DISCOVER Magazine #7

Damen 90 years

Published in category: Heritage & Culture

In 1927, the brothers Jan and Rien Damen opened a small shipyard in the town of Hardinxveld-Giessendam by the River Merwede in the Netherlands. The yard remained a small, but prosperous concern for many years until, in 1969, Kommer Damen introduced the standardised shipbuilding concept.

This unique approach to the craft has seen Damen grown into a shipyards group with international acclaim. Today, the group operates across the entire spectrum of maritime industries with over 9,000 employees around the world.

On the 90th anniversary of the beginning of Damen, we take a look back at some of the people, places, events and vessels which make up the Damen story.

  • 1927
  • 1938
  • 1940
  • 1950
  • 1960
  • 1970
  • 1980
  • 1990
  • 2000
  • Three generations


The story of Damen begins in the 1920s with brothers Jan and Rien Damen starting the company in a shed next to the family home on the banks of the River Merwede in Hardinxveld, the Netherlands. In 1927 they formalised the company as Damen Brothers.


That same year, Yard Number 1 was launched. A 4.5-metre flat-bottomed boat with a beam of 1.7 metres, that the brothers had designed themselves.



As Damen was starting out, the world was entering a new era in international connectivity. 1927 was the year of the first intercontinental telephone call – by radio – between New York City and London. On May 20th of the same year, just before 0800, Charles Lindbergh took to the skies above Long Island, New York. He arrived 33 ½ hours later, to much excitement, in Paris.



By the 1930s, the Hardinxveld yard, though still a small concern, had begun to develop a reputation for listening closely to its clients and incorporating their feedback into its vessels.
In this way, it generated a number of repeat orders – some of which came from companies who are still clients of Damen today.
The tradition of listening to customers became ingrained into the Damen business model and today, the portfolio of vessels evolves through a combination of in-house research and close cooperation with customers.


According to Joop Jansen, Manager Research & Development Department, client cooperation and feedback are of vital importance in developing vessels. “I remember, in 1978, visiting a Mexican client who had taken delivery of the first ever Stan Tug 2600L – he was having problems with high levels of vibration. Because this vessel was the first step towards a new generation of products, it was vital to identify, analyse and solve any underlying issue. We accomplished this by visiting the client’s operational site to get hands-on experience of his problems.”

This way of thinking (putting enormous value on a vessel owner’s operational feedback) has been a solid cornerstone of the company. Moreover, one that is still valid today. “Vessels are still very much the result of a collaborative effort with a client,” he states. “A great example of this cooperation is the Bibby Wavemaster 1 that we are currently building for Bibby Marine Services. This vessel is the result of getting together with the client to talk about what exactly is required in their operational environment to make a difference in the market.”

A new shed was added in Hardinxveld in 1941


A new shed was added in Hardinxveld in 1941. This represents the company’s First expansion. No one could know at the time that Damen was destined to grown into an international group of companies operating 33 ship and repair yards all over the globe.

Pictured here is the Damen workforce with the yard's 100th vessel
Pictured here is the Damen workforce with the yard’s 100th vessel. Today, the Damen Shipyards Group has delivered over 6,000 vessels to clients all over the world.

Damen delivered YN 116 in 1941
In 1942, Damen delivered YN 116, a twin mast sailing vessel for client Schenk.

The very first Damen company outing took place in 1952



Since the earliest times, Damen has always held a belief in taking care of both its customers and its employees. The hard work has always been well balanced with fun and social activities. The very first Damen company outing took place in 1952, when the employees of the time were treated to a trip to the historic Dutch fishing village of Volendam. Pictured, second left on the front row, is a young Kommer Damen sporting traditional Dutch dress.



The 1950s were an era of technological and scientific advancement. During the decade, televisions and radio sets began to become commonplace in the home. It was during the 1950s that the first commercial passenger jet planes came into use. The DNA double-helix was discovered and the USA and USSR began to explore space via satellite technology.

ife along the rivers had begun slowly recovering from the devastation of World War II



Life along the rivers had begun slowly recovering from the devastation of World War II. The Damen shipyard had a healthy order book supplying the post-war reconstruction with much-needed workboats.

But the economy was still fragile and running a small family business demanded thrift and a sense of community. Jan Damen’s son Kommer spent these summers working on the farm run by the Mulders family – the same family that operated the Damen-built Zeldenrust foot ferry across the river Maas.



The whole Damen family helped out to deliver ships on time and keep them running. Kommer Damen’s sister Dina Damen recalls evenings with the family painting hulls so that the vessels would be dry in time for high tide delivery. While Kommer Damen was in the Navy for his military service, she made her first car journey after passing her driver’s license – hurtling through pouring rain to deliver a large ship’s propeller to the other side of the country.



