From Bremerhaven, German Dry Docks has an eye on international markets
Repairs and maintenance, retrofitting and major rebuilds – Bremerhaven has become a service center for shipping in just a few years. The German Dry Docks Group takes centre stage as an alliance of the leading shipbuilding companies along the Weser and Elbe.
The times of shipbuilding have never been simple and easy – apart from occasional exceptions. Although German shipyards have largely been spared the current global economic crisis, this is no reason for Guido Försterling and Dirk Harms to sit back and relax: “We join forces”, is German Dry Docks Group’s motto for three shipbuilding companies on Weser and Elbe: “Thanks to this concentrated competence, we can offer our customers a special range of services which gives us a special market position.”
“Customized efficient solutions”
With its own docks in the Kaiserhafen, with the partner company Bredo in the fishing port and a docking company in Cuxhaven, the German Dry Docks Group is excellently positioned on the Weser and Elbe and thus on one of the world’s most important shipping routes. In addition to the classic docking business for repair and maintenance, the company has created a strong foothold in the technical conversion of ships. International regulations are forcing shipowners to invest both in exhaust gas cleaning and in the treatment of ballast water. Försterling and Harms, have aligned the shipyard alliance to these trends in good time. However, they do not only develop optimal solutions for their customers from a technical point of view: “We also look at the business side and develop tailor-made, efficient solutions, promises Försterling.The most recent project is a clear confirmation of this strategy: these days, GDD is embarking on the world’s first conversion of a container ship to the environmentally friendly operation with liquefied natural gas (LNG).
In the future, the German Dry Docks Group will offer such complex projects and, of course, also classic repair and maintenance work, not only in its own docks, but also worldwide with its own team. “Our third big pillar in addition to the dock business and technical repairs will be mobile service,” emphasizes Försterling: “We cannot wait anymore for the ships to come to us, but we have to go where the ships are.” With Rotterdam Ship Repair, German Dry Docks has also secured its first international location. In addition, teams in Bremerhaven are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for worldwide service aboard a ship.
Within a few years Försterling and Harms have developed their shipyard group into one of the leading locations for the repair, maintenance and retrofitting of ships with modern environmental technologies as well as for major rebuilds. The optimal processing of orders is a decisive factor for GDD to be internationally competitive. Ship repair is a price-driven business, “Shipyards in low-wage countries are clearly in the advantage,” Harms says. They cannot do anything about the hourly rates of their employees, so the work has to be so well prepared that it can be done smoothly within the best time.
For each order, there is only one contact for the customer – from the first project sketch to the final invoice. Försterling already introduced this principle in Bremerhaven years ago. “In the next international projects, Bremerhaven will above all have the role of a cross-location coordinator.” With the combination of a skilled workforce and successful project management, the German Dry Docks Group will be able to resist the price pressure of low-cost providers in the international competition, Försterling is convinced: “The combination of optimal quality and optimal price has a future.”
Mentally, Försterling is already one step ahead: “The shipping industry has not experienced a technical revolution for decades, he says. Changes such as from steam to combustion engines took place within long periods. Now, however, there are significant changes that will take effect in a short time: “We will, for example, experience autonomous ships in just a few years. “That is why the reorientation of the Bremerhaven repair and shipyard location is necessary – not only because of the current situation in the industry: “If we want to remain on the market in the long term, we have to set the course in good time”, he is convinced.