Cars vs Dutch politics

Typically I blog about topics that in someway relate to the offshore/marine industry, but as I have other hobbies as well, I decided to blog about something else for a change. I wouldn’t go that far as to say that cars in general are my hobby. In terms of Top Gear, I probably am not a true Petrol Head. In my humble opinion, most modern cars all were made from the same mould and generally of no interest to me, maybe with a few exceptions.

It is totally different with classic cars, however, as they have unique designs, are very easy to recognise and identify and in general are much more beautiful than modern cars (I know, it is a matter of taste, but still). When it comes to modes of transportation, I fancy old way over modern as a rule of thumb. A steam train beats every electric or diesel train. A classic sail boat (small or large) is more attractive than a new one. Oldtimer planes win in every aspect of modern planes, except in terms of performance and comfort. And all of the above applies to classic cars as well. I think I am kind of addicted to classics: was raised by a dad who owned a classic glider, am living happily with a lady who owns a classic sail boat and am the proud owner of a classic car. But more on that later.

When it comes to cars vs politics, the first is considered to be and endless source of revenues by the latter. In particular in the Netherlands. It starts with buying a car: the actual sales price of a car straight from the factory is penalized with heavy taxing. Initially it was called BPM (tax on personal cars and motorbikes) and up to 2010 the rate was about 40% or higher. Add 19% VAT over the base price and your car has increased in price from the factory to your house with about 50%.

After 2010 BPM was reduced to around 27% in 2010 and to around 11% in 2012. Good news, you would assume, that is making cars cheaper. Errr, not really. Because the reduction in BPM was more than fully covered by an emission tax, effectively making cars even more expensive than before.

So buying a car is heavily taxed. As is owning a car. Because we have road tax as well, based on engine type and weight and also depending on in which province you live. For a large station wagon,  diesel, with a weight of around 1700 kgs, road tax is around 450 EUR per quarter. So that adds up nicely for the tax office.

Driving a car is even more taxed, starting off with fuel prices which are amongst the highest in the world and include a tax rate of over 60%. Of every liter petrol selling at around EUR 1.75 per liter, over 1 EUR flows straight to the government.

You think you are screwed by now? Well, you are, but imagine what happens when you drive a company car… If you drive a company car and drive it private as well, 500 is the magic number. If you drive more than 500 private kilometers per year in your company car, you need to add 20-25% of the original price (including the BPM and VAT) to your income, and with an income of 2 x Joe Average’s income, it is taxed at 52%.

Obviously, unless you have a second car for private use, which you will not be able to park in any major Dutch city, the only reason why it is possible to drive less than 500 private kilometers per year, is because commuting is not considered to be private.

Fear struck the approximately 250.000 Dutch car drivers who signed the form “No private driving with my company car” earlier this year, when the politicians announced that commuting would be considered to be private driving from 2013 onwards. On average that would mean a tax increase of 4500 EUR, more than a month’s income for Joe Average. Nett. Fortunately that plan was terminated by the new government.

Which brings me to classic cars. As the proud owner of a 1972 Karmann Ghia, I enjoy driving my car. I enjoy looking at it, washing it, pretend to do some minor maintenance on it and – yes – even filling up the gas tank. There is a financial benefit to classic cars as well – setting maintenance aside for a second – because classic cars of 25 years and older, do not need to pay road tax. They only need to have the obliged technical check (APK) every other year in stead of once a year and if you drive them occasionally, insurance is dead cheap.

Our new government, who decided that it does make sense to pay 11% of your income to health care insurance, came up with the bright idea that classic cars from now on will need to pay road tax, despite the fact that the average classic car is driven for less than 2000 kilometers a year. Imagine what that would do to someone with a few classic cars and on a tight budget: several thousands of EUR a year for cars that hardly see tarmac. And consequently most of those cars will be unregistered and not be seen on Dutch roads ever again.

Fortunately, one of the new minsters does own a classic car himself and is now considering cancelling the road tax for oldtimers that are taken on the road occasionally.

I hope he succeeds, it would make my smile just a little bigger when I take my Karmann  out for a drive in summer.

Karmann Ghia 1972 - lovely, huh?

Karmann Ghia 1972 – lovely, huh?

