Interview: Mark Jan Van den Akker, CEO of Damen Dunkerque

Interview: Mark Jan Van den Akker, CEO of Damen Dunkerque

Projects at Damen’s Dunkerque yard include ship repairs and conversions, assembly of offshore wind turbines and structures, and new-build shipbuilding. And Mark Jan Van den Akker, the recently appointed CEO of Damen Shiprepair Dunkerque has big plans in all three areas. Here, he also discusses the yard’s role within the Netherlands-headquartered group.

Mer et Marine: The Damen group has two yards in France, one at Brest, the other at Dunkerque. What is the strategy? Do they compete with each other or work together?

Mark Jan Van den Akker: The group strategy is not based on competition between the different yards, but on cooperation, taking into account each one’s financial and geographical constraints. For instance, whereas Dunkerque pays rent, the yards in the Netherlands own their premises and infrastructure. A Damen ship repair project in our region may involve Dunkerque, Vlissingen, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Business and sales policies are coordinated at group level, so rather than compete, the yards work together. However, each yard also has its own sales team to reach out to clients and prepare bids that are not only in line with Damen best practice, but exploit local expertise to the full.

Dunkerque is a very big yard. You have three drydocks — the largest over 300m long — a recently renovated floating drydock and a large number of berths. How do you plan to use these resources?

We certainly have excellent facilities. Not only for ship repairs, but also, I hope, to assemble modules and structures for offshore wind farms, as well as for ship conversion and even new-build projects. Our covered workshops total 22,000sq.m and are served by a 2x60-tonne gantry. To my mind, we’re very well equipped for a wide range of assembly work.

The Damen group has immense expertise and vast resources. Damen Shipyards Antalya in Turkey, for instance, is the go-to yard for high-tech composite shipbuilding. We can work with yards like Antalya to offer designs combining the assembly at Dunkerque of, say, a conventional hull and a composite superstructure. One of my aims is to make better use of group synergies in both R&D and batch shipbuilding.

What are your markets?

Pretty much everything. But, if we’re talking about composite structures, service boats, including pilot and rescue boats, are a definite interest. We’re also keeping a close eye on the marine renewable energy sector. Damen has developed its own designs for MRE maintenance vessels and, given the size of the Dunkerque yard, we are well equipped to assemble turbine modules.

There is also local demand for vessel types that have long contributed to the group’s international reputation. I’m thinking of dredgers, a core component of Damen’s DNA. But, as I said, we’re interested markets across the board. We have the naval architects and the systems, not to mention our proven expertise in working with steel.

You mentioned ship conversions?

Yes, conversions are potentially a big market for Damen Dunkerque; particularly, conversions to LNG propulsion. To comply with the latest environmental regulations, more and more vessels will be retrofitted for LNG. It’s an area where we want to make our mark. The same applies to the retrofitting of exhaust gas scrubbers, where we’ve developed a range of products that can be tailored to all types of ships.

You’re based at a port with a proud maritime history. Does this result in any direct benefits?

Absolutely. We employ 150 staff drawn from a pool of highly qualified local talent. We also enjoy excellent relations with the local authorities and elected officials as well as the Dunkerque port authorities. Everyone is committed to local industry in general and to our presence in particular. Indeed, this is one of the reasons we want to expand into new areas while continuing to work in traditional markets like ship repairs and ferries. To remain competitive, especially against eastern European yards, we must continue to develop original solutions.

Interview by Caroline Britz, © Mer et Marine, published on 12 October 2017. Translated and adapted by Steve Dyson.