The 1960s are well remembered for their colourful expressions of fashion, music and counterculture. People were becoming increasingly mobile, thanks to increased accessibility to passenger flights and to automobiles. Mankind took a giant leap on July 20th, 1969, when Apollo 11 became the first manned spaceflight to land on the Moon.




Today, the Damen Shipyards Group is world-renowned for its standardised, series production. This innovative process was the idea of Kommer Damen and commenced when he took the reins in 1969.
The idea was, by building vessels in series, Damen could offers its clients the fastest possible delivery of reliable, proven vessels.


Sabrina Henrika

The Sabrina Henrika, one of the earliest vessels designed by Kommer Damen when he started working at the family business. Coming across the vessel many years later in Amsterdam, Mr Damen purchased the vessel and restored her to her former glory at Damen Shipyards Hardinxveld. Today, the vessel can be found, in prime condition, in the Lingehaven, Gorinchem, close to Damen’s headquarters.

Pictured are a number of Pushy Cats at Damen Shipyards Hardinxveld at various stages of construction



New vessels construction, production line
The standardisation philosophy is the root of Damen’s success. The above image, from 1970, shows the concept at work. Pictured are a number of Pushy Cats at Damen Shipyards Hardinxveld at various stages of construction. Compare this with the image below, taken recently at Damen Song Cam Shipyard in Vietnam showing the series production of Damen tugs and workboats in the present day.


Stan Tugs, Stan Pushers, Stan Carriers and Stan LandersORIGINS OF R&D

Following the success of standardising the construction process of the Pushy Cat, Damen expanded the concept to new vessels such as Stan Tugs, Stan Pushers, Stan Carriers and Stan Landers.
“To accelerate this step forward, we needed a dedicated design department to carry out preliminary and concept vessel studies,” Joop Jansen, Manager Research & Development Department, highlights, referring to the origins of the Damen Research Department.


It was our job to come up with new designs and present them to the sales and technical teams at monthly product development meetings. Everybody had the opportunity to give their feedback on our designs – which sometimes could lead to some very long but inspiring discussions.”

“These monthly meetings also brought new insight and ideas,” he goes on to say. “There would be new vessel concepts added to our to-do list; we couldn’t design them fast enough! The starting point in a design was always a standard construction package and never with a specified yard number. That is how we worked. First standardisation and then building. And not the other way around.”

Steef Staal


Steef Staal, now Managing Director of Damen Marine Components, joined the steadily growing Damen team in 1973. “It was a young team back then,” he recalls. “And, maybe because everyone was so young, we had quite a lot of fun. We played jokes on the office staff by replacing the microphones in their telephones with weights.

“And I could imitate Kommer Damen’s voice particularly well over the phone. This lead to some memorable incidents – like one Friday afternoon in Hardinxveld. Pretending to be Kommer, I called up a sales guy from another room. I could see him from where I was and I can remember how he straightened his tie before he took the telephone. I told him ‘Come to
my office,’ and he got up at once.

As he passed the room I was in, I called to him to tell him it was a joke, but he said ‘Not now Steef, I have to see Kommer.’ And if I remember correctly, Kommer wasn’t even in that day!”

The pranks continued as the company expanded to Gorinchem. “The sales team there were close to tying up an order with a client from abroad. Dressed up in the national dress of that client, one of the new bookkeepers from Hardinxveld pretended he was there on behalf of the client to increase the order to twelve vessels. It caused quite a lot of excitement and took some time before anyone realised it was a joke!”

Anecdotes about practical jokes would of course be incomplete without a mention of April Fools’ Day. “One April 1st, we played a joke on a yard manager by convincing him that a client would be coming to inspect a vessel.

“We even set up a fake helicopter landing pad. When the appointed time came, the Yard Manager went out to greet the client. Instead of the client’s helicopter however, there was just a banner that said ‘April Fool’.”

One time we started outfitting a Pushy Cat 42


Sales Engineer Services and long-standing Damen employee, Bert de Rover: “It was back then when we started to have two production teams. One team on outfitting and the second for detailed completion, commissioning and trials.

And, combining this with having all components in stock, this really made the whole process very efficient. One time we started outfitting a Pushy Cat 42 on a Friday afternoon. We worked all weekend to finish it in time for trials on Monday.”



The 1970s were a period of profound political changes in the world and an era of economic challenges for industrialised nations. Such things did not stand in the way of progress, however and the 1970s witnessed the birth of modern computing. During this decade, the first MRI image was produced and the first call made on a cell phone.

Damen Shipyards timeline 1970s


Steef Staal says Damen has always had a cutting-edge approach. “We always had the latest technology available. Back when I first started, there weren’t many computers around, but we did have word processors – a lot of people were still using typewriters.