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Dutch (Engineering) Pride

Today I read that a Dutch engineering company, Van den Noort Innovations, was awarded the Innovation Award 2012 of the Wall Street Journal. The company was awarded for their innovative Twin Wing Tsunami Barrier, a clever device that use both the negative and the positive surge that typically occurs in the process of forming a tsunami.

Picture courtesy of Van den Noort Innovations, taken from their website

Picture courtesy of Van den Noort Innovations, taken from their website

 Dutch engineering in combination with water remains to be a winning combination. Van den Noort is not the first, nor will it be the last Dutch company to win prestigious awards or have bright, innovative ideas.

 A few years ago, Blue H was the first to introduce a floating platform that could carry a wind turbine. It is installed off the coast of Brindisi in Italy these days.

Picture courtesy of Blue H, taken from their website

Picture courtesy of Blue H, taken from their website

At the moment they are continuing improving their designs and ideas.

Recently Ulstein Idea Equipment Solutions was awarded the contract for an innovative Pile Gripper Frame, which support the process of driving the foundations of offshore turbines, making sure location and angles are perfect. And probably increase the rate at which the foundations can be installed.

Picture courtesy of Ulstein Idea Equipment Solutions, taken from their website

Picture courtesy of Ulstein Idea Equipment Solutions, taken from their website

Just a few examples of recent developments and ideas, raised on Dutch soil, by Dutch companies. The Dutch are not known for being particularly proud of their nation. Maybe they should reconsider their point of view. And when in doubt, just visit the Delta Works. That should do the trick for sure.

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Is the market picking up again – second attempt

On April 13, 2011, I wrote a blog titled “Is the market picking up again?” in which I stated that the first 2 weeks of April reminded me of October 2004. In October 2004 I noticed a turn-over from crisis to economic growth, increasing business and an increase in market opportunities.

I did get a similar feeling in April 2011, but in hindsight I was only partly right. There are some major differences between April 2011 and October 2004. First of all, the cause of the crisis was different, as well as the magnitude. The crisis of 2002 basically was caused by overheating economies, causing extremely high production output and commodity prices going sky-high.

The 2008 crisis had nothing to do with overheating economies, however, but everything with poor risk assessment of banks and the overwhelming drive to squeeze every penny out of every deal possible. No sensible person would normally think it would be a great idea to massively trade in products referred to as “subprime”. The banks did and traded heavily in mortgages that were of less value than the paper the contracts were printed on.

If it were just bad decisions by banks, it would not have been that bad, but the credit crisis resulted in a series of events that basically put the world economy in a deadlock. As the banks were in trouble, money no longer was available. So businesses got in trouble as well. Even worse, as the governments had to bail out the banks (and certain businesses), it turned out that decades of spending more than what they earned, creating huge deficits, resulted in them having to bail out with money they did not have. They had to lend it, causing deficits to increase to a level that is unacceptable.

In the meantime, the public was effected as well: they lost their jobs, became uncertain, saw the value of their houses drop, noticed it became impossible to get new mortgages and were faced with severe cutbacks in spending of the government (read as: tax increases).

By the end of the day, uncertainty was the common feeling, resulting in a decrease in public and private spending. Stock value had fallen dramatically, interest rates as well and in 2009 the oil prices reached rock bottom too.

In my previously blog I was right about the oil and gas industry, however. After dropping to around 35 USD/barrel in 2009, the oil prices bounced back rapidly to around 50 USD, then to 80 USD and after that to a more or less steady level of around 95-100 USD.

Projects that came to a full stop at 35 USD/barrel, became active again at 80 USD and new projects were started up as well. A major setback occurred in 2010, with the Deepwater Horizon incident, but even though it is still of influence on the development of the industry, the oil and gas industry has recovered and is doing very well ever since.

This is also supported by the increase of the installation of offshore wind farms in the North Sea area.

So yes, the market was picking up in April 2011. Or at least the offshore market was.

Were I was totally wrong, was the assumption that it would be picking up in all industries. Offshore oil, gas and renewables may be booming, other market sectors still face(d) difficult times. Money is still hard to get, banks are not lending out easily, clients pay very slowly, commodities are expensive again and cash flow is a major concern.

