DISCOVER Magazine #7

Two decades of waterborne public transportation at Damen

Published in category: Public Transport

On the rise

It’s the late 1990s and Damen Shipyards Group is a company on the rise. Kommer Damen’s idea of standardised shipbuilding has proven popular with workboat operators and, over the past decades, the company has been growing into new sectors, all over the world.

Around this time the success of the fast ferry public transport model catches the attention of Damen’s management. The vessels, useful as commuter carriers in regions with large areas of water are enjoying a tremendous amount of success, notably in Australia, Singapore and, closer to home, in Norway.

With Damen’s ambitions for growth, combined with the Netherlands’ abundance of water, fast ferries seem a perfect match. The stage is set for the next chapter in Damen’s history to begin and the (Fast) Ferries Product Group is born.

On top Down Under

Piet Hein Noordenbos was the man given the challenge of getting the new department off the ground. At the time, Piet Hein was leading the product group Special Craft.

“It started with Kommer Damen taking a trip to Australia,” he says. “This would be 1999. At the time the Australians were at the top of their game with fast ferries. They were good with aluminium, good with catamarans. A lot of the boats they built back then are still running today.

“When he was out there, Kommer met with Don Fry of the North Queensland Engineers & Agents (NQEA) – the company that had come up with the River Runner, a very successful fast ferry that was transporting commuters from the suburbs to the city and back.”


Damen Shipyards Gorinchem
DS Singapore constructing nine fast ferries for Soflusa, Portugal

Outfitting of River Runners at Damen, Gorinchem

It wasn’t long before Piet Hein went out to Australia himself – taking along a party of interested people from the maritime and public transport sectors. While he was there, he held discussions with NQEA about the possibility of Damen building the River Runner design on licence. At around the same time, back in the Netherlands, the local authority in Dordrecht was looking at a fast ferry solution – the Waterbus – for which the River Runner seemed a good proposition.

Running on water

“We won the tender in November 1998. We built four River Runners in Gorinchem under licence from NQEA. It was a tight timeframe too – we had to deliver the vessels on the first day of the new millennium. We worked evenings, we worked weekdays – I think we were doing more overtime hours than normal hours. But we got the job done, the ferries were delivered, ready for service on January 1st, 2000.

“The idea was, you have all these people in Dordrecht, working in Rotterdam every day. They are sitting in cars to get to the office, then sitting all day long at desks. If there was a fast, reliable boat service with space onboard for bicycles, then they could cycle to the harbour, sail to Rotterdam, then cycle the rest of the way to work. It was exactly how it worked in Australia.

Waterbuses in Rotterdam
Fast Ferry 3007 ‘De Nieuwe Prins’

“In the end, it didn’t work out that way; the boat service proved more popular with sightseers and daytrippers than with commuters. And, thanks to the easy access, the boats also offered a lot of independence and mobility for those in wheelchairs. In any case, it proved a success – it’s a popular service to this day.”

A flying start with the Flying Cat

Working with Piet Hein on this project was NQEA’s Paul Harrison – a veteran and expert of the fast ferry world with a robust international network in the sector.  When, in the next chapter of the product group’s development, Damen purchased a shipyard in Singapore from Norwegian company Fjellstrand, Paul joined the Damen team in the country.

As part of the acquisition, Damen received the successful Flying Cat 40 design.

Flying Cat 40 in Hong Kong
Fast Ferry 4010 ‘Nina’

There were, in total over 60 of these vessels built, more than 40 of which in Singapore. With Paul’s in-depth fast ferry expertise, the Flying Cat 40 would evolve, over time, into the Damen Fast Ferry 4010.

In the meantime, the Singapore yard – and Damen’s new product group – got off to a flying start. Orders were coming in in from Portugal, Hong Kong, French Polynesia and the Netherlands.

Assisting Paul in the development in the product group’s portfolio was Damen design & proposal engineer Robert Luth.

“The Flying Cat 40 was very helpful to us at the start,” he says. “It provided us with an introduction to the fast ferries market and got us started. We changed it from the start, though – developed our own path. In the end we changed around 95% of it. What we ended up with was the Damen Fast Ferry 4010 and the Fast Ferry 4212. The vessels really started to do well from 2009 onwards.

The 4212 has now become an icon, of which fourteen have been delivered and four are under construction.

Fast Ferry 4212 Sea Flower

Fast Ferry 4212 ‘Sea Flower’

Technical evolution

Robert entered the stage during a milestone project – a small area water twin hull (SWATH) project for two passenger ferries running between Vlissingen and Breskens in the south-west of the Netherlands.

“I wasn’t part of the product group at the time,” he says. “I was working in R&D, but Ferries needed someone who had experience of model tests.”

Robert’s experience proved invaluable in the field of resistance calculations. “It was on this project that I had a sort of ‘eureka’ moment. I saw that ship models don’t follow actual size. After that I was able to create a variable scale factor in Excel that enables us to make accurate predictions of resistance on a catamaran to within 1 knot.”

