated ourselves from the competition. All in all, it’s the combination of all these features – the location in relation to the Panama Canal and the Hurricane Belt and the limited local docking facilities – that makes this yard a very important strategic asset.”
The island feeling
Operating a ship repair yard on an island does brings certain challenges however. Everything has to be shipped or flown in.
“We have good external connections though; the import of equipment, parts or other special requirements is a well-established process here. For the client this is very important. Our ability to draw from the knowledge of the rest of the Damen Group is also significant. This experience can just as well come from the ship repair and conversion division as from other areas of the company too.”
There are more ways that Curaçao’s geographical situation influences the development of the yard. “The fact remains that this is an island with a population of just over 150,000 people,” he says. And on an island, perhaps even more so than on mainland locations, strong local relationships are vital.
“We have the support of the Curaçao Government and good contact with the Port Authorities. This cooperation is much appreciated in achieving the goal of the advancement of the yard in terms of planning applications, ISO certifications and other logistical matters.”
Demonstrating Mr De Lange’s personal commitment to this ‘island lifestyle’, he and his wife – both recently relocated to Curaçao from the Netherlands – are learning Papiamento; the predominant language spoken in this part of the Caribbean.
As Managing Director of the newest member of the Damen Group, Mr De Lange’s aims for the future of the yard are well defined: “We want to develop partnerships with A-brand clients. This means that we are working towards creating a clean and safe shipyard that produces quality and reliability.” Naturally, investment will play a major role in achieving these aims. “As well as the infrastructural investments that we are planning, we are also implementing numerous organisational improvements to optimise the process model; ensuring that we deliver our work on time and on budget to the required quality standards. This aspect includes optimizing the productivity of our current personnel. By training them up for other skills – so that a welder can also perform pipefitting work, for example – we will be creating a team of multi-skilled people.” We look forward to hearing more about the yard’s progress in the future.