Looking at the Netherlands, the housing market is dead. Port construction projects (and other major infrastructural projects) are hard to find, leaving construction companies in trouble. Retail has not regained it’s former strong position, since the public is still not eager to spend money on “nice-to-haves”. We still have no government, after the “premature” elections a few weeks ago.

There may be hope for the future, however. The last couple of weeks, I – once again – do notice an increase in the number of enquiries and orders. Not just offshore, but also other sectors. Walking around some exhibitions (primarily oil/gas and offshore renewables, I must admit) I noticed a positive vibe. Expectations seems to rise, the willingness and ability to expand seems to get back, people start talking about how difficult it is to hire people again, rather than discussing how difficult it is to get rid off them. Even though it will take a long time for all sectors of the economy to reach pre-crisis levels, it is a relieve to see positivity again.

I hope I am right this time. One thing is sure, the offshore industry is going to do well in the years to come, worldwide, but also in the North Sea area. The Barents Sea is going to be our new playground, just as offshore wind farming. We just have to keep our fingers crossed that other business areas also start picking up again, because that will benefit us all.

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Enjoying a really good trade show: Offshore Energy 2012

Some people just love to go to or to exhibit on trade shows/exhibitions. They like walking around, chatting to everybody, drinking a beer or two at the after-parties (and afterwards in the local establishments) and do it al over again the next day.

Other people consider trade shows as part of their work, as a necessity, neither really as a pleasure, nor really as a burden.

The third category just hates going there and they will do anything to avoid going there, and succeed in doing so, unless their bosses force them to go.

I guess there is some sort of evolution for most, when they are young the enjoy it, when they get older they accept it and a bit further down the road, they start to hate it.

I belong to the second category, I don’t hate it, but it is not something I normally do because I really enjoy it. I do have to visit quite a number of shows: the Offshore Europe in Aberdeen, the Offshore North Sea in Stavanger, the Europort in Amsterdam and occasionally the OTC in Houston. Plus a few minor shows as well. After a few years, you’ve seen it all. Even though it is a delight to meet your longstanding customers, to meet new potential customers and to hear the latest gossip in the industry, after a while you probably get fed up with it: the shows are becoming bigger and bigger, the ratio of interesting companies / all companies exhibiting is getting smaller, there are too many companies exhibiting in areas you have nothing in common with, except that you both operate in the marine and offshore industry.

Only once in a while you come across a show that is different. More interesting. More enjoyable. And the show I just returned from, definitely is one of those.

As far as I understand, the Offshore Energy exhibition started of as a local exhibition in Den Helder. The venue was the naval museum and it was a very nice, small but cosy exhibition, in a lovely venue – though not the most efficient location for a trade show.

Due to an increase in the number of exhibitors, the show moved to the Amsterdam RAI last year and this was the first time I exhibited there, together with Tideland Signal. It turned out to be a very good show, still not too big, but with high quality visitors and exhibitors.

This year the Offshore Energy again was organised in the Amsterdam RAI, a little bigger than last year and once again, I exhibited with Tideland Signal, this time accompanied by Floatex.

Even though it is impossible to really calculate the added value of a trade show, I am sure this one will turn out to be very, very valuable. Without any doubt, this was one of the best shows I’ve been to in many years and I really enjoyed it. For many different reasons:

  • It is still a small show, visitors can easily cover the show in 1 day
  • Though not as “intense” as in Den Helder, it still is more or less a “cosy” show
  • The quality of visitors and exhibitors is still very high

And most importantly: I can’t recall a show where I met and spoke to so many people, both people I know and new potential clients. I actually received a number of serious enquiries and I do belief this will result in a number of orders.

All in all a tremendous success and without any doubt: Offshore Energy, see you next year!

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Alaska vs Norway, Shell vs ENI, Chukchi Sea vs Barents Sea: Arctic drilling

Shell seems to encounter a lot of criticism in general, but with regard to its onshore operations in Nigeria and her scheduled offshore operations in Alaska in particular. With regard to Nigeria, nobody will be surprised: onshore Nigeria is a mess. But not just because of oil spillage and neither just because of Shell. There are numerous factors that have contributed, are contributing and will continue to contribute to the oil spillage and the damaging consequences of it.