“We also had access to telefax. Mind you, it was in the Post Office. If you wanted to send a message, one of the secretaries had to go down to the village.”

Nowadays, Damen continues to adopt the latest innovations on the market. Things are a little more advanced; amongst the tools to be found in the offices today are 3D printers and CAD PDM technology.

Composite vessels, Damen timeline


Bert de Rover’s opinion of Damen’s composite vessels has certainly changed over the years. In the mid-1970s, when Damen started building faster vessels, he was involved in the production of the Poly Cat.
He wasn’t much of a fan to begin with: “I used to call them the plastic buckets.” His stance on composite materials changed in 2016 when he was a passenger in a 60-knot Damen Interceptor. He used one word to describe the experience: “Sensational!”

about 100 Damen Pushy Cat workboats were operating


Kommer Damen’s persistence during his first trips to the Middle East was paying off. The big dredging companies needed reliable equipment to meet the region’s soaring demand for port infrastructure. By
1978, about 100 Damen Pushy Cat workboats were operating there, so Damen took its first step outside the Netherlands with a Service Hub in Bahrain. Having the Damen technician arrive on site in Doha or as far as Jeddah within just a few days offered an extraordinary level of customer service for the time.



After successfully setting up Damen’s first international service office in Bahrain in 1974, Hennie den Toom and Nijs van Noorloos took on the task of establishing the company’s presence in Nigeria.

“This was in 1976,” says Mr Den Toom. “The Nigerian civil construction and dredging industries were growing fast – and the cement trade was enormous. Flying into Lagos at night, you could see so many boats in the harbor waiting to unload that it looked as if a second city had erupted.”

The job of building up a business called for a great deal of independence from Mr Den Toom and the team: “Especially in terms of communication. We had to go the Federal Palace Hotel in Lagos to make our international phone calls – and even then, there was a 4-hour long wait.” Another, more unpredictable, aspect was the political situation in Nigeria in the mid-1970s.

“To be honest, those were rough days. Not only for setting up a business, but also for my family, including my two children who were born there. We really enjoyed our 8 and half years there though. A fantastic time.” Never shy of a challenge, on leaving Nigeria in 1985, Mr Den Toom decided to drive back to Europe with a colleague – a journey that involved crossing the Sahara by car in mid-summer with temperatures roaring well over 50 C°.

“Of course, back then there was no such thing as satellite navigation,” he adds. “I remember calling my wife from a phone booth in Niamey [capital city of Niger] to tell her to expect a phone call from us when we arrived on the North Coast in 10 days’ time.”




During the 1980s, Damen operated a Services Bus, pictured here loading spare parts onto a KLM flight for international distribution.



Services are still an important part of the Damen business model today. Beginning well in advance of the purchase of a vessel, Damen’s service solutions cover the entire lifecycle of a vessel, from financing, through 24/7 assistance, to ship recycling. Today, with its international footprint, including 33 ship and repair yards located on six continents, and six strategically located Service Hubs, Damen is never far from its clients.


During the 1980s, the group became increasingly global in its outlook. It was possible to find Damen hulls being constructed simultaneously in soaring temperatures on the banks of the River Nile and in the freezing climes of the Soviet Union.



By this stage, Damen had grown to be a company with over 1,000 employees and with both newbuild and repair facilities. The growth was set to continue far into the future. Today, with locations all over the world, Damen employs over 9,000 people.



Damen has always strived to be a committed employer – and as such it has some very loyal personnel. Holding the honour of longest serving employee is Bert de Rover who joined the company in July 1967 when he was 14 years old.
He now works at the Spare Parts department in Gorinchem, in a function where his considerable experience is often called upon. “It is still very good to work here,” he says. “Every day is different. I am often asked for advice by my younger colleagues because so many of the vessels that we built in the 80s are still operational.
“There are even older Damen vessels still going – the oldest parts request that we have had is for a vessel that was built in 1972.”


You might think that working in the Spare Parts department of a shipbuilding company would mean that you only concentrate on the purchase and distribution of vessel parts and components.
That is sometimes not the case. “It’s a great job with lots of contact with clients and suppliers,” notes Bert de Rover. “And we have had some very varied requests over the years.”
He has dealt with orders for coffee filters, artificial grass, chicken egg incubator and 200 pairs of work shoes. “We’ve handled it all. Our philosophy is, the client is king!”


State visits


In 1983, Kommer Damen received the ‘Golden Lead’ (het gouden voortouw) award from the Minister of Economic Affairs, G. van Aardenne. In the background stands Professor A. van der Zwan of the Erasmus University.





In 1989, Damen hosted a royal visit, when Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands attended the naming ceremony of the Eendracht, a national seagoing sailing vessel. The Queen is pictured here disembarking the vessel.

