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Dutch companies pitch in with post-Katrina reconstruction

Maritime salvage and dikebuilding

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

ROTTERDAM - Dutch maritime salvage and towing giant Smit Internationale B.V. is one of the highly specialized companies asked by a number of U.S. federal, state and private entities to assist them in clean-up and reconstruction work following the Hurricane Katrina disaster of September 10, 2005.

Smit has been contracted to salvage some of the as many as 40 off-shore oil rigs adrift in the Gulf of Mexico after the hurricane hit the region. Over the past few months, the Dutch firm had made headlines with the salvage of BP’s oil rig Thunderhorse which had been in danger of capsizing in the Gulf, after Hurricane Dennis struck in July.

Logistically, the salvage operations had put Smit at a disadvantage themselves as well, since one of the company’s warehouses in the area was devastated by Katrina. Since the hurricane abated, Smit already has refloated two U.S. vessels in the Mississippi River and assisted with work on three oil rigs.

Smit, together with Dutch colleague Mammoet, have become masters at finding solutions for complicated problems such as raising shipwrecks and the transport of huge oil rigs. Mammoet works with regional companies to refloat oil rigs and ships, and to repair damaged bridges and buildings.

Other Dutch firms specializing in engineering, water management, dike-building and construction also are involved in post-Katrina relief efforts. At the request of the U.S. army Corps of Engineers, Arcadis (founded in 1888 as the Nederlandsche Heidemaatschappij) of Arnhem is assessing the post-hurricane condition of certain constructions and evaluating the work needed for upgrading.

Other Dutch firms or their subsidiaries, such as U.S.-based BAM-daughter Flatiron, a bridge building and highway construction specialist which currently has a number of contracts in Louisiana and Florida, also are in line to contribute to the rebuilding of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

According to Arcadis, Dutch companies are specialists in closing breaches in dams and dikes, and pumping out inundated areas. They also have the expertise to solve the inevitable pollution problems that follow floods, and cleaning contaminated soil.

Damage assessment

By mid-September, the U.S. Gulf Coast was still in a phase of uncertainties. Large-scale reconstruction efforts however are expected to be under way soon. For Smit Internationale the U.S. has crossed from the 'emergency solutions' phase to the phase of ‘damage assessment,’ which presents another formidable challenge.

Although Smit Internationale and its divisions Salvage, and Transport and Heavy Lift work in the Gulf undertake work on a ‘no cure, no pay’ basis, stock value of the firm has been rising rapidly.

The Netherlands had already sent navy vessels to New Orleans to help with first aid for hurricane victims. The Dutch government also sent five water management experts and several high-capacity pumps (up to three million litres of water an hour) to the city.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff temporarily waived the Jones Act upon the instruction of U.S. President George W. Bush. This waiver now allows foreign flagged vessels, such as those of Smit Internationale and Mammoet, to transport cargo from one U.S. port to another U.S. port.