Arranged by Stephen Elliott Esq, Publisher
It cannot be ignored, COVID19 presence and its impact on our lives is everywhere – gnawing at the edges of our existence more aggressively daily. New variants threaten the easing of lockdown measures, activities are forbidden and dear lives succumb to the virus, leaving gaping holes in our families. Nevertheless, human ambition to survive and thrive once again continue on a pathway of “normalcy” that endures. While requirements for defence materiel and naval assets remain a constant as national defence and industrial strategies struggle to maintain a pre-COVID existence, new ways of fulfilling obligations to defence organisations become available as shipbuilders adapt and find new ways of meeting their demanding build schedules and realise new efficiencies.
Maritime Security and Defence (MSD) spoke with several international shipbuilders, posing the same question to them: “What measures did your company take (or have in place), allowing it to thrive despite COVID-19?” Shipbuilders are finding novel practices and a “new normal”. The following are some overviews about measures the leadership of these shipyards took to meet customer demand and overcome COVID challenges. This editorial focus provides MSD readers with an opportunity to benefit from these shipyards’ new best practices and processes.
David Massey, CEO, ADSB, United Arab Emirates
The pandemic presented significant challenges to ADSB, as it interrupted land-based material supply chains due to border closures, and deliveries of combat systems parts from European suppliers during the lock-down.
A more serious challenge was the rapid transmission of the virus within the 500+ members of the workforce who live onsite, in many cases sharing rooms. ADSB was one of the first companies in the UAE to implement a mass weekly testing regime for all of its onsite staff, and severely restricted access to the site from outside while the administrative staff worked remotely.
Measures to contain the virus involved: designating multiple buildings as isolation facilities for those who tested positive; quarantine for those exposed; and, separate facilities for those tested negative or recovered. Staff members were moved sometimes every few days where necessary. With a healthy workforce largely in their 20s to 40s, only a very small number of those who were tested positive required hospital treatment. Surely there was an impact on workforce availability; however, ADSB never closed down and (rather) maintained support to its customers throughout the pandemic, working with staff members who were all regularly tested negative.
As commercial customers tried to mitigate the effect of vessels being off-charter or not being used in oil service operations, they brought the vessels forward for maintenance activities. We benefitted from this unexpected outcome; driving the ADSB commercial repair and maintenance revenues in 2020 are significantly ahead.
Although international movement restrictions impacted on business development, we used this time to strengthen our design team and develop new projects. At the forthcoming IDEX exhibition in February we will be able to show prototypes for several new vessels, which – for the first time – are completely designed and built by ADSB.
Hein van Ameijden, CEO, Damen Naval, The Netherlands
I believe that the COVID19 outbreak has the potential to transform how business is done globally in our industry and across many sectors. Damen responded decisively to the pandemic with new safety measures supporting new efficiencies, i.e. remote working. The restrictions caused international supply chain disruptions, travel reductions and presented other challenges, such as preventing our customers and strategic suppliers from attending/performing testing and commissioning activities at our sites abroad. However, the solid relations between our teams, customers and suppliers led to new ways of progressing work within strict safety measures to continue serving our customers.
COVID19 demands maximum flexibility and solution creativity with respect to working from our offices and from home. From secure IT connections to organisation and project agreements, all solutions must be well considered and balanced. Many people still work remotely, as the Netherlands finds itself in a second lockdown, so we lean more on digital communication for our daily work, with clients and each other. I think these changes were coming anyway, but the virus outbreak certainly accelerated them.
The pandemic will also accelerate developments in sustainability in this increasingly environmentally conscious and health and safety-minded world. The sustainability performance of our products is becoming ever more important, especially with Western countries. It is something we anticipated and is a main theme in our R&D initiatives we undertake with industry partners, research institutes and universities.
We are quite confident in our post-COVID business prospects as our market position grows in Europe: Combat Support Ship contract for the Royal Netherlands Navy (RNLN), our selection as main contractor for the new Anti-Submarine Warfare Frigates (ASWF) for both the RNLN and the Belgian Navy, the F126 frigates contract for the German Navy, the pre-selection of SAAB/Damen for the replacement programme of the RNLN Walrus-class submarines, and the role of Damen as coordinator of Sea Defence, the first naval European Defence Industrial Development Programme project. We will continue to focus on launching customer programmes in the European and home markets.