Since then, Damen has hosted a number of Royal and governmental visits, as well as having taken part in many trade delegation events also attended by Dutch and other national heads of state.




In 1990, Her Majesty Princess Margriet visited Damen Shipyards Gorinchem for the naming ceremony of a lifeboat named in her honour.





Damen’s superyacht company joined the group in 1991. Amels, originally based in the northern Netherlands Province of Friesland, has been building ships since 1918.
Soon after joining Damen, Amels’ operations were moved to Vlissingen in the southwest of the Netherlands. Amels’ current location has a rich history of shipbuilding dating back centuries.
It was in 1982 that Amels constructed its first yacht, the Katalina, setting it on the path to becoming the most successful superyacht builder in the Netherlands. Since then, Amels has delivered almost 60 superyachts, including, in 2017, its largest to date, the 83 metre Here Comes the Sun.
At 75 metres, Montkaj was the longest yacht ever built in the Netherlands when her owners took delivery in 1995. The same family is still enjoying this iconic Amels Full Custom superyacht almost a quarter of a century later.


Excellence_at_sea_Amels_yard Thanks to continued investment, Amels has grown into the largest superyacht facility in the Netherlands. Excellence_at_sea_NOx AMELS was the first Dutch yacht builder to slash harmful NOx emissions by almost 80 percent.





Damen’s international spread has brought about a two-way exchange as clients and personnel from all over the world have come to the Netherlands when visiting the head office. An example of this is the visit, in 1998, of the crew of a vessel that was being built at Damen Shipyards Gorinchem for an African client. The crew stayed in the city for some time, during which they took every opportunity to discover their surroundings – even visiting Madurodam, where miniature versions of iconic Dutch landscapes and buildings are displayed.




In 2001, Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding (DSNS) joined the Damen Shipyards Group. The Royal Schelde company has a rich history, dating back over 140 years.
Based in the south-west of the Netherlands in the historic harbour city of Vlissingen, the yard had long held a valued reputation for quality in both naval and commercial sectors, delivering over 400 vessels since 1875. Since becoming part of Damen, the Schelde yard has introduced the successful concept of standardised modular production to a number of projects.




A notable example of this are the recent SIGMA 10514 PKR frigates for the Indonesian Navy. The construction of these vessels – the first of which was delivered in January this year – is via a collaborative process, which sees simultaneous production taking place at DSNS in Vlissingen and at the PT PAL Shipyard in Surabaya, Indonesia.


State visits


On 4th December, 2001, Queen Beatrix visited the Gorinchem yard to name the Seagoing Patrol Vessel, Visarend, for the Dutch Customs.


State visits


In 2003, the then Princess Máxima named the last in a series of four Air Defence and Command Frigates of the Seven Provinces Class built for the Royal Dutch Navy.


State visits


20th January 2009 saw Queen Beatrix name the Patrol Vessel of the Water Police Force, P99. The vessel was the last in a series of ten, delivered by Damen between 2008 and 2009.


State visits


Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte visited Damen Shipyards Gorinchem on 23rd November, 2011. His visit was in order to keep inform of the state of Dutch industry. Mr Rutte is pictured here with Damen CEO René Berkvens, and Kommer and Arnout Damen.


State visits


On 21st January, 2013, Minister of Defence, Miss Hennis-Plasschaert, visited Gorinchem for a yard tour with Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding Director Hein van Ameijden, Kommer and Arnout Damen.


State visits


On 2nd April, 2014, Queen Máxima named the Search and Rescue Vessel NH1816 in her home port of IJmuiden.




Recently, when Kommer Damen was awarded Honoured Citizen status of the City of Gorinchem, the town’s Mayor praised Damen for encouraging this cultural exchange, which has contributed so much to the vibrancy and prosperity of the city.


Kommer Damen

Today, with an international presence, multi-market penetration and some 9,000 employees, Damen is still very much a family company at heart.

Josien Damen
Dina Damen
Arnout Damen
Annelies Damen
Rose Damen
Bear Damen

Kommer Damen is Chairman of the company. His wife, Josien, organises a number of events and exhibitions for the company, as well as handling company sponsorships, such as with the Nederlands Dans Theater. His sister, Dina, manages the company's archives. The four children of Kommer Damen all have active involvement in Damen today. Arnout holds the position of Chief Commercial Officer, having joined the company in 2010 and Rose Damen has recently taken up the position of Commercial Director at Amels.

Last year, Bear produced the all-new Damen commercial movie, whilst Annelies manages the group’s real estate portfolio. The continuing involvement of the family ensures that Damen maintains the values that it has had from the start – listening closely to its clients to ensure they receive the vessels they need, taking care to provide its employees with a pleasant, productive place to work and always taking a long-term view in everything that it does.


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