Europe’s shipyards are resisting the global shipbuilding crisis. Two managers at the head of the German Dry Docks Group in Bremerhaven show how modern the traditional industry on the German coast is.
European shipbuilding is asserting itself in a difficult international environment. According to the Shipbuilding and Marine Technology Association (VSM), shipyards in the EU landed orders totalling just under € 10 billion in the first half of 2017, representing 42% of worldwide new business. Within Europe, German shipyards occupy a leading position – their order backlog at the end of 2016 was 16 billion euros. “Once again, shipbuilding has proven its strength,” says Guido Försterling, CEO of German Dry Docks AG (GDD) in Bremerhaven. The true importance of the industry has recently been overshadowed by the global crisis. “Wrongfully so,” says Försterling. Without the maritime industry, Germany could not maintain its role as a world-leading export nation: “Ships and ports, shipping companies and logistics companies and of course shipbuilders and their suppliers are indispensable for a thriving world trade.”
Niche markets occupied in good time
The current strong position of German shipbuilding is not by chance. When the global market was characterized by extreme distortions of competition, the shipyards in the North and Baltic Seas focused on niches in passenger and special-purpose shipbuilding in good time. The structural change in the newbuilding shipyards was accompanied by great public attention. Repair and conversion yards disappeared a little from the perspective of the public. “That does, however, not mean that we haven’t been busy”, stresses Dirk Harms, Managing Director of BREDO Dockgesellschaft mbH.
In fact, repair and conversion specialists have been adapting to the changing market situation and new technological requirements for a long time and in a continuous process. This became clearly visible in early 2017 when a new shipyard alliance was formed on the German coast with the German Dry Docks Group. In this alliance, the docking and repair department of the GDD-AG and the BREDO bundle their competences and strengths, without giving up their independence and their individual profile. With the Cuxhaven-based Mützelfeldtwerft, a further location on the Elbe was added to the operations on the Weser, so that the new network is perfectly positioned on one of the world’s most important shipping lanes.
“Facing the challenges of the market together”
According to advertising, there is always a clever mind behind a well-known German daily newspaper; the shipyard alliance has several clever minds. First of all, it was the Bremerhaven entrepreneurial families Petram and Rönner who, as shareholders, paved the way for their companies to work together more closely. Their goal is “to face the challenges of the market together and to bring about the changes from a common strength that will ensure the continued existence of the companies for the next few years,” says Harms.
This strategy was filled with life by the managers at the operational tip of the two companies. Of course, Harms and Försterling are not alone in following the new strategy. “Shipbuilding has always been teamwork, and this also applies to this project,” emphasizes Försterling. “Basically, we’re continuing a renewal process which the previous management has already pushed forward,” adds Harms.
Fascination ship from motivation
Their commitment to shipbuilding in Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven is due to the fascination that lies in shipbuilding. “Anyone who has ever experienced a launch or even just stands in the dock under a docked ship, immediately feels this fascination,” Harms is convinced. In addition to such rather emotional aspects, also rational considerations shape the specificity of shipbuilding: “Every ship is a complex system that has been specially designed for its particular application and must be operated economically and safely under a wide range of conditions,” adds the BREDO boss. For Försterling, shipbuilding and ships are an essential part of the maritime industry and therefore of great significance for the entire country. “Ports, logistics, the supplier industry and, ultimately, the entire export industry – it’s quite impressive how much depends on ships,” says Försterling.
Strengthening the service for our customer
To survive in this complex system and its international interdependencies is anything but easy. Repair, in particular, is a highly price-driven business, in which the individual companies can only partly distinguish themselves from the market through innovative technologies. “That’s why we are currently working on optimizing our processes with the help of modern systems and methods,” explains Försterling. In doing so, he not only wants to keep costs under control, but also strengthen his role as a service provider to the customer: “We want to involve our customers more, become more transparent and even more reliable.” Ultimately, the goal is to deliver the same quality at a defined price, reliably and punctually, regardless of location.
Försterling and Harms are also focusing on new markets and activities. “We will definitely not be regionally limited to the German market, but also go to other countries, especially in the fields of mobile repair and engine service“, Försterling emphasizes. With the German Ship Repair and the Rotterdam Ship Repair in the Netherlands, GDD AG has already positioned itself well for international missions; also MWB Marine Services belongs to the group of companies as an outstanding specialist for engines and drive systems.
Shipyard Alliance initiates important phase for shipbuilding
With the founding of the shipyard alliance, a new and important phase has begun for shipbuilding on the Weser. “The decisions and developments over the next three years will be of crucial importance for the direction of the GDD Group and all companies,” says Harms. But the two managers have no doubts about the result. Despite the volatility of the market, they are convinced that “the locations in the Kaiserhafen, in the Fischereihafen and in Cuxhaven will also exist in 10 years”.