Shell is widely “attacked” because of her Nigerian onshore operations, but for some reason you hardly hear anything about her offshore activities in the same region. Apart, of course, from the Bonga spill earlier this year.

Shell seems to be criticized more frequently and more aggressive than the other “Big Five”. In particular in the Netherlands. Shell’s HQ was temporary “captured” by Greenpeace recently, her gas stations were sabotaged a few weeks ago, and demonstrations against her operations in Alaska are organised on a regular base. Actions that were not even organised against BP after the Deep Horizon incident.

Don’t get me wrong, drilling in the arctic is more challenging and more difficult, hence more risky than drilling in the North Sea, the GoM or in Western Africa. Even in summertime, when there is no ice, the low temperatures will have an impact on the way oil spills can be handled:

  • as a result of low temperatures, the evaporation of oil will be limited
  • low temperatures will increase the viscosity of the oil, potentially creating solid masses of oil
  • marine life is less active at low temperatures, so less oil will be eaten by bacteria, compared to eg. the GoM

Obviously, during wintertime, when icing is a certainty, an oil spill would create huge problems.

Given the impact on the environment, the economy and the day-to-day life of the people living around/depending on the GoM, after the Deepwater Horizon incident, it is understandable that many people are very concerned about drilling in the arctic.

The arguments used by opponents are not very solid, however. First of all, the Deepwater Horizon incident has had a major impact on regulations. Without a proper plan of action, you won’t get permission to drill. Secondly, the Deepwater Horizon incident has had a major impact on oil companies’ attitude toward preventing oil spills. Where BP had to invent a solution after the blow out occurred, the oil companies now have solutions ready on the shelf. Something that should have been done years ago, to be honest, but at least lessons were learned from that incident.

I have seen a number of arguments used against Shell and most of them are flawed. Shell is accused of using old vessels. This argument completely neglects that all vessels used need to be certified. Not just the vessels themselves, but also the equipment they are carrying/using.

It is said that the BOP or the BOP capping stack is tested in shallow waters only. That is (partly)  true. The BOP capping stack indeed is tested in shallow water, as far as I am aware in 200 ft water depth (about 60 m). This argument neglects 2 issues:

  1. The operations in the Chukchi Sea are done in 40-50 m water depth (130 – 165 ft)
  2. At least they have a capping stack available before the operations even begin, something that was not the case with the Deepwater Horizon.

A lot of people use the Deepwater Horizon incident as an argument against drilling offshore Alaska, but that is comparing apples to pears: BP was working in deepwater, where Shell will be working in shallow waters. Meaning that Shell can use divers in case of an emergency and does not need to rely on ROV’s only. Furthermore, BP was operating pretty far off the coast, whereas Shell will be operating very close to shore.

Obviously, the difference in climate is creating problems. Ice will make operations difficult, but by applying proper time windows for critical parts of the operations, one can avoid the ice. Very low temperatures do have an effect on material properties, for example on steel. What people do not seem to realise, is that equipment suitable for arctic conditions already have been developed and are already in use. We have shackles, ROV hooks and other equipment that is certified for use in arctic conditions and are Charpy V-notch tested at -40 degrees C. This kind of equipment is already in use for years in areas such as Kazakhstan and Sakhalin.

To summarize: the Deepwater Horizon incident has had a major impact on regulations, procedures and practices in the offshore industry. And will have in the years to come. This means that offshore operations will become safer and more strict, more than they already were. Combine this with technological developments in the materials, tools and equipment used and the actual risk of a massive blow out and following oil spill in reality is very, very small.

On the other hand: the risk may be small, but if something is going wrong, the consequences are severe and that is the prime reason for taking drilling in the arctic (or anywhere else for that matter) extremely serious. Use best practice, take all steps possible to avoid something going pear-shaped and have contingency plans up and ready.

What does make me wonder, is why it seems to be only Shell to be given all the blame. Shell is not the first to drill offshore Alaska (around 20 years ago there were already offshore drillings in Alaska) and BP also has a drilling rig in the area (though is not drilling yet). Shell has extensive experience in working in arctic conditions, in Kazakhstan, Norway and Sakhalin and most certainly is experienced in offshore operation.

