Philippe De Vestele: Maybe we were stupid, but it took us by surprise. We didn't realise how massive the industry would become. In the beginning, people were speaking about five turbines, then ten, then 20, but now there are hundreds. The port authorities made a fantastic decision to focus on making Ostend a wind power hub, and you cannot have a good port without a good shipyard.
We mainly work on crew transfer vessels (CTVs), which are basically taxis for the wind farm engineers. We do everything from minor maintenance on them to mobilisation and demobilisation works on installation ships, to larger repairs and dry-docking. From time to time we even work on the offshore platforms, but the turbines require a different expertise.
Getting certified wasn't difficult as we were already used to aiming at the highest standards, but we had to train and adapt for doing aluminium repairs. CTVs are made from aluminium because they need to be fast and light. They're catamarans, very different from the strong steel fishing vessels that IDP started out repairing.
Our family has always had a link with Ostend's maritime history. One of my ancestors was actually a privateer captain in the late 1600s; he died on an English ship fighting France in the Nine Years War.
My great-great-great uncle started IDP in 1922, when Ostend was a major port for vessels that went cod fishing around Iceland. Those were special ships built to travel quite a distance and operate in difficult seas, and they needed a lot of servicing and maintenance.
Perhaps it's because we're a family business, and we're personally committed to the quality of the work, but our main concern is to make sure that when we do something for a customer, it's perfect. That's why the whole chain of our organisation, from management to the welders, has to have a high level of responsibility and excellent know-how. I employ high-level naval engineers to ensure that all our projects are managed with the highest level of knowledge and expertise. All of our welders have the best certification, too.
My father attracted customers through his reputation and sales skills, but the wind farm business is supported by a system of certification and quality assurance. We still have the same spirit in our commitment to the highest-quality work, it's just modernised. I think privateers felt the same, actually. To be a privateer, you have to be very committed.
It started with one crew transfer vessel, which needed some maintenance, but now we have real partnerships with our customers. Our slogan is 'We keep your ships sailing', and it's so true to our commitment. For us, it's horrific when a ship is stuck alongside. We often get calls from CTVs with maintenance issues on their way back from the wind farms. They call at four and we're ready to start work when they arrive at half-past-six. The ship's operating the next day like nothing happened.
Now, customers even bring their ships to Ostend for us to service. They appreciate our working relationship and our commitment to doing the best job possible. You have to be really dedicated to work in the maritime industry, and as a family we completely respect and understand that. We give everything to getting each ship sailing, and after a rollercoaster of good and bad moments, it's ready: the ship can leave. The feeling is so good.
Ships come over for dry-docking in winter because of our infrastructure. We have two syncrolifts for lifting ships out of the water. One is 38m long and the other is 80m long. Both are connected to shipbuilding sheds, so we can drydock two ships and work on them inside with one superintendent. This is so important to high-quality work. Imagine trying to paint a ship or service its engine in the rain. Aluminium welding, in particular, is difficult to do outside: the welds are poor-quality when it's windy.