Wagenborg's half century partnership with NAM and Shell

Wagenborg's half century partnership with NAM and Shell

The champagne bottle had just shattered on the bow of the Kasteelborg when we talked to NAM director Johan Atema and Egbert Vuursteen, standing proudly side by side. Egbert Vuursteen tells us about the successful naming ceremony for Wagenborg’s second walk-to-work vessel for NAM/Shell. “Today is another highlight in the close, constructive relationship between NAM and Shell on the one hand and Royal Wagenborg on the other.”

The collaboration between Wagenborg, NAM, and Shell goes back decades. In the 1940s, when drilling for oil first started in Schoonebeek, work was already being carried out by the G. Kramer transport company. Egbert Vuursteen explains: “We acquired that company in 1985. Since then, we’ve regularly relocated drilling rigs, vacuum trucks, and tanks for NAM in the region.”


Wagenborg grew along with the robust development of NAM and expanded its activities accordingly in the decades that followed. “In the port of Delfzijl, Wagenborg dealt with condensate transhipments for NAM for decades. We also established a large storage facility for storing and transhipping gas pipes. In the 1970s, NAM began drilling on the island of Ameland, but only between October and April so as not to disrupt the island’s tourism industry. Wagenborg coordinated all the logistics for NAM. And other Wagenborg subsidiaries, Wagenborg Stevedoring and Wagenborg Nedlift, also dealt with many hundreds of kilometres of gas piping for NAM.”

A family business

“That diversity of activities is typical of a family business like Wagenborg,” says Johan Atema. “Wagenborg may be internationally oriented, but it has kept its roots firmly in the clay of the province of Groningen. And that’s its strength. Lots of family businesses have disappeared or haven’t survived, or have been taken over, but Wagenborg is still there. I think that has to do with the entrepreneurship of the Wagenborg and Vuursteen families: they’ve dared to invest and innovate, they’ve dared to expand, and – very important in my opinion – they understand and know their clients well.”


Wagenborg’s entrepreneurship once again paid off in 1997, this time not in the region, but further away from home. Egbert Vuursteen explains: “Our decades of work for NAM, our use of ice-strengthened ships, our operations in an environmentally sensitive area such as the Wadden Sea, and our experience working in shallow waters led to Shell inviting us to advise on the operations it was planning in the Caspian Sea. Our knowledge and skills meant that we could follow in Shell’s wake, so to speak, and start operating in Kazakhstan. Within a year of signing the contract, we delivered two new icebreakers, three tugs and three barges, and a 100-person organisation to the Caspian Sea. And we did it all on time too! In the course of the project we also arranged floating hotel accommodation for about 3000 employees. All the design and planning followed intensive dialogue and cooperation.”


Collaboration is crucial if you want to excel in economically difficult times. “The past few years haven’t been easy, and the oil and gas sector is also facing challenges. But it’s precisely in economically difficult times,” says Johan Atema, “That it’s important to get together to see how things can be tackled more efficiently. Wagenborg is constantly looking for new ways of working, and that mind-set is shared by both our companies.” Egbert Vuursteen adds: “And then it’s above all a matter of not putting one another under pressure but improving the joint process. This system of process improvement is intended to lead – and will lead – to lower costs and higher revenues, which is in our mutual interest.”


As part of that approach, the Kroonborg began operating for NAM and Shell in 2015 as the first walk-to-work vessel in the southern North Sea. The Kroonborg was constructed in close cooperation between Wagenborg, NAM and Shell, and the Niestern Sander shipyard. The design allows for multifunctional deployment, and it’s with good reason that this vessel was crowned “Ship of the Year” in 2015. “The Kroonborg, has helped NAM and Shell to drastically reduce platform maintenance costs,” says Mr Atema, “by dealing efficiently with staff and resources.” “I’m perfectly prepared to say,” adds Egbert Vuursteen, “that the Kroonborg – and the Kasteelborg as well – are now a proven concept and can no longer be ignored in the business model for unmanned platforms.” The vessels comply fully with NAM’s requirements and have been constructed with expertise contributed by Wagenborg, Niestern Sander, and many other parties. “Innovation in technology combined with cooperation between parties was essential,” and he grins when he adds that he’s really proud of those vessels.

Just one ship isn't a ship

Despite the excellent performance and functionalities of the Kroonborg, just one ship wasn’t enough to carry out all the work in the southern North Sea efficiently. In particular, the ad hoc interventions disrupted long-term planning. Johan Atema explains: “We’ve succeeded in simplifying platforms, making them more sustainable, and providing them with new functions. We’ve been working on a concept in which, for example, functions have been transferred from one platform to another, crew safety has been improved, and emissions have been reduced. The Kroonborg already forms part of that concept. The success of the Kroonborg was also why we wanted to add a second ship for this new way of working – indeed, we felt we had to.” Egbert Vuursteen explains: “We had a number of joint brainstorming sessions with NAM and Shell in Assen and Delfzijl, and we then took the logical next step and decided jointly on this second innovative vessel.”


The Kasteelborg represents a new chapter in the relationship between NAM and Wagenborg – and a specifically innovative chapter. “For Wagenborg, innovation doesn’t just mean looking out for what’s new,” says Egbert Vuursteen, “but also for ways to improve existing concepts. And in all cases that demands requires creativity, brainpower, innovativeness and perseverance, but also a lot of hard work and effort! Innovation will also lead to improvements in safety and will reduce pressure on the environment in which we live. Not only do we want to pass on the company to future generations, we also want to deal with our business contacts and the environment in a responsible manner.”

Onwards into the future together

Anyone involved in maritime matters or the energy transition is aware of the plans for offshore wind farms. They will require infrastructure, and NAM and Wagenborg can jointly play a role in providing it. Johan Atema explains: “Our existing platforms could be deployed as a ‘hub’, where electricity is converted into hydrogen and brought ashore by means of gas pipelines. We can also store the hydrogen temporarily out there in empty natural gas fields. In addition, there’s still a future for offshore gas production.” In this way, old and new forms of energy can go hand-in-hand in the North Sea. But, obviously enough, there’s still a lot of work to be done out in the North Sea. Egbert Vuursteen again: “I sincerely hope that in 2019 we can jointly discuss adding a sister ship to the Kroonborg and the Kasteelborg.”

Appreciation and respect

Staying “close to the customer” is a quality that Wagenborg prides itself on, but it’s also one that customers and business contacts appreciate. “I find it remarkable,” says Johan Atema, “how Wagenborg, as a family business, has become integrated into the culture and structure of NAM and Shell. I have great appreciation for the people who work for and with us on a daily basis.” Egbert Vuursteen points out that “They’re our ships, not NAM’s. And they’re your platforms, not Wagenborg’s. But as far as our relationship and cooperation are concerned, that distinction doesn’t exist at all. It’s great to see how the worlds of NAM, Shell, and Wagenborg blend in together. We used to see that on land during transport and lifting jobs, but it also works at sea. As far as I’m concerned,” he says, with real conviction, “NAM and Wagenborg are moving onward into the future together.” Johan Atema concludes: “When I hear you say that, Egbert, I hear a man who has the responsibility and also the honour to run a splendid, authentic company. Wagenborg is a respected and valued partner of NAM and Shell, and I hope that relationship will continue for decades to come. I’m looking forward to it.”

Contact us

We are happy to help!