First they joined forces in Bremerhaven; now the repair and drive specialists at German Dry Docks (GDD) are going international. With worldwide service and branches in Rotterdam and Jamaica, the company is striving to relieve customers of the persistent cost pressure in shipping. “We are focusing on the future challenges of shipping,” says CEO Guido Försterling, adding: “This is not an easy task, but it’s a promising project.”
Efficient structures have been at the forefront of the company since its foundation. Three years ago, shipbuilding entrepreneur Dieter Petram brought several competing repair firms together in Bremerhaven. “In the long run, it can’t be good when several companies compete with each other in the same location in the same market segment,” he said at the time. And the move proved to be a good one within a short space of time: “Since the alliance was formed, GDD has worked on more ships than came into the docks of all of the predecessor companies put together,” reports Petram. Within the new German Dry Docks AG, which was formed as part of the merger with MWB Motorenwerke Bremerhaven AG, GDD is able to offer its customers even faster and more efficient services concerning ships and engines.
The strategic decision came just at the right time: persistently low charter and freight rates are forcing ship owners to look closely at costs and budgets. “Long interruptions to travel, or even waiting for a repair, is something that no one wants or can afford,” says Guido Försterling, “which is why we are very well-placed with our full service from a single source and flexible dock capacity.” Docking, repairing, renovating, converting, repairing and assembling – that’s the core business. The company also has considerable skills in the field of retrofitting, for example installing exhaust gas cleaning systems or ballast water treatment systems. With the new business division “Engines and Machine Technology” under the new brand logo MWB Power, and its own engineering office within the group, GDD is equipped to deal with any task.
Rapid ship repairs are a key cost advantage for ship owners
A service provider like this is just what the port sector in Bremerhaven and in the neighbouring ports of Lower Saxony needs. In the quest to get ships in and increase handling rates, good service right on site is key – especially if it is operational seven days a week and has capacity for larger jobs available at short notice. “It is a key cost advantage for ship owners if they are able to quickly fit necessary repairs in between unloading and loading their ships,” explains Försterling.
However, local business alone is not enough for a company with 120 of its own employees and around 220 employees in the group. “This is why we offer our service worldwide,” emphasises the CEO. “If customers can’t come to us, we’ll go to them.” Sending specialists all over the world is one way to achieve this service objective; business activity abroad is another. GDD has held shares in Dutch repair specialist Rotterdam Ship Repair, with which the Bremerhaven-based firm had collaborated closely in the past, since October 2015. Now German Dry Docks is expanding into Jamaica, with the aim of serving the Caribbean and the entire Gulf of Mexico. “Our first few employees are already there,” reports GDD’s CEO.
The search for new markets and opportunities is also a response to the ongoing crisis in international commercial shipping. For years now, freight and charter rates have been so low “that many ship owners are happy if they are able to cover the costs needed to maintain the class,” says a member of the executive management at the German Shipowners’ Association (VDR). This has a clear impact on repair and docking businesses: “Ship owners are having only the most essential work done,” says Försterling.
More sustainable energy sources are determining the propulsion systems of the future
GDD’s CEO does not believe that the situation in shipping – and therefore ship owners’ cost-consciousness – is going to change any time in the near future. This is why he is already developing the structures for a company that will be able to hold its own on the market 20 years from now. “We’re working on German Dry Docks 4.0,” he says, referencing the much-talked-about industrial revolution referred to as “Industry 4.0”. This involves considering what future ship propulsion systems will look like. Given the dwindling oil reserves and increasing environmental protection efforts, he believes that the days of diesel engines are numbered, and that the LNG drives that are currently being discussed represent a transitional solution: “More sustainable energy sources will determine propulsion systems in the long term, and we need to be prepared for that.”
His concept of mobile, worldwide deployment also corresponds to Försterling’s vision of the future development of shipping. “One of the most important questions for us will be: do ships really have to go into the dock regularly in accordance with a rigid system?” says the 41-year-old, who before becoming GDD’s Vice President was the Area Manager for Western Europe with classification society DNV-GL. It would be possible to implement maintenance in accordance with actual wear, as is the practice in aviation. “It’s only a matter of time before the system is changed and time spent in docks decreases considerably.” The road “certainly won’t be a smooth one,” believes Försterling, “but because we are setting the course now, we’ll be well-equipped to deal with what lies ahead.”
German Dry Docks Group at SMM: Booth B4.EG.215