April 19 - When RollDock signed the first of its newbuilding contracts with Larsen & Toubro in 2006, it seemed a perfect match, writes HLPFI correspondent, John Mclaughlin.

RollDock was an ambitious young heavy lift shipping company with an experienced staff, a strategy targeting a broad range of markets and funds to invest in the highly flexible ships to carry it through.

Larsen & Toubro may have been a neophyte shipbuilder but it had ambitious goals of its own on the shipbuilding side and the heft, as a major Indian construction and engineering concern, to push them them to completion. 

The result was a series of orders of identical multi-functional ships, capable of ro-ro, lo-lo and float-in, float-out operations, that eventually ran to eight semi-submersible vessels. The ships would come armed with two 350 tonLiebherr cranes, an adjustable ro-ro ramp of 4,000 ton capacity, adjustable hatch covers, and the ability to discharge floating cargo up to 6,000 tons. 

Six years on, however, and with just two ships on the water, the relationship has deteriorated to the point that a frustrated RollDock has just ordered two vessels in Germany, and the erstwhile partners are negotiating the fate of the six ships that remain undelivered. 

A year ago, managing director Captain Wout van der Zwan was already feeling the strain of the delivery delays. As of April 2011, he had only the RollDock Sun on the books and said he was missing out on available work. RollDock Sea arrived later in the year. As he puts it now, however: "Six vessels should have been sailing by now, but the were just delaying and delaying.

Still in talks with Larsen & Toubro, he was reluctant to discuss the reasons for the late deliveries, but expresses surprise nonetheless, noting that "they are the biggest contractor in India." He adds: "Our patience just ran out. Hopefully, this can come to a normal end." 

As discussions continue, RollDock has pushed ahead with new orders for two ships at the Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft (FSG) shipyard in Germany, with delivery scheduled for the end of 2013 and early 2014 respectively. Talks with the yard, a ro-ro and ro-pax specialist for which this is a first semi-submersible, began in December of last year and the contract was signed in early March. 

Van der Zwan says the two multi-functional vessels will be similar to the Larsen & Toubro ships, though slightly larger at 8,000 dwt and 'generally with a better layout."

At the time the order was announced, FSG said that it meant that employment is secured for the company's 700 shipbuilders until then and perhaps even longer because it is possible that RollDock will order further ships of this type.

The shipbuilder added that whilst it has made a name for itself over the past 15 years as the world leader in the building of ro-ro and ro-pax ships, this is the first successful step in the expansion of its production portfolio.

Managing director Peter Sierk said: "We have only been working seriously in the offshore sector since last summer and inside just a few months we have been able to post the first order. We regard that as a very positive which confirms our belief that our strategy is the correct one."

According to this strategy, the future of the shipyard lies in its versatility. "Since the classical shipyard markets have declined, it is imperative for the survival of a modern shipyard that it offer new ideas. And in this respect we can of course score points with our strong research and development division."

Sierk reported that: "we have been holding confidential talks with RollDock since December of last year". He added the yard had been able to satisfy the Dutch with a successful and multi-faceted design, swift negotiation, flexibility and with a proven record of delivery reliability over the past 20 years.

Said Sierk: "since 1990 we have delivered every one of our ships either to the agreed deadline or sooner, and of course also within budget. This was of enormous significance to RollDock in making its decision, " he added.