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A blessing in disguise

HillebrandSometimes things are just meant to be. When Hillebrand several years ago announced their plans for a new quay at their Vlissingen location, no one was thinking of a long delay. Nothing less was true though, as the Dutch nitrogen emissions crisis threw a spanner in the works. However, in the end all things positively came together with the recent acquisition of the Vlissingen facilities of the former De Donge Shipyard.

Jan Krielaart, Managing Director of the company, explains. “Our company should have had a new 250m long quay operational at our location in Vlissingen in January 2020. An extra terrain of 44,000m2 would have been realised behind this new quay, providing us with additional storage and handling space. Furthermore, new offices together with a new construction hall and painting facilities would have been constructed as well, to prepare ourselves for the future.”

18,000 projects stalled
Before the construction works could start, the project came to a halt. The Council of State, which is the Netherlands’ highest administrative court, in May 2019 stated that government rules for granting construction permits and farming activities that emit large amounts of nitrogen, were breaching EU legislation. As a result, up to 18,000 infrastructure and construction projects were stalled, including Hillebrand’s project.

A front-row seat
“Stalling our project was a disappointment for us at first,” Mr Krielaart states, “as this was planned to meet the expected growth in demand from the offshore and infrastructural industry. At Hillebrand, 50% of work consists of infrastructural assignments such as the construction of steel bridges. The other 50% comes from the offshore industry. Both markets have a lot of projects in the pipeline. When looking at the offshore industry, small amounts of work still comes from the oil & gas industry and on top of this, the development of the planned offshore wind farms will need tonnes of steel structures. Also, offshore turbines are growing in size, meaning larger installation vessels are needed that require sufficient mooring facilities, for example for mobilisation and demobilisation. With our location in Vlissingen, with sufficient draught and a lock-free direct connection to the North Sea, we are already on a front-row seat and with the new quay, additional storage, and workspace, our unique position as a company that can support contractors from A to Z would only get better.”

De Donge Shipyard
While waiting for a solution for the nitrogen emissions issue, an unexpected opportunity presented itself only a few metres from Hillebrand’s location in Vlissingen. Mr Krielaart voices, “500m away from us, at the Kraaijerthaven, lies De Donge Shipyard with a large, covered dock and various construction halls. This shipyard went bankrupt a few years ago and at some point, the premises came up for sale. We never thought of the idea of buying the shipyard before, as we are not shipbuilders and have no intention to become one. However, with the new situation caused by the delay and our desire to act instead of wait, we decided to take a look at the yard to investigate its potential.”

Change of plans
Mr Krielaart was pleasantly surprised with what he saw when visiting the shipyard. “Everything was in excellent shape. The size of the buildings is perfect for us, and the yard has a valuable waterfront”, he says. Hence, Hillebrand all of a sudden became the owner of a shipyard. In buying the De Donge facilities, the company changed its original plans giving it even more workspace and quay facilities. “In our new plans,” Mr Krielaart elaborates, “we are still going to rearrange our own location. This means that some of our existing halls will be demolished and that we will have a new office building constructed on a more suitable point on the terrain. New in our plan is that we will have a 250m quay built that will connect our existing facilities to that of De Donge. This way, our strategic location near the North Sea will be improved as a deep-sea facility for offshore vessels, enabling us to receive vessels with the dimensions of, for example, Bokalift 1, but barges like Allseas Iron Lady and jack-up vessels can visit our quay too. This really will be a great proposition for us in this market. The quay will also expand the terrain of the company, leaving ample space for storage, but also for easy loading out of workpieces on board of vessels and trucks. The yard’s covered dry dock will be filled to ground level, which will result in a very suitable workshop that is already equipped with very useful lifting capacity by means of three overhead cranes.

Steel construction company Hillebrand has been part of ASK Romein since 2017. ASK Romein is one of the leading companies in the construction of steel structures, for example for industrial complexes, data centres, distribution centres, and offshore and infrastructural objects. Located in Middelburg, Hillebrand was active in the construction of infrastructural projects and in 2017 the company was merged with ASK Romein’s construction facilities for offshore projects in Vlissingen. In the new plans, it has now been decided to sell the location in Middelburg, bringing the offshore and infrastructure activities together at the expanded Vlissingen site. “Like in Vlissingen, we have noticed a growing need for space in Middelburg. The width of the canal on which the Middelburg site is located restricts the transport of objects to a maximum of 20m. To obtain a growth in the market for infra projects, we needed to open up the market segment of the larger bridges. This 20m is increasingly becoming a drag on the turnover. The same counts for the available space that is reaching its limits.”

Much better off
Even with closing down Middelburg, the new Vlissingen capacity will leave ample space to be prepared for the future. “Our Vlissingen site currently has a size of 25,000m2. The De Donge site will add 30,000m2, of which 20,000m2 consists of halls. With the construction of the new quay, our open terrain will be expanded by an extra 9,000m2”, Mr Krielaart states. “We can thus conclude that the nitrogen emission crisis was actually a blessing in disguise for us. By buying the shipyard, we are much better off compared to the original plan. Had this not have happened, our original plans would have been finalised by early 2020 and we would not have bought De Donge.”

It is expected that the new quay facilities will be available at the beginning of 2023, three years later than expected. But for Mr Krielaart, the wait is worthwhile. “In our region, not many companies working for the offshore industry can offer facilities like ours. We have everything available on one strategic location to produce and assemble large size steel structures, to store and install them on board of vessels, alongside the ability to receive offshore installation vessels for (de)mobilisation. This acquisition will already give us additional production capacity and the possibility to receive offshore vessels. In the next few years, we will further optimise our location and turn it into a modern facility. Once the entire plan is realised, we will have a top-notch, future-proof deep-sea facility, ready to meet any demand from our markets.”