Reliability, timeliness and quality – this is what customers expect from shipping lines which they have entrusted their cargo to. Obviously the ship manager must insist on the same high standards from service companies such as German Dry Docks (GDD). After all, time is money and just as important as good performance.
Container shipping is a tough business. While freight and charter rates have stayed low for years, cargo clients’ expectations continually grow. Ships are not just a means of transport, but for a long time have been an important link in a tightly scheduled just-in-time supply chain which does not tolerate delays. “Necessary downtime, for example when refitting the vessel, must be precisely planned and completed in the shortest possible time,” says Jan Ritscher, Managing Director and Head of Navigation / Technology of Transeste Schiffahrt GmbH, spelling out the challenge. For four months he meticulously prepared the stay of the container ship “Helle Ritscher” at German Dry Docks in Bremerhaven so that the “ten-year refit” and a range of other work could be completed within ten days. As a new customer of GDD, Ritscher sums up in just a few words what is typical for successful ship owners from the “Alten Land” area, just outside Hamburg: “Everything has worked out well.”
The “Helle Ritscher”, along with the other eight ships of the Transeste fleet, represent the traditional workhorses of container shipping. With the reliability of a tram, the 178-metre-long freighter commutes between the ports of the North Range and the Baltics as part of a tightly scheduled service. Short layover times and fast sprints between the individual stops are characteristic of this route. “There is not much time for dry-docking.” says Jan Ritscher, “It’s best to make use of short breaks for scheduled maintenance.” Nevertheless, the container motorway shuttle between Antwerp and St. Petersburg has an advantage: “There are a lot of shipyards on the route, which at least in theory are available for dry-docking,” explains Ritscher. “In contrast, dry-docking opportunities are eight days apart in the African shipping areas. This makes dry-docking expensive.”
“Time is money” factor is important in choosing German Dry Docks
As the “ten-year refit” for “Helle Ritscher” came up, to begin with the “time-is-money” factor was the decisive criterion for the selection of the shipyard for the necessary dry-docking. “We had a time frame of 14 days between unloading the last container in Antwerp and the start of a new charter in Bremerhaven,” says Ritscher recalling the beginning of the planning for the refit work. The ship manager enquired at several shipyards along the route between the two ports. The fact that GDD was ultimately awarded the contract was not just because of the dry-dock availability at the desired time and the cost offered by the shipyard: “GDD was also of interest to us because it was already clear that the new charterer would take on the ship in Bremerhaven.” says Jan Ritscher. “With the immediate proximity of the shipyard to the container terminal, we had an extra time buffer in the event of unforeseen work becoming necessary,” said Ritscher. Ritscher did not have to rely on the GDD offer alone to make his decision: “A shipping company friend of ours here from the “Alten Land” area had repeatedly booked with GDD and recommended the shipyard to us.”
In retrospect, the recommendation seems to have turned out to be good advice. Ritscher sums it up: “It was a good and trusting collaboration”. From the first calculations to actually carrying out the work, the same customer contact person supervised on the shipyard side: “if you move in such a narrow time window as we do, a short communication chain is very important,” emphasised Ritscher. Months before the arrival of the “Helle Ritscher” in Bremerhaven the ship manager and the GDD Project Head Björn Sommer had worked through each of the order items and discussed them in detail. The list of work to do was long. In addition to the refit, among other items on the to-do list the bow and stern thrusters had to be maintained, the anchor chain needed to be checked, the tanks inspected and the protection on the underwater hull replaced.
Jan Ritscher: “We would be happy to come back”
Jan Ritscher is very familiar with the work as such: “We also had the same work done to a sister ship of the ‘Helle Ritscher’.” The “Jonni Ritscher” had docked two months earlier at a Spanish shipyard. Ritscher therefore had a fixed image in mind of how the work in Bremerhaven would look – but was nevertheless surprised when he stood in the dock at GDD: “There was only half the workforce that was in Spain – and yet everything went ahead faster.” Obviously, such images were just as impressive as the quality of the overall work. “So far we have not considered GDD for such contracts,” he admits candidly, “but if it fits into the schedules, we’d be happy to come again.”