As for the rest of the world, we expect government budget cuts, as a result of COVID19, meaning more demand for compact, cheaper vessels. This is a promising opportunity for our flexible and future-proof portfolio for navies and coast guards, especially our SIGMA range of combat and ENFORCER range of logistic and amphibious ships.
Julia Maris, EVP for Defence and National Security, ENGIE Solutions, France
When the pandemic started to affect us, our first actions were to protect our employees because we put their safety above all other considerations. We therefore adapted and put in place appropriate procedures to avoid infection in places where we operate, providing the means to protect ourselves and imposing strict compliance with barrier and physical distancing measures.
Furthermore, we are very active in the field of Maintenance in Operational Condition. For our clients, this involves strategic issues related to the national sovereignty of the countries concerned. They must be able to use their equipment at all times. We, therefore, remain in action, whatever the circumstances, to carry out our maintenance plans and guarantee a high level of availability for the equipment in our charge.
We have continued to grow in the naval industry, winning several major contracts. These include, for example, the contract to install the entire HVAC system for 12 new-generation mine hunters for the Belgian and Dutch navies. We will also be providing maintenance in operational condition for the icebreaker Astrolabe, operated by the French navy in Antarctica and the Indian Ocean.
Finally, this global pandemic has led us to innovate and we are now able to incorporate bio-decontamination solutions to guarantee a healthy environment on board ships and combat the spread of viruses. Completely modular, these solutions can be adapted to the concrete needs of vessel operators to include, if necessary, new equipment to combat viruses (including UV lamps, HEPA filters, etc.) as well as automation programs specific to the circumstances.
Eitan Zucker, CEO, Israel Shipyards, Israel
Israel Shipyards, has thrived despite COVID-19. We entered this new phase in a strong position, and were able to meet the challenges through flexibility and an agile response to required changes, even without any significant government assistance. First, regarding operational and manufacturing activities, we established a Corona-focused routine to protect the health and safety of our employees – implementing strict social distancing, limiting the number of workers in close proximity at any given time, requiring masks to be worn at all times, imposing personal hygiene procedures, and continually monitoring the health of each individual. In addition, we maintained ongoing communications with all personnel, ensured a strong managerial presence, and made emotional and other support readily available.
Next, we significantly expanded our digital customer engagements – providing virtual tours of our premises, holding dozens of online meetings, and delivering webinars for clients around the world. Our main takeaway from this crisis was the need to prepare plans in advance that ensure maximum support of our customers and attention to their needs. Recognising that they were also experiencing this crisis, we expanded our budgetary assistance, offering exceptionally convenient financing terms, long-term credit, and trade-in options. These flexible payment plans enabled the acquisition and leasing of our vessels, even by those facing the most extreme budgetary restrictions, and allowed them to meet their critical need to upgrade their maritime security.
Our post-COVID plans cover the development of an array of customisable new solutions that expand our current offerings, ensure the continuous high performance of our vessels, and create new health safeguards – including advanced means of identifying and isolating those exposed to contagious diseases. In addition, we plan to enter new markets, which are tangential to military markets, such as humanitarian aid, disaster relief, and routine policing and security.
Lena Ströbele, Managing Director, Fr Lürssen Werft, Germany
Due to the current situation regarding the Corona crisis, we have implemented numerous preventive measures at all our shipyard locations. In addition to the various standard hygiene measures, we have also introduced, for example, shift working in production so less employees are working at the same time, introduced zoning areas to keep unnecessary contact to a minimum and also work-from-home opportunities for various office functions. These measures follow the current recommendations that come from the Robert Koch Institute, as well as the specifications of the German health authorities. In addition, we are in close contact with the regulatory bodies on a daily basis so that we can reassess the situation on site each day and ensure we adjust our operating procedures at short notice if necessary.
So far, we have continued regular operation at our shipyards, taking the current circumstances into account. We are confident that we will be able to continue to lead our shipyard group through the current crisis without any substantial disruptions, subject to the given restrictions and precautions. However, we are already noticing that internal operating expenses have increased significantly and that the global shipbuilding market has clouded over, with strong effects on the German shipyard landscape.