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8 June 2017 - Nina Svensson

DEME: Using Bremen as a base to focus on offshore projects

Wind energy

How an investment in a jack-up vessel opened up a new chapter in the company’s history

Christopher Iwens, General Manager for German Subsidiaries at DEME, has been working for the group in Germany for 15 years.
Christopher Iwens, General Manager for German Subsidiaries at DEME, has been working for the group in Germany for 15 years. © Bremeninvest/Frank Pusch

GeoSea, a subsidiary of the Belgian DEME group, is helping to construct of some of the largest offshore wind farms in the German North Sea, including the Hohe See, Merkur and Borkum Riffgrund 2 installations. Projects like these, which resulted from a partnership with Hochtief, are managed from GeoSea’s base in Bremen – for a good reason.

The Belgium-based DEME Group has worked on offshore projects since the 1990s, collaborating with the Hochtief construction company for many of those years. Together, the two companies set up a joint venture for the purposes of constructing and operating the jack-up vessel Innovation. In 2015, Hochtief sold its shares and all its offshore assets to the DEME Group, which then founded GeoSea Infra Solutions GmbH in Bremen in 2016 for the development of its offshore activities. This company is situated at Anne-Conway-Strasse 6 in Bremen’s technology park and has around 80 employees today.

This is just a brief summary of a fascinating chain of developments, which actually began back in Wilhelmshaven in 1968. At that time, DEME had obtained the contract for deepening the outer Jade estuary from the Waterways and Shipping Office. For this project, Ackermans & van Haaren, a company that would later go on to found the DEME Group, established Nordsee Nassbagger- und Tiefbau GmbH, which was initially based in Wilhelmshaven. “It was DEME’s first milestone in Germany,” remarks Christopher Iwens, General Manager for German Subsidiaries at DEME. The company acquired further contracts and opened a branch in Hamburg in 2003. “The gravel that we dredged from the North Sea was processed in Hamburg for use in the construction industry.”

In 2007, Nordsee Nassbagger- und Tiefbau GmbH relocated to Anne-Conway-Strasse 9 in Bremen, acquiring a central site within close reach of the Elbe, Weser, Jade and Ems rivers. Around the same time, the company’s partnership with the Hochtief group was flourishing. “Dredging and hydraulic engineering made for a good combination, and we complemented each other ideally,” explains Iwens. This partnership ultimately resulted in a joint venture: Hochtief had wanted to construct an offshore installation vessel with Beluga Shipping, but the shipping company had to file for insolvency, and so DEME’s offshore subsidiary GeoSea took over the shares instead. In 2010, Hochtief and GeoSea founded HGO Infrasea Solutions GmbH, a company based in Bremen that would be responsible for the construction and operation of a jack-up vessel named Innovation.

“It’s just like in Formula 1 – a ship is only as good as its crew. The Innovation is operated by a fantastic 20-strong team that work in two shifts.”

Christopher Iwens, General Manager for German Subsidiaries at DEME

The investment in the Innovation was a pivotal factor in DEME’s expansion of its offshore activities in Germany, as it needed to ensure that the Innovation was used as much as possible. The partnership with Hochtief continued to develop as well – for example, Hochtief, GeoSea and Nordsee Nassbagger- und Tiefbau GmbH established a joint venture for the construction of the Baltic 2 offshore wind farm near Rügen island. Hochtief was acquired by the Spanish construction group ACS in 2011, and ultimately sold its entire offshore division with all its installation vessels and pontoons to GeoSea in 2015. “The stake we had in the company that operated the Innovation was closest to our hearts,” says Iwens. “We didn’t want an unfamiliar partner with whom we didn’t have this shared history.”

The Innovation was subsequently incorporated into the DEME fleet and has flown under a German flag ever since, manned by a German crew. Amid the expanding portfolio of offshore activities, GeoSea Infra Solutions GmbH was founded in January 2016. There were several reasons behind the choice of Bremen as a location for the company’s headquarters – for one thing, Nordsee Nassbagger- und Tiefbau GmbH was already located there. Another decisive factor was the central location in relation to the Ems, Jade, Weser and Elbe rivers, as well as the city’s proximity to the coast. One more positive influence came in the form of an invitation from Bremeninvest and the Senator for Economic Affairs, Labour and Ports, who encouraged DEME’s board of directors to visit and see for themselves how appealing Bremen and Bremerhaven were as a location for maritime industry.

GeoSea is actively involved in construction projects such as the offshore wind farms Hohe See and Borkum Riffgrund 2. However, the company also focuses on the area of project development: DEME has a stake in the project development company Merkur Offshore GmbH, while GeoSea has been working on the turnkey construction of the offshore wind farm since August 2016. “Prefabrication is currently taking place and the foundations are under construction,” Iwens explains. “As a single-source provider, we also carry out all kinds of services in the area – from the search for weapons on the ocean floor to scour protection that prevents the current from washing away the sand around the foundations.” Merkur, which is located around 45 kilometres north of Borkum island, is scheduled for completion at the beginning of 2019.

GeoSea’s order book is full until the end of 2019. The Federal Network Agency is currently inviting tenders for the construction of additional wind farms, although this work is not scheduled to begin until 2021. “It’s important that we establish another pillar alongside project development and the construction of wind farms,” says Iwens. For this reason, GeoSea intends to focus on the maintenance and repair of offshore wind farms in the North Sea in future. “Every facility is like a power plant on the water, and there’s a lot of attrition through wind, weather and salt water. Maintenance work can also be carried out with ships smaller than the Innovation, which means the entire fleet could be more fully utilised.”

Whether dealing with large-scale projects or maintenance work, Iwens and the entire DEME group prefer to seek out partnerships. “We’re happy to work with partners, since not everyone can do everything and have everything. We have our ships, for example, while other businesses provide the manpower,” explains Iwens. It’s important for him that the partnerships are not only compatible on a business level, but also on a human level.

“Business is between people. In order to be mutually successful, partners have to develop a high level of confidence in their working relationship.”

Christopher Iwens, General Manager for German Subsidiaries at DEME

On the subject of working relationships, roughly 20 employees at the Bremen site currently work for Nordsee Nassbagger- und Tiefbau GmbH and around 80 for GeoSea. Some of them come from Belgium. “When we began last year, things took off immediately, so we had to get some DEME employees over from Belgium to work in Bremen. But now we are gradually employing more workers from Germany, meaning the Belgians can go back. It’s an ongoing process,” explains Iwens. “Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to find skilled workers. The offshore sector is very demanding.”

Click here for further information on relocating to Bremen and setting up a business in the city.

For more information about GeoSea, view www.deme-group.com/geosea

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