DHSS – Setting the standard in vessel & helicopter logistics for offshore wind

DHSS, founded in Den Helder in 1997, is placing its mark as a transport and logistics agency in the offshore wind market. Originally locally based, the company is now providing services from all over the Netherlands. With all the offshore wind projects coming up, the future for DHSS looks very bright and Wim Schouwenaar, owner and founder of DHSS, has set his mind on becoming the leader as vessel & helicopter logistics agency.

An interview with Wim Schouwenaar, CEO of DHSS

DHSS has been active for 22 years now. How did it all started?
“After graduating in 1989 I immediately started working for a vessel & logistics agency in Den Helder, part of Oudkerk BV in Rotterdam. They handled the logistics for the major offshore companies. In 1995, Oudkerk decided to close their Den Helder base. The next two years I worked for a vessel trader. Having brought along with me a large market network I was posed by several of those contacts with the question whether I would consider starting my own agency. They gave me their commitment, so I did. With a client base, consisting mainly of seismic companies, ready to serve, I started building up DHSS myself. With a very small team, we were working seven days a week, handling everything for them, from A to Z, including helicopter crew changes. That’s how I got in touch with Den Helder Airport. Helicopter Operator KLM ERA (now CHC Helicopters) asked us to set up a cargo handling system here because of our customs knowledge and so we started to expand our helicopter logistics. In 2017 we also opened an vessel agency office in Eemshaven and IJmuiden.”

Since then, DHSS has made quite some progress. What is the current size of your company?
“We currently employ 35 people, operating from our support bases in Den Helder, IJmuiden and Eemshaven. We have plans to expand our current facilities in IJmuiden and Eemshaven so I am pretty sure my answer would already be different if you ask me the question again in a few months!”

Your company has shown growth in the past few years in particular, what has driven this rapid growth?
“True, when I come to think about it, in 2017 we had 15 people working at DHSS so we more than doubled our capacity over the past two years only. This growth is mainly driven by our expanding activities for the offshore wind industry. Our oil and gas clients, particularly those with guard vessels, were taking on contracts in offshore wind and asked us to also serve them in this market. With our long experience in offshore it wasn’t difficult to do so. In fact, when we had our first meetings with the offshore wind clients to discuss a logistics plan, they were surprised how well prepared we were.”

Since one year, the newly built support base in Eemshaven is open. What made you decide to start in Eemshaven in the first place?
“The vessels from our first wind contract were initially arriving in Eemshaven so we had to arrange with Groningen Seaports to be added as Ships Agency in their port system. In 2013 our activities from this port were minor. Nothing that couldn’t be handled remotely. In 2017 we realised that the volume of work had increased and was still growing so it made sense to start branding our name there. We hired our first local staff to be based in Eemshaven, all still managed on a part-time basis, in a rented space in the Nijlicht office building.”

“All accelerated, however, when we were awarded a multi-million contract by GE Renewable Energy for ships agency and port logistics services for their Merkur Offshore Wind Farm in February 2018. We had to move forward. With a contract of that size we needed to be more permanently based there so the decision was made to build our own office and warehouse, together with Bek & Verburg, a shipping waste handler. To bridge the time, nine months, between the start of the contract and the completion of the new offshore base, we were literally working from a portacabin, using DIXIs!”

What is the share of wind in your company’s activities?
“When I started in 1997, the activities were mainly concentrated in the oil and gas industry, and in particular in seismic. Nowadays, wind has definitely taken over the main share of our activities and I expect this to continue to grow. For the next ten years or so at least, oil and gas will also still be part of our business.“

The port of Eemshaven is becoming quite an offshore wind hub, as is the case for Vlissingen and Rotterdam. How do you see the role of Den Helder, your company’s home base?
“Eemshaven was the first port to be used for offshore wind related activities, being ideally located in the proximity of many German projects and of course the Dutch Gemini project. Vlissingen and Rotterdam are likewise perfectly suited to do the same for the Borssele I to V projects, and also the UK and Belgian projects. All those ports are well fitted to serve as O&M base but also as base ports for the installation activities and storage of the large components.”

“The port of IJmuiden is in turn favourably located for the near future Hollandse Kust Zuid and Noord projects. But so is Den Helder. Both ports lack the space to seriously take care of the installation phase but they are ideal commissioning and O&M marshalling ports. There are good facilities and an experienced offshore related supply chain for vessel operators and offshore wind operators in O&M. In addition, Den Helder has an utilized offshore heliport. I see a perfect cooperation between the two ports. Moreover, it is a necessity to work together, I don’t think they are fully aware yet of the volume of work that could head their way.”

For the German Deutsche Bucht project you used the Den Helder heliport. With the new heliport in Eemshaven, closer to the German wind farms, will this take away work from Den Helder?
“It’s not just the distance to the projects that counts when choosing your heliport to transfer people to and from wind farms. There is an entire process taking place in advance and following the transfer. Where are the people coming from that need to be transferred? Are they locally based or international? In case of the latter they will arrive at an international airport, Schiphol. We will need to pick them up, arrange hotels, arrange their suits and equipment and bring them to the heliport. You have to take the costs for the entire package into consideration.”
“Another element is the timing. For example, you can only fly by daylight from the heliport in Eemshaven. Den Helder Airport can be used day and night, due to it being an IFR heliport. The flexibility, we as DHSS can offer the clients, is that we are able to arrange flights ad hoc and from whatever heliport the client prefers to fly, whether it is Den Helder, Eemshaven or even Emden. Our knowledge in offshore aviation and the wind market is key for our clients. Together we arrange the most efficient and safest solutions.”

Not everybody sees helicopters as the most desirable method of transferring people to wind farms. How do you see the future for helicopter logistics in offshore wind?
“There are several elements that need to be taken into consideration. One is the distance to the wind farm. Another element is the urgency of getting an engineer to a failing turbine. A helicopter can operate in worse weather conditions than crew transfer vessels or service operation vessels. The offshore wind market has seen a huge growth in the size of wind turbines. This has many advantages but at the same this also means that any downtime has immediately more impact on the production and, as a consequence, revenue. The sooner an engineer is on location, the better.”
“Another development we have seen in offshore wind in the Netherlands are the zero-subsidy tenders. This sounds good, yet we still have to see whether this will not impact the quality of the installations. Helicopter logistics are and will be in general, and especially during O&M, a must have, at least as a back-up contract.”

Text: Sabine Lankhorst

This article appeared in Wind Energy Magazine N0 3 2019. All photos: DHSS

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