Sixteen years of shipbuilding in South Africa
A talk with Friso Visser – Regional Sales Director and Board Member of Damen Shipyards Cape Town
When Damen took over Farocean Marine in 2008, after having worked with the yard for 10 years, CEO René Berkvens said that a shipyard in Cape Town would “provide Damen with the opportunity to service African markets more effectively.” The focus would be on high-speed craft up to 50 m (pilot boats, inspection boats, patrol boats) and on special ships, such as Fishery Inspection Vessels.
Now, in 2014, DAMEN Magazine asks the question: ‘Has it all paid off?’ “Yes it has, although some challenges still need to be overcome!” says a confident Friso Visser.
Furthermore, Mr. Berkens planned to triple the output of the yard, guarantee a continuous workflow, create a training facility for welders, pipe fitters and carpenters and invest in infrastructure, equipment and more working space.
On the past & future
Looking back on 2013, which project is your favourite?
“Personally, I’m very proud of the repair and maintenance contract for the DAFF fleet (Department for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, ed.). It really shows how far we’ve come and at the same time gives us the opportunity to show our worth.”
Looking forward to the rest of 2014, what would you really like to build at DSCT?
Friso, showing a big smile, answers: “Those who are familiar with the South African context know what I really want to build: Offshore Patrol Vessels and Inshore Patrol Vessels!”
On high-speed craft
“When it comes to high-speed craft, our yard has become more and more professional, gaining experience in building both standard series and one-offs for the African continent. We are building several types that are relevant to local and regional markets, such as pilot vessels, three of which are operated by the Transnet National Port Authority in Cape Town and the Port of Saldanha.”
On tugs and dredgers
“Since 2008 we’ve built numerous tugs and dredgers. The tugs especially are doing quite well in the southern African region and in South Africa itself. The dredgers are modular and can easily be transported by trucks to more remote and landlocked regions. We’re currently finishing a few for our stock, so they can be bought Commercial-off-the-shelf.”
Jeroen Plate, one of DSCT’s four board members and Financial Director of the Damen Shipyards Group, says: “From a HQ point of view the advantage of being a member of the Damen family is creating stability in terms of products, finance and know-how. This is what we bring to Cape Town and indeed many of our other yards.”
“As a local board member I am very proud of 2013’s development with regards to our yard’s facilities, people management skills and branding. Looking to the future, I see DSCT playing a more complete role: engineering, planning, purchasing. In other words: an independent full-fledged shipbuilding operation with a high degree of predictability, meaning delivering on time and on budget. “
On special vessels
“Special vessels have become part of our portfolio in the last few years. They include special designs for pilot vessels, Hydrographical Research Vessels and Fishery Inspection Vessels for the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.”
On production and growth
“DSCT has indeed tripled its output, one reason is that we have upgraded and renewed our machinery, expanded our production facilities and improved our infrastructure. Another reason is that our parent-company Damen Shipyards Group has organised its flow of production in such a way that it can practically guarantee a continuous workflow for its 32 shipyards worldwide. Within Damen, local capacity shortages can be transferred to locations with excess capacity, depending on the state of regional economies, supply-and-demand cycles and market analyses. The resulting continuous workflow is beneficial to local employment.”
On employment & employees
“Whatever is going to be printed in this interview, I would like to seize this opportunity to say something about our production workers. It’s them that actually build the ships. It´s their skills, their working ethos that makes a ship visibly come about and I’m very proud of them. In turn, I hope that they are proud of the yard. Therefore we strive to remain an attractive employer. We are taking a close look at the day-to-day needs of our ´Production Hall’ and are planning to implement several solutions and practicalities that make life on the shop floor easier.”
The local Damen shipyard delivers quality vessels to clients in South Africa and the sub-Saharan region, with skills development and technology transfer being critical success factors
n 2013: Which results in the past year do you consider to be important?
“To my mind, one of the most important results is that we are increasingly selling South African-built boats to surrounding countries and even to other continents. There is a remarkable resemblance in the feedback we get from clients, from South Africa to Ghana and from Angola to Madagascar: they increasingly like their ships to originate from their own continent. Once they start working with those vessels, they want them to be serviced too. Because we want to be close to our customers and to comply with their wishes, we have decided to open a Service Hub in Cape Town.
In addition we´ve seen a 200% growth in our repair and maintenance activities and we now offer comprehensive, long-term fleet maintenance contracts too.
Another result is that we have shown our ability to build many vessel types of both Damen and non-Damen design and in between we’ve repeatedly adapted our standard designs to the demands of the African market.”
Adapt, adopt and overcome. Damen´s design method of ‘flexible standardisation’ enables Damen Shipyards Cape Town to make ships compatible with local technical and commercial demands
This is confirmed by the yard’s long-time consultant Jendo Ocenasek. Jendo is one of the former owners of Farocean Marine and was its General Manager. Today he´s being consulted on a regular basis by DSCT because of his extensive shipbuilding and commercial knowledge: “Through time, both Farocean and DSCT have adapted some of the original Damen designs to make them compatible with the technical and commercial demands of private and public sector customers. Examples are the pilot vessels that work here in Cape Town and the Stan Tug 2006. The original design is the 19-metre STu 1906, but a 20-metre tugboat fits better in the client´s own standardised range. Because of Damen´s flexible standardisation design method, they were able to adapt, adopt and overcome.”
Friso continues: “The resulting designs have proven to do the job: technically, commercially and in practice. We’ve even started building and selling them from stock in order to decrease delivery times, especially for some of our returning customers. To assist clients locally, instead of advising them from our HQ in the Netherlands, we´ve set up an Engineering Department at DSCT. The five-strong team is eager to cooperate with clients when choosing vessel options or making design changes.”
On 2014: Can you tell us about any major developments in the coming months?
“The rising African economy is good for South African companies and entrepreneurs. This has a positive effect on Damen’s activities in the region and is beneficial to the whole cycle, or circle if you will, of societal development. We consider ourselves to be an integral part of this development: we contribute to growth – profit, skills, employment. At the same time we can only do that because of our customers, our partners in business and government and our employees. To complete the circle, we are planning to focus more on local suppliers in 2014. If we can source our needs from local suppliers – the Damen quality must be upheld at all times – we will. Then, together with our partners, we’ll be able to become the best, and best-known, African shipyard.
Concrete plans for 2014 are, first of all, to expand our capacity once again by building an additional production hall. We’re building multiple vessels at the same time, some of them might even go up to 90 metres, so we need the space. Another reason we need the capacity is that we have a full order book until August 2015.
Another plan, already set in motion, is to expand our repair and maintenance capacity and ability. And we are going to strengthen our Service Hub. I’m proud to announce that 2014 will see ship deliveries for African clients handled by an all-African crew.
Last, but not least, we want to become a preferred employer. Being a preferred employer is essential if we want to recruit top employees. We want DSCT to offer, no, to be a safe and secure place to work for both office and production staff. DSCT should simply be a great place to work!“