Swath model tests
Damen Swath 3717 ‘Prinses Máxima’ in drydock for maintenance

Robert still had his role within R&D, but was working more and more on ferries. He had to make a choice. He decided to move to the product group full-time and was instrumental in a number of things that drove the progress of the product group’s portfolio. This is something he continues to do, having recently developed the fixed fore and aft with flexible middle that is such a key part of the success of Damen’s composite Waterbus.

Asian expansion in a new era

Following Piet Hein’s retirement, Henk van Herwijnen took over the department in 2004. He remained in the position until 2009. During this period, the product group enjoyed a number of successes.

Included in this were the orders for five Damen Fast Ferries 4212 and two Damen Road Ferries 8521 for IDO in Turkey as well as the Waterbus 3207 and Water Taxis 1004 for Dubai. The effect of this was to open up new production opportunities for Damen, beginning with China. Here, the shipyards group began production at Afai in Guangzhou.

Fast Ferry 4212 ‘Salih Reis-4’
Road Ferries 8521 ‘Yavuz Sultan Selim-1’ and ‘Kanuni  Sultan Suleyman’

Dubai Waterbus

Dubai Water Taxi

Commencing composite construction

At the same time, Damen began building standardised ships in composite. This would lead to the construction in 2015 of a composite Waterbus 2407 for Turkey – setting the stage for the composite construction that goes on today at Damen Shipyards Antalya in Turkey. This now covers a wide range of vessels from the Damen product portfolio, including pilot boats, patrol vessel and fast crew suppliers as well as public transport vessels.

Production of the composite Waterbus 2407 at Damen, Antalya
Damen Waterbus 2407 ‘Aqua Diamond’

Fair fare

At this time, the product group’s focus was exclusively on fast ferries. For instance, in 2005 when Damen was awarded the contract for the Dokter Wagemaker ferry that operates between and Den Helder and the island of Texel, the project was handled by Offshore & Transport.

Henk Grunstra, current Product Director Ferries, says,

This was a nice project for Damen. We had recently acquired Damen Shipyards Galati in Romania and by doing partial construction there we could offer a competitive price. What was nice about it was that (the operator) TESO, when they saw the price, immediately reduced the ticket fares on the service.

Double Ended RoRo Ferry ‘Dokter Wagemaker’
SeaBus ‘Burrard Otter II’

Breaking out & building big

When Henk took over the product group in 2009, Ferries underwent a reorganisation and saw its reach broadened, as Henk explains.

“We started to build not only fast ferries, but all sorts of ferries generally. The first product we undertook was the Vancouver Sea Bus. Damen won this contract after participating in an international tender with competing shipyards from around the world. The vessel was built in Singapore.

Staying afloat

Unfortunately, the financial crisis hit the waterborne public transportation sector hard, between 2010 and 2015. Damen, however, did manage to keep its activities in the sector afloat with some notable projects during this time. This includes the delivery of two Damen Fast RoPax 4512 vessels Kriola and Liberdadi to Cabo Verde Fast Ferry in 2011.

Fast RoPax 4512 ‘Kriola’
RoPax Ferry 8017 ‘Veteran’

In 2010, Damen was invited to design and build a series of ten Waterbuses 3207 for the Roads and Transport Authority in Dubai. And in 2015, the group delivered two RoPAx 8017 Ferries to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador – a milestone in Damen’s activity in the non-fast ferry market.

The end of this slow period for the product group was signaled by a series of fast ferry sales to South Korea.

Targeting tomorrow

Today, the product group Ferries continues to develop its portfolio, with its eyes fixed firmly on the future.

Waterborne public transport is in a unique position. With sailing routes being so predictable and often very short runs, we are able to form the vanguard of fully electric shipping.

“We’re already involved in a number of projects for both hybrid diesel-electric and full electric projects. Our work on these projects sees us – in line with the rest of the Damen Group – take on a role that exceeds that of shipbuilder. We are providing a fully integrated service, taking care of the entire process, including the installation of the charging points, for example.”

Transforming the current

Damen’s full-electric ferries fall under the E-Cross Ferry programme – built to Damen’s E3 standards being environmentally powered, efficient in operation and economically viable.

Projects of this nature include the Copenhagen ferry project, featuring seven Damen Ferries 2306E3 and a Damen Road Ferry 6819E3 and 9819E3 for Ontario, Canada.

Damen Ferry 2306E3 during trials and testing of charging systems

Transport of Road Ferry 8117E3
Road Ferry 6819E3

Additionally, the six vessels that Damen is building for BC Ferries in British Columbia, Canada, also fall under the E3 umbrella. These vessels are hybrid diesel-electric, though Damen is preparing them to sail fully electric in the future.

“Once the infrastructure in the region is ready, so are the vessels,” states Henk.

It’s important that the vessels we build now are able to convert to full electric when the time comes – there is going to be so much more of this, it’s the future.

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