Grand Bahama Shipyard Limited is one of the largest ship repair companies in the Caribbean and Gulf Coast regions, with three floating docks and all the facilities required to perform the most complicated repair, upgrade and conversion projects for cruise liners and commercial vessels. David Soyka makes a port of call.
From the Grand Bahama shipyard docks, it’s 108 miles to Miami, some 1,200 miles to the Panama Canal and just over a thousand miles to Houston. In nautical terms, these are but short distances and, as such, places the company in the midst of heavily traveled Caribbean and Gulf Coast cruise liner and commercial shipping lanes. On top of this convenient access, the shipyard also features the region’s two largest floating docks.
Founded in 1999, and named after the country that serves as its home base, Grand Bahama Shipyard was initially established to meet the repair and docking needs of the region’s popular cruise line industry. Most North American cruises sail the Caribbean, and the Bahamas is the busiest port of call. The cruise ship segment’s needs are time critical, as Grand Bahama’s Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Carl-Gustaf Rotkirch points out. “The segment is a seasonal market with most repair and maintenance work conducted primarily during the winter and spring. Ships must be fully operable when the peak season starts.”
But the commercial ship segment became another major focus. “We set an objective to attain at least half of our revenues from commercial ships, specifically for the gas and oil industry, which has a significant presence in the Gulf region,” says Rotkirch.
The commercial segment includes seismic ships, general cargo ships and tankers, and the company has also begun taking on offshore fabrication projects, adds Rotkirch. Grand Bahama Shipyard has surpassed what it initially hoped to achieve. “Today, commercial customers comprises about 60 percent of our business,” he reports. “When we first started, they represented only 25 percent of our work.”
INVESTING IN FACILITIES AND PEOPLE
With this expanding customer base, the company has expanded its facilities. About three years ago, Grand Bahama Shipyard (which once had to turn down business due to inadequate capacity) invested approximately $50 million in infrastructure that included acquiring an additional floating dock and preparing some 1,300 feet of wet berthing.
Today, the company has three wet berths. The Finger Pier berth can moor vessels up to 1,000 feet on both sides. The water depth alongside the pier exceeds 50 feet. The North Beach wet berth, with its heavy mooring facilities, can moor vessels up to 1,115 feet. It also has a water depth that exceeds 50 feet. The East Beach berth includes 1,000 feet of mooring facilities and has a water depth of 40 feet.
Currently, the shipyard maintains three floating docks. Two of these measure about 1,000 feet in length. The third measures 880 feet. One floating dock is 192 feet wide and boasts a lifting capacity of 82,500 tons. It handles vessels up to VLCC (very large crude carrier) size and cruise vessels up to 150,000 GRT (gross register tonnage), as it is fitted with two 24-ton cranes and a 32-ton crane, as well as a high voltage power supply system. The second dock is 179 feet wide, is fitted with two 40-ton cranes, and has a 54,000-ton lifting capacity. A third dock is 880 feet long, 115 feet wide and has a lifting capacity of 27,000 tons. It is fitted with two 20-ton cranes and capably handles Panamax vessels that travel through the Panama Canal.
The company maintains various on-site steel, mechanical, pipe, electrical and general maintenance workshops, as well as a rigging store and warehousing and office facilities. In 2003, the yard achieved ISO 9001:2008 accreditation from Lloyd’s Register.
Further, specialist contractors working from the yard supplement the shipyard’s 700 direct employees. “Our core skills relate to project management, hull treatment, steel, mechanical, piping and electrical work,” Rotkirch details. And when the company needs to venture into more complicated machinery – such as main engines, propellers or turbo blowers – it has established the requisite corporate agreements with several vendors that can supply the necessary services on an as-needed and subcontracted basis.
As the Bahamas is positioned at the shipping industry’s center, Grand Bahama Shipyard finds no problem attracting the most appropriately skilled tradespersons. Still, the company recognizes the need to develop local talent, notes Rotkirch. “So, we offer a four-year apprentice program for Bahamian high school graduates. Presently, we have 41 enlisted apprentices. In addition, we sponsor two Bahamian students to go to the United States and Canada to obtain academic degrees in naval architecture and marine engineering. Of course, we hope they’ll come back and put their new skills to work for us.”
COSTS, QUALITY AND SAFETY
Rotkirch indicates that quality is the overriding factor that steers all repair and maintenance work. “We aren’t always the least expensive, but being cheap isn’t always the prime consideration,” he emphasizes. “We offer a range of value-added services that produce highest quality results. Foremost is turnaround time. For example, cruise ship operators can’t afford delays when the prime season approaches. Delays can result in cancelled cruises and, in turn, revenue loss. As such, a shipyard such as ours, which has a record of fulfilling contracts on time, will always be the preferred shipyard.”
Safety is also paramount, he stresses. The fully certified Grand Bahama Shipyard operates with firmly entrenched Health and Safety Management and Environmental Management systems that comply with OHSAS 18001:2007 and ISO 14001:2004. “We carry out our activities in accordance with established procedures, and we take the practical steps that avoid risks to employees and any other individuals at our yard,” says Rotkirch.
Contracts to maintain or repair ships are typically negotiated on an individual basis, although there are some fleet agreements. A dedicated project manager is appointed as the customer’s prime point of contact for each contract. Some of the bigger projects can take up to a year from contract until completion.
“Currently, we have eight ships in the yard, comprising a nice mix that includes container, seismic, tanker and cruise vessels,” Rotkirch says.
GLOBAL CATASTROPHES: ENVIRONMENTAL AND ECONOMIC
While the recent Gulf oil spill significantly increased shipping traffic in the area, Rotkirch says it hasn’t yet resulted in any uptick in his company’s business. “But we’re closely monitoring the situation and expect to see some future opportunities,” he adds.
At the very least, one anticipated result is additional requirements placed on drilling equipment, which should provide a big business boost to equipment suppliers. As far as Grand Bahama Shipyard is concerned, this might not directly impact ships, but it could result in additional business for the company’s developing offshore fabrication operations, indicates Rotkirch.
On the economic front, while Grand Bahama Shipyard suffered repercussions last year from the global economic nosedive, it sees a quick recovery in its own fortunes. “We had a slight, but noticeable, increase in the spring that’s encouraging,” notes Rotkirch. “No business is recession proof, but we have a number of key advantages, chief of which is our location. Add that to that our reputation for reliability and turnaround – as well as our experience and established business relationships – and you can see that we have a significant competitive advantage.”
In other words, it’s clear sailing and full steam ahead for this maritime enterprise.