Ships don’t wait
The importance of speed in ship repair and maintenance
Rapid response and intervention was built into the philosophy and culture of Hydrex when the company was founded in 1974.
“The idea that the ship will not wait, that the job has to be done now, that we need to be ready with everything and then go, always appealed very much to me,” says Boud Van Rompay, founder and CEO of Hydrex. “I liked the idea that you could mobilize a team and you didn’t have to explain that speed was of the essence. There is no time for excuses or delays. The ship is there. It needs us. We have to go now and get the job done.”
Boud also took great pleasure in having the right equipment and in the efficient handling of logistics. He recalls in the very early days when the fledgling company was mainly involved in hull cleaning, he received a call to clean a 110 m coaster in Denmark. With a student as an assistant, he set off immediately in his Peugeot 304 pulling a trailer with equipment all the way to Denmark and cleaned the ship in a day.
Today, thousands of major and minor interventions later, the operations are more sophisticated, the team larger and more experienced, the equipment more streamlined, the expectations higher. But the same spirit of getting the job done rapidly and efficiently pervades the company and all who work here.
“We respond as soon as an inquiry comes in,” says Yannick Wyckmans, an experienced diver now in charge of technical estimations. Ship equipment failures, groundings and other problems do not adhere to a 9-5, Monday-Friday schedule. Delays in repair are costly to the owner, possibly dangerous for the crew. Hydrex operates a 24/7 line for this purpose.
Estimations immediately requests the information needed to estimate the job rapidly and accurately. The chief diver and senior divers estimate manpower and time needed. “We aim to get the estimate out to the client the same day we receive the inquiry,” says Yannick.
When the estimate has been approved and a purchase order received, the whole team goes into action to get the job successfully completed on schedule. There are a thousand variables to deal with, including flights, customs, weather and diving conditions, and the efficiency of local suppliers.
Toon Joos, chief diver, who has been with Hydrex for close to twenty years, explains, “It all starts with good planning: assembling the team, making sure it is the right size and that the individuals have the right knowledge for the job. You have to know who you can put together to create a really strong team.”
Technical services take care of the planning, logistics and running the job long distance. Dave Bleyenberg has been with Hydrex for 27 years, first as a diver and later in technical services, where he works with another experienced diver, Timoty Verhoegstraete. They arrange transport, flights, shipping of equipment, a workboat or other equipment, as well as fabrication at a local workshop if, for example, a cofferdam needs to be designed and constructed. Everything must dovetail. “You don’t want a team of divers waiting for a workboat or class inspector,” says Dave.
“Communication with the client, classification society, captain, crew and all involved is vital,” he continues. “They need to know the plan. Also there is the communication from our team in the field to us. When they need information or help, we must act fast so as not to slow the job down.”
Raquel Aparicio, manager of our Algeciras office, says, “Speed of getting the job done requires constant monitoring, close follow-up and fast, efficient communication. To achieve that it is essential to have a good network of contacts you can trust – suppliers, third parties, agencies, and so on. We demand high speed and quality of service from our suppliers since this inevitably affects our speed of performance.” Excellent local support is something that Hydrex has consciously built up over the years since the early days.
A well-equipped and organized rapid response center in Antwerp is crucial to the success of every job. Thousands of pieces of equipment and supplies must be purchased, maintained and rapidly deployable. This is the domain of Equipment Officer, Koen Smouts, a 23-year Hydrex veteran who runs the depot with military precision, ready to mobilize for any job at a moment’s notice.
Get the job done
The real work begins once the team has been assembled, equipment and logistics taken care of, flights for personnel and freight arranged and the team has arrived on site.
Philip Martens, a senior diver who started with Hydrex in 1993, and has successfully led many teams, says, “Safety comes first. You can’t rush. Next comes the education and briefing of the team members. You must maintain quality. Better do one job well than ten poorly.”
The team leaders have an enviable record of getting jobs done within the estimated time. Toon Joos summarizes the recipe for success. “Create a strong team. Make sure everyone knows what to do. Good toolbox talks. Very thorough shift turnovers so everyone knows what still has to be done and what the immediate action is. Even with the best planning you always run into unexpected situations – that’s shipping! Be prepared for them and just deal with them.”
Clément Paquet, an experienced senior diver, says, “The most efficient way to get the job done as quickly as possible is to put the right people on the job. Each diver has different strengths and skills. As team leader you select the right people and prepare day and night shifts, making sure the teams are equally strong. Training is vital. Initial training occurs at the depot. But in the end you will learn the profession not in the practice tank but on the job.”
On a recent stern tube seal repair in Australia, Hydrex estimated two 5-man teams would take three days to complete the repair. Another company estimated twice as many people to get the job done in the same time. The owner’s insistence on Hydrex doing the job was vindicated when the seals of both propellers were fully and successfully repaired 50 hours after our team’s arrival.
Another vessel suddenly found itself without a reliable depth sounder since both transducers had chosen the same moment to stop working. They couldn’t sail. Drydock was a very expensive option. The captain recalls, “Time was extremely important for us, not knowing our exact schedule. We were incredibly impressed with what we could accomplish and organize with Hydrex over a weekend. Having initially reached out on Saturday, by Sunday evening we had a team that was flying in on the Tuesday to complete the job on the Wednesday. Extremely swift, helpful correspondence; solutions, not problems.”
A cruise ship grounded in Europe needed immediate help. The call came in over the weekend. A team of divers rapidly drove to the location and soon had a cofferdam in place over the damage, enabling the ship to sail to drydock for permanent repair. The job was finished well within the estimated time.
A great team
“You can have the best equipment, procedures, service station, facilities, network of contacts and so on, but you cannot achieve quality and speed of service without the human team that makes that possible,” says Raquel. “Personnel must be motivated and committed as well as having the qualifications and skills required to perform their duties in the most effective and efficient manner.”
And Philip Martens says proudly, “We’ve got a great team! Everybody goes for it. That includes the newer guys. We are professional on the job. Everyone knows what to do. And there is great team spirit.”
The customer wins
Speed of response and rapid completion of the job has been a Hydrex hallmark since the early 1970s, just as the company’s founder conceived it.
Those who benefit the most are the many satisfied customers who call Hydrex with confidence and whose trust is vindicated by the results.
This article is shared by courtesy of Hydrex – www.hydrex.be – Hydrex provides worldwide underwater maintenance and repair services to the shipping and the offshore industry. As a result drydocking is avoided, saving time, trouble and expense.