Still, it is not BP who is attacked for scheduling operations in the arctic. And curiously, neither is ENI.

Earlier this week, it was announced that ENI received permission to start drilling in the Goliath field in Norway. Something the Norwegian oil and gas industry has been waiting for many years already. It didn’t make the headlines though. Which is odd, since the Goliath field is located in the Barents Sea. And the Barents Sea lies at around the same latitude as the Chukchi Sea, starting at around 70 degrees N. And anything above ca. 66 degrees North is arctic.

It appears that other issues than merely facts are the reason Shell is treated differently than companies like ENI or BP, so it seems. Maybe Shell should invest a few more bucks in informing the public, by upgrading their Public Affairs/Relations department.

Disclaimer: this blog does not intend to promote/defend Shell or any other oil company.

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Back to marketing school

Since my post in February, a lot has happened.

  •  Construction of our new building has finished
  • The inventory for the warehouse and the office has been purchased, installed and is up-and-ready
  • First stock has come in
  • We’ve had an informal opening for friends and family
  • I own a classic 1972 Karmann Ghia since that opening
  • We’ve got our first orders for the new trading company
  • We sent out a number of mailings
  • I am annoyed daily by the slow internet connection (see previous post)

In short, it’s been rather busy.

Our main company (P.C. Jansen Marine Agencies BV) has been in business for over 35 years now and we are experienced in introducing new agencies, new products and new services. It has become something of a routine for us.

But setting up a new company, even though it is related to the existing one, is a different thing. It has been a while since I founded a new company, so I have become a little rusty in this respect.

A new business only will become a success if you promote it properly, so it is back to marketing school. What steps do I need to take, to raise awareness with my potential customers, to convince them to work with us rather than with competitors and how do we make sure they will come back to us in the future?

For a number of clients, it is not that difficult, since we have been dealing with them for centuries and we know their expectations. However, if you have your own warehouse, which allows you to reduce delivery time substantially compared to being an agent for a foreign company, also allows you to aim for different customers. Shipping from abroad typically means minimum order values, effectively limiting the number of potential clients. As an agent, those very small client are not of relevance, since shipping costs typically are higher than the value of the goods ordered.

With your own warehouse and much lower shipping costs, you’re entering a new ball-game.  Small clients are also of interest, because they too can generate profit.

At the same time, you need to be careful not to interfere with the business of your existing clients, cannibalizing the market.

Either way, I think the first major step is to make yourself visible: participate in exhibitions/trade shows. As a result, we participate in 2 events over the next 2 weeks:

* Offshore Energy 2012, 23 & 24 Oct, RAI Amsterdam, in the booth of Tideland Signal (booth 495B, next to Offshore Wind Farm pavilion)

* Promotiedagen voor het Bedrijfsleven Noord-Nederland, 6 & 7 Nov. Martini Plaza, Groningen, booth 6016.

By all means, feel free to drop by for a chat, a cup of coffee or whatever other reason you may have to visit these shows.

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Moving forward to the 90’s

It’s been a little quiet as far as my blogging is concerned. Moving to a new premises, starting up a new company, it all takes a lot of time, leaving little space for other activities. Especially in difficult economic times, where you need to put a lot of effort in your company to bag the orders everybody is aiming at. Competition is fierce, price levels are below what I consider to be healthy, profit margins suffer and in case something goes wrong, people seem to have a lot of time to spend on complaining. Not the most enjoyable time of my career so far.

Nevertheless, we can’t really complain. Even though construction in the Netherlands is at a all-time low, offshore fortunately is doing rather well and even in Europe we will see an increase in business, since ENI has been allowed to start drilling in the Barents Sea. I wonder if they will face just as much criticism as Shell in Alaska, since the Barents Sea also is arctic…

What also seems to increase, is the speed with which communication takes place, and more importantly, with which communication is expected to take place. Modern technology combined with a lack of a sufficient amount of work available, reduces patience even more. People expect to receive replies to their e-mails within a few minutes, expect delivery times to be less than a few days and quotes basically need to be ready within a few hours – even complex ones. Obviously, we are doing our utmost best to meet those timeframes, which brings me to the topic of today: slow internet connection.

