Damen in the UK
Nearing 50 years of business in the UK
Damen is a recognised presence in the UK shipbuilding market – having sold its first vessel to Britain nearly half a century ago. Today, two men are responsible for the company’s sales activities in the island nation: Casper Vermeulen and Arjen van Elk, respectively with 18 and 3 years’ experience in the role. Here, they discuss the sizeable UK market, outline their plans for the future and chat about what it’s like working on the other side of the North Sea.
Biggest export country
Casper, whose sales territory covers the eastern half of the country, points out that the UK, in recent years, has become Damen’s biggest export destination. “Looking back to the early days there were some sales, but nothing immense. Growth has really accelerated over the last couple of decades – this has been helped, in part, by Damen’s principle of standardisation.”
“We have sold over 300 vessels in the UK since 1969, plus many second-hand vessels sold through our Damen Trading department,” informs Arjen, who covers everything west of a line drawn from the Shetland Isles to Southampton. “The first were two Pushycat 42 vessels sold to what was then known as Westminster Dredging. In fact, one of these, the Puffin, is still active today working for a diving company in Bangladesh.”
From the many vessels that Damen has sold to the UK market over the years, a number of projects stand-out. For Casper, one specific vessel is particularly noteworthy: “It’s got to be the Terra Marique multi-purpose pontoon.”
The pontoon, a semi-submersible vessel, supplied to Robert Wynn & Sons, received a UK government subsidy for the work it does carrying large, indivisible loads by waterway, thus reducing road-going transportation.
“Although she looks quite ordinary, she’s so versatile and practical,” Casper says.
“With this vessel, the magic is on the inside!”
Arjen’s favourite is not one particular vessel, but the Twin Axe FCS 2610 design itself. Popular in the UK, as the world’s offshore wind capital, the FCS 2610 rapidly became the industry standard following its release.
“It’s been a real game changer,” he states. “And that’s what makes it so appealing. That and its stealth-like appearance.”
The British market presents a diverse range of opportunities for Damen’s UK sales team. Contracts have included harbour and terminal, civil engineering and security sectors. Lately, the offshore wind market in the country has seen some significant growth.
“Over the years we’ve done business with some really interesting companies – covering everything from Welsh mussel dredgers to Scottish tidal turbine testing vessels. In London, Damen tugs are used to tow away the city’s rubbish,” Casper explains.
There is, furthermore, opportunity for activity in increasingly diverse sectors in the future. “There’s a great project happening across the Irish Sea right now,” Arjen enthuses. “It’s for the Atlantic Youth Trust – a cross border initiative promoting reconciliation between teenagers from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. They are currently in the fund raising process to build a Sail Training Vessel – a barquentine rigged three master – and we have submitted a design from Damen and Dyskstra for this.”
During 2014, the improving UK economy, coupled with the Pound-Euro exchange rate, had a positive effect on business, leading to a good year for Damen in the country. A number of FCS 2610 vessels were sold for use in the offshore wind industry, along with several Multicats and a number of other workboats.
The healthy performance has continued into this year, seeing some vessel types almost sell out by early 2015. This year, the UK sales team are looking with increasing interest at the fish farming industry, which is a growing market sector in the UK. Furthermore, the high-end offshore market of complex PSVs and Damen’s own offshore carriers shows promise.
Another area of focus is the UK naval sector – traditionally an all-British affair. Here, as the Ministry of Defence becomes more open to commercial off-the-shelf vessels, Damen is looking at the possibility of becoming involved with non-strategic vessel construction.
Damen has a number of finance schemes available, including those aimed at established companies with a good track record behind them and those for new companies who are starting out with a sound business plan.
“Before 2008, the banks were open to this type of customer,” states Arjen. “But these days financing is very difficult for new operators. In fact, Damen financing is one of the few options open. What we often see is that customers use our finance plans at the outset of the build – then their own bank takes over the loan once the vessel is operational. This is how they can get back in business with their own bank.”
The UK: a special market
The UK, as a country steeped in maritime tradition, is a special market. The British affiliation with the maritime industry makes it easier for Damen to operate in the country. However, activity within the UK market is not limited to the shores of the British Isles themselves. Many UK maritime companies operate on the global stage – working in the Middle East, Australia or Kazakhstan, for instance. This outward vision of the world is something that Damen shares with the UK.
Crossing the communications channel
A down-to-Earth approach is crucial in the British market. “We are looking to build long term business relationships based on trust and a straightforward attitude will definitely go towards achieving this,” states Arjen. “We treat the buyer of a 12-metre tug the same as the owner of an 80-metre PSV. It’s the personal touch that helps create open and clear relationships. At the end of the day, the customer wants a reliable partner and a reliable product. With our customers in the UK, if they become a customer, they stay a customer for life.”
As may be expected with such an open approach to communications, Damen receives a lot of feedback from UK clients – feedback that is always appreciated, Casper says. “If we don’t build what our clients want – then we are out of the game. This cooperative relationship has lead to some of our boats being considered the industry standard. For example, when an oil or dredging company needs a work boat, they say, ‘If it’s a Damen, then we’ll take it’. Our customers know that buying a Damen boat is good for their business – it’s what their clients want and they keep their value.”
Working with UK clients in this way has assisted Damen in the development of a number of vessels. For example, when working on the design of the Stan Tug 1606, Damen cooperated closely with a UK-based customer that had extensive experience of the Stan Tug. Consequently, the vessel was designed according to the performance requirements of the client.
This was by no means a one-off occurrence, as a look at the sheer number of standardized vessel designs making their debut in the UK these last few years will show:
• Multicat 2611
• Multicat 2409
• Multicat 2613
• Stan Tug 1907
• Stan Tug 1205
• ASD 2009
• ASD 2909
• FCS 2008
• FCS 2610
Of course, Damen also builds custom vessels for the UK market, including to clients such as Serco, Menas and Robert Wynn & Sons.
A welcome home from home
Describing the highlights of working in the UK, both Casper and Arjen point to a cultural connection between the Dutch and the British, which, they say, makes it a pleasure to work there.
“The straightforward and relaxed way of doing business appeals to me the most. And the rain is great – most of it is horizontal!” quips Arjen. “Also, if I am there for more than one day, I always try to eat some fish and chips. But I don’t do bangers and mash!”
“Well, just don’t ask me to eat haggis again!” concludes Casper.
With this vessel, the magic is on the inside!