Hard work during COVID-19 crisis means companies at the port of Esbjerg still just about make ends meet

COVID-19 has had a definite impact at the port of Esbjerg, and the crisis has brought about changes in workflows and entirely new solutions for companies like Esbjerg Shipyard and Esvagt. Fortunately, neither has had to make redundancies.

Financial troubles, job cuts, relief packages, social distancing, sanitising and new ways of doing things have been part of everyday life for most Danish companies since March, and the companies operating at port of Esbjerg are no exception.

Generally, ships have not been sitting idle in port, and the companies have worked hard to make ends meet in order to avoid layoffs.

No redundancies or stranded employees

Esvagt, a dedicated provider of safety and support at sea, has been hit not by one, but two crises this year: COVID-19 and the oil crisis. Given Esvagt’s large customer base in the oil and gas industry, the oil crisis has caused a loss of both customers and revenue and left the company’s fleet unemployed.

However, the lack of work turned out to be almost a blessing in disguise, because the employees were unable to travel by air anyway during the lockdown.

“Some of our offshore employees sign on a long way from home, and many of those who live in Denmark and sign on in Norway need to travel back and forth by air. This has not been possible due to the corona crisis. Instead, we’ve used the unemployed ships and their crews to transport crews going on assignments. That way, we’ve avoided getting people stranded on board a ship somewhere, which is what many shipping companies have had to deal with all over the world,” explains Nick Vejlgaard Ørskov, Head of HR at Esvagt.

This approach has enabled Esvagt to avoid having to lay off staff; it employs more than 1,000 people, and the company has only recently made use of the government’s relief packages. The solution was made possible because all land-based staff have accepted a pay cut and the employees working at sea have agreed to forfeit a pay rise until next year.

“We’re very pleased that we’ve been able to keep on all our staff. I also know that our offshore staff have been very pleased that they could all make it home as scheduled, because we were able to solve the challenges of not having an air transport option,” says Ørskov.

Normally, the offshore employees travel back and forth by air, but this has not been possible due to the corona crisis. Instead, Esvagt has used the unemployed ships and their crews to transport crews going on assignments Photo: Esvagt
 

Taking a positive view

Although the two crises were – and still are – a tough challenge for Esvagt, Ørskov is taking a positive view.

“We’ve emerged from the crises relatively unscathed, and we remain quite positive because we still have some fairly good contracts in oil, gas and wind. However, we’re still somewhat short of the figures we had budgeted for. Then again, we see a potential for growth, as we’ll be taking delivery of three new builds, one later this year and two in 2021. These are three SOVs that’ll be servicing wind farms in the British and Dutch sectors of the North Sea, and they require larger crews than our ERRVs. That means they’ll create more than 100 new jobs,” says Ørskov.

Esvagt continues to apply COVID-19 restrictions, requiring people to wash their hands often and observe social distancing as well as the various restrictions applying on board the different customers’ vessels: temperature screening, testing and quarantine.

“We’re staying cautious, and I believe we’re better prepared for a possible second wave, because we’ve learnt from the events of this year. On the other hand, it’s difficult to predict how things will unfold. No one saw the coronavirus coming or any of the other scenarios that have since materialised,” says Ørskov.

Plexiglass has found its way to the ship 'Esvagt Albert Bentz'. This makes it possible for the crew to eat together despite of corona. Photo: Esvagt
 

A whole new sales strategy

For the people at Esbjerg Shipyard, the crisis has also had a very definite impact. Even so, the company has been busy – though in a totally different way. Due to restrictions imposed on many of the large vessels, they have all barred Esbjerg Shipyard from coming on board, so the company has instead been working hard to develop new leads.

“We’ve doubled our efforts on the sales side and have won new customers that way. So even though the crisis hasn’t left us unscathed, we’ve kept the wheels turning through dedicated canvassing efforts. This has also meant that we haven’t had to lay anyone off or furloughed any of our employees in Esbjerg,” says Esbjerg Shipyard’s CEO Kjeld Vogt.

Esbjerg Shipyard assists customers with new builds or repairs, working with aluminium, stainless steel and black steel. Due to the company's sales efforts during the COVID-19 crisis, it now also builds balconies for local residential properties.

“This is steel work, too, and for us it’s a whole new field that we’re thrilled to test our skills in. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say,” says Vogt.

Like all other companies, Esbjerg Shipyard has placed great emphasis on sanitising common areas and on people washing their hands and observing social distancing, and that will not change any time soon. In fact, the only way to get through a potential flare-up of COVID-19 is to stay on guard, observe caution – and to continue canvassing for new customers.

“We’ve committed ourselves to continue canvassing, but of course we can’t take in any more work than we can keep up with,” says Vogt.

“We’ve doubled our efforts on the sales side and have won new customers that way. So even though the crisis hasn’t left us unscathed, we’ve kept the wheels turning through dedicated canvassing efforts," says Esbjerg Shipyard’s CEO Kjeld Vogt (left).
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