It is weird and in a way rather disappointing: we are located on a brand new industrial estate, in a brand new building, with brand new connections as far as utilities, telephone, fax and internet are concerned. It is a pretty decent sized estate as well, with some large companies already present or building at the moment. You would expect the comms infrastructure to be top-notch, but the opposite is true.

While fibre-glass connections are offered free of charge and with very cheap subscription fees in a village 7 km down the road, our industrial estate has no fibre-optic cable infrastructure. You can get one, but it’ll set you back around EUR 3.500,00. With a monthly fee of around EUR 800.00. For a multi-million company with 100+ employees, that is peanuts, but for a small company like ours, it is rather a substantial cost.

Even worse, the traditional ADSL connection that is available is incredibly slow. The reason: the junction box that is used for all internet communications for the entire industrial estate, is located 4,5 kms south. Just short of 5 kms, you would assume this not to be of any significance. Well, you couldn’t be more wrong. Mankind is capable of steering robots across the surface of Mars with a remote controller, manoeuvre ROV’s at water depths of several thousands of meters using the controller of an X-Box, all without any trouble, but 4,5 kms is sufficient to reduce the speed of your internet connection to the level you have not experienced since the 90’s.

Currently, I am not able to reach more than 20% of the possible connection speed, resulting in delays in downloading e-mails, server time outs when surfing the internet and many problems trying to upload changes to our websites.

I almost reach the point tossing out the ADSL modem and connect my 15-year-old analogue  modem. I’ll probably enjoy the constant beeping when it connects as well…

2012 for many is the year that the 13th cycle of the Long Count Maya calendar comes to an end, resulting in at least the end of the world and mankind as we know it. For me, it seems I am moving forward to the 90’s with my newly discovered ancient modem.

Well, at least that gives me a bonus of around 20 years compared to the 2012 doomsday scenario believers.

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Going through the process of buying new property and preparing moving the company to the new location

Many people will know what it takes to move a company, but for us it’s the first time in over 35 years, so we are exploring unknown grounds at the moment.

About half a year ago we decided that it would be good to expand our activities, by adding a trading company to our existing agency company. The objective is to be able to shorten delivery times for urgent requirements and to offer additional services, such as rental of equipment, keeping spare parts in stock and support our customers by reducing their need of keeping things in stock.

Obviously, this requires space. Space for storage, space for new employees. Hence we started looking for a new location to continue our existing business and start-up the new activities. It didn’t take long for us to find a suitable spot, nearby to our current office a building was under construction, which is designed to house several companies. After a relative short period of negotiations, we came to an agreement and we closed the deal.

Now, this is where the fun starts, because the 2 story unit we bought, basically was just walls, floors and ceilings. No toilet, kitchen, or any other features that you require when working in an office. As consequence, you have to become a combination of an architect, interior designer, contractor, electrician, plumber and logistical expert to turn an empty shell into a fully functional and attractive looking workspace.

You have to think about the locations of the power outlets, the central heating, capacity of the power supply, LAN outlets, etc, etc. What kind of carpet do you like? What server do we need? Is the concrete floor strong enough to carry the racks and stock? Is there space enough and a power supply for a forklift? Do we need a forklift? What is the most efficient routing of incoming, stored and outgoing goods? What inventory do we need to receive, handle and ship these goods?

It’s exciting to be involved in this, but it consumes a huge amount of time. Even despite the fact that the contractor is very, very cooperative. Unfortunately, the weather was a little less cooperative and due to the frost, it was not possible for the utilities companies to dig and to connect our unit to the grid. As a consequence, we will celebrate the purchase of the unit on March 1 with candlelight. Connection to the grid is only expected the week after.

Is it worthwhile going through all of this? Most certainly! But it also made me realise what a company like GN Rope Fittings or Manuplas had to go through when they moved to new locations. They are much bigger companies than we are, have huge machinery and their operation was so much more complex than ours, that it is difficult for me to comprehend.

In case you are curious about the proceedings, here are some pictures of the construction.

19-12-2011 Just the shoe boxes stacked on top of each other
19-12-2011 Just the shoe boxes stacked on top of each other
31-01-2012 Archive and bathrooms come to life
31-01-2012 Archive and bathrooms come to life
17-02-2012 The office begins to look like an office
17-02-2012 The office begins to look like an office
17-02-2012 And the exterior is reaching being finished as well
17-02-2012 And the exterior is reaching being finished as well

Just one more week and we’ll get the key to our new office/warehouse. I hope this week will pass quickly!

