Dubai. Peter Ballemans is trying to find a ship weighing 6,000 metric tons to borrow for just a short while but, despite his best efforts, his search so far has been unsuccessful. He has been phoning around for days trying to solve this dilemma, but “anything that somehow manages to float seems to be booked out.” It shouldn’t really come as a surprise in a seaport that currently resembles a building site. Allegedly, a quarter of the world’s cranes operate here. Huge earthworks are currently being created to extend the country’s coastline, which is some 70 kilometers long. Where else could it be but Dubai?
And Ballemans, a Bosch Rexroth engineer from the Netherlands, is in the middle of this metropolis on the Arabian Gulf that is home to over a million people, attempting to make himself heard above the noise of the traffic. He is valiantly trying to explain to the person on the other end of his cell phone that he urgently needs to borrow a ship of any shape or size for just a few days.
Some distance away on an artificial peninsula, Ballemans’ colleague and compatriot Frans van der Krabben is in a dusty site office poring over some technical drawings. A sign hangs on the door “Rexroth. Bosch Group.” The air conditioning, held together with sticky tape, hums and clatters, putting up a brave fight against the intense heat that is ever-present – even in winter. Empty water bottles are piling up in a corner and fine grains of sand are blowing through narrow cracks onto the trampled floor. From outside comes the noise of hammers striking and saws screeching, while the dull thud of steel on steel can be heard from afar.
Frans van der Krabben – tanned, friendly, and with a handshake that obviously stems from his time in the merchant navy – became accustomed to the noise a long time ago. The source of the noise is just a few steps away: twelve ocean-going vessels, neatly lined up on metal carriages, are lit up by welding torches and flying sparks and back-dropped against a clear blue sky. Ballemans, van der Krabben, and many other Bosch Rexroth associates have worked hard to get these ships on solid ground so that they can be repaired safely.
It has taken the Dutch specialists just one and a half years to build the region’s biggest ship-lift facility – under the most demanding conditions. “In summer, the temperature rises to 50 degrees Celsius,” explains Sales Manager Hans van Herwerden, “which is a real challenge for both people and material.” A special design was required to protect the sensitive technology against the heat, sand, salt water, and humidity.
But their efforts have paid off: “This facility has great strategic importance for us – it is a real reference project.” Van Herwerden is standing on the roof of a four-storied control tower, looking out over a huge, sandy concrete area, criss-crossed by railway tracks. It is an expanse that makes even the biggest cranes look like miniature models.
He is looking at one of the biggest building sites in the world, measuring around two square kilometers. It has taken 32 million cubic meters of sand and – as fate would have it – around one thousand and one nights, that is, just less than three years, to transform the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf into the Dubai Maritime City. Around 100,000 people will soon be living and working in this “unique showcase of seafaring skills that represents an incredible marriage of business and sea,” says Nawfal Al-Jourani, head of marketing for the project. The ship-lift facility is located on the bank of one of the concrete bays. It comprises a track system with two large ship-lifts, one 90 m in length, the other 130 m.
“When we submitted our tender for the contract, there was only water here – the land hadn’t been created yet,” remembers van Herwerden. However, two years ago it was by no means certain that he would be standing here now, surveying the completed project with a feeling of satisfaction. After all, the clients in the United Arab Emirates had other offers to consider besides the one from Bosch Rexroth.
Find out in the next part how Bosch Rexroth used a combination of skill and patience to secure the major contract, how to relax on a ski slope under the intense heat of the desert sun, and discover whether Peter Ballemans ever did find that ship…