Our new address will be:

Hoge Traan 22-K, NL-9351 VV, Leek, Netherlands.

Please visit our website for more details. Our new trading company, P.C. Jansen Marine & Offshore Trading BV has been established and will have it’s own website, which will be launched within 2 weeks.

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Lovely Aqaba

Realizing that there will be very little opportunities to escape from daily business, all the things that need to be sorted for the new office/warehouse, setting up the new activities properly, etc, etc, we decided to take a short holiday to a sunny location. As I needed to go there for business anyway, we decided to go to Aqaba in Jordan.

As we did previously, we booked the outstanding InterContinental resort and in order to keep travel time as short as possible, took a plane from JetAir to fly from Brussels to Aqaba, rather than the usual flights with a stopover in Amman. I have to say: my expectations on the JetAir flight where not very high, but it turned out to be surprisingly comfortable (exit row seat) and the staff is very friendly.

Arriving in Aqaba, it turned out to be a very good choice in terms of weather. Clear blue skies during daytime, reaching temperatures of around 25 degrees C. A very welcome climate, after almost been flushed away the week before, when – especially the area where we live – we had to deal with exceptional rainfall, very high ground water levels and a storm, preventing the governmental bodies to pump all the excessive waters into the Waddenzee. In order to prevent our house from being flooded, I actually had to dig ditches and use an electric pump to get rid of the water. But that had all been quickly forgotten once installed on the balcony of the hotel, in the bright sun, sipping a nice cup of coffee.

Aqaba keeps surprising and amazing me. When I visited Aqaba for the first time, probably 10-12 years ago, it was an ugly, quiet and unattractive small village, by coincident located at a very beautiful spot, in the northern corner of the Red Sea.

But Aqaba has changed rapidly since. The port has expanded, the container terminal is very busy, all large 5-star hotels were build, the main entry roads have been made wider with palm trees in the middle and large blocks of land have been bought for development.

It seems, however, that Aqaba has fallen into the same pitfall as many countries in the Middle East: once the decision is made to change and develop, the scale with which this happens is mind blowing. And rather than develop in small steps, only starting the next step when the previous is completed, they want to do everything immediately and at the same time. Which is nice if you’re bank account is limitless, but which is a pain if for some reason – eg a world wide economic collapse and credit crisis – you run out of funds.

And what happened in Dubai, also happened in Aqaba: large areas of land where construction has started, but nothing has been completed. The development of the  entire block east of the InterContinental, called Saraya Aqaba (, has come to a complete stand still 2 years ago. Currently, Saraya Aqaba is a collection of half-finished concrete structures, with only the 2 appartements closest to the InterContinental being finished, as these are the “show room appartements”.

More or less the same applies to the huge area south of the city centre, next to the northern part of the port of Aqaba. The only difference: they have not started any construction at all and now it is just a huge empty plot of land, surrounded by fences with signs showing how beautiful it once might be. The bright colours in the signs have faded to bleak since they were placed.

When seeing this, I wonder why they did not decide to cut the development plans in pieces:  first finish block A of the project, sell the appartements and generate money, and then continue with block B. In that way, parts of the project will generate a flow of income at an early stage, making it easier to continue with the following stages, regardless of external economic circumstances. As they decided to start constructing all blocks within the project at the same time, not a single piece was completed when the bank account ran dry and consequently, none of the appartements, villas and houses has, is or will generate income on short notice.

The future plans of Aqaba are, despite the lack of activity at the moment, incredible. The old port in the city centre will be removed, creating space for hotels, housing and shops. The container terminal will be expanded, the port will be developed furthermore in the direction of the Saudi border.

I just hope that the developing parties soon will have funds available to continue the current projects, as it will help boosting tourism and the economy of Aqaba.

Despite the fast amount of half-finished construction sites, I do recommend visiting Aqaba however. The weather is very nice, the people are very, very friendly, the hotels are top-notch and both the Red Sea and Jordan as a whole have a lot to offer. Wadi Rum is about an hour’s drive from Aqaba, Petra will take 2 hours and the Dead Sea probably 3-4.

In the meantime, we have returned from our trip, and its raining again. Not the best kind of weather to celebrate you birthday, as I do today. Ah well, the days are lengthening and I am sure I will be visiting Aqaba again in the future, so who cares?

Posted in Miscellaneous, Travelling | Leave a comment

Welcome to the year of possibilities – exciting new developments ahead

The last weeks, I did not spend any time on updating my blog, but have been very busy with other things. On the last day of this year, it gives me pleasure to reveal what has been going on behind the scenes for the last couple of months.

Despite the worrying rumours, stories and predictions with regard to the economy, the EURO and the EU, we have decided to make a big leap forward. Having been agents only (with a few exceptions in the field of explosion proof torches) for over 35 years, we will set up a new company during Q1 of 2012 in which we will keep a stock position of certain items. Our existing company P.C. Jansen Marine Agencies BV will remain almost unchanged and continue her operations as usual, but the new company will be involved in trading products from stock.

The new company will actually support the agencies we have, but will offer possibilities for our clients, our principals/suppliers and ourselves, which we were not able to offer previously, as we did not keep anything in stock in the Netherlands.

One of the issues we currently face, is that due to transit time, it is difficult for us to meet very short delivery times (read: less than 2 days) for products required in the Netherlands and Belgium. This is something we are going to address with the new company.

We will keep a number of products in stock in the Netherlands, allowing us to offer next day delivery or even faster if and when required. Our stock position will include items we already offer as agents, but will also include new products that are of relevance to our customers.

At the same time, our agency portfolio will change as well. As per the first of January, we will no longer be agent for J.D.T. (J.D. Theile in Schwerte, Germany), but will become their distributors in the Netherlands and Belgium for products that require urgent delivery. More specific details about this development will be given to our customers in due course.

Furthermore, we have become agents for Strainstall on the Isle of Wight and their subsidiary ScotLoad in Aberdeen. We are very pleased with this, since the load cells, load cell shackles and load links fit in our current portfolio very well. We will keep a number of load links and load cell shackles in stock.

Another big step forward is the purchase of a unit in a new building (currently under construction), with warehousing facilities and office space. This means our company will move to a new premises, which is scheduled to be ready on March 1, 2012. We expect the new company/operations to be up and running around mid March. Our new contact details (address, telephone and facsimile) will become available as soon as possible.

To give some insight in the portfolio we are going to keep in stock:

– J.D.T. lifting equipment and spare parts

– spare parts for Tideland Signal products

– Strainstall/ScotLoad load links and load cell shackles

– ATEX approved torches

– Miscellaneous equipment, like small inflatable fenders, buoys and related products

– certain products from the FenderCare group, including Hippo Marine

We are currently in the process of adding other and new items to the new stock portfolio as well.

Another exciting development is that we will offer certain products for both rental and purchase. This means that these items can also be acquired for short time projects, without the need to buy them. More details to follow.

Obviously, the new operations will require additional help in terms of manpower. Consequently, we will start looking for candidates to join us.

At the same time, we are working on other new developments as well, but as these are in a very early phase of development, I cannot reveal anything about it yet. In due course, more information will follow.

Any new venture requires cooperation with other parties and we are happy and honoured that we have gained the support and trust of a number of companies. We would not be able to set up the new company structure without the help of GN Rope Fittings, FenderCare, Hippo Marine, J.D.T., Tideland Signal, Strainstall, ScotLoad, Furneaux Riddal and other companies and we thank them for their cooperation.

Over the next 3 months, we will establish the new company, reveal it’s name, will have new websites online and turn our new premises in a fully functional facility.

These are the first steps to explore and benefit from the possibilities 2012 will bring and we are absolutely thrilled with it.

In case you have any questions about these new developments, please contact me and I will be happy to give you more detailed information.

For now we wish everybody a very healthy and prosperous 2012 and we thank all our relations for the cooperation in 2011 and we hope to continue and increase mutual business in the near future.

Robin Jansen

Posted in Aids to Navigation, Lifting, Marine, Miscellaneous, Mooring, Naval, Offshore, Shipbuilding | Leave a comment