Interview with Rob Hoekstra

by Fleming. Team


1. Tell us something about the most challenging "lift" [project] you've ever worked on. Why was it challenging - was it also the heaviest?

Various projects come to mind. Loadouts, transports and discharges of SPAR buoys are generally challenging from multiple angles. With projects like these, there is no one single challenge; everything is linked together. One must be very careful not to create a new problem by solving another. Let’s explain this with an example and imagine a loading operation for a heavy cargo of about 25,000-23,000 mt on a barge or ship. When the cargo is built on the quay, skid beams and skid shoes on board, a barge or a ship will be required. Because of the weight, load spreading is required, which would drive the design to favor high skid beams. The effect, however, is that the center of gravity of the cargo also goes up, which results in low vessel or barge stability. Perhaps this is not a problem for the loadout, but stability may be too low during transport. In a case like this, a solution for one phase of the project creates a problem for another phase. In the event that the skid beams’ height on the quay side is already fixed, high skid beams on the barge will result in a bigger barge draft during the loadout. At the same time, the barge deck must remain dry during the loadout and also near the quay there must be sufficient water depth to accommodate the barge.To overcome load concentration we generally use skid shoes with hydraulic jacks inside. Even then, it can be the case the skidding lane is not strong enough along the entire track. This can be overcome by engaging and disengaging hydraulic skid shoes as they pass a weak spot in the skidding track. The pressurization and depressurization of the skid shoes results in new load distribution over the other skid shoes, which must be compensated for by the barge’s ballasting procedure. At the same time, the draft of the barge or vessel is to be adjusted continuously to follow the changing tide, and global deformation of the cargo and barge is to be accounted for. As such, overseeing the entire project is the biggest challenge.For lifting operations with cranes, similar examples can be given.

2. Despite extensive safety measures, accidents do still occur. Why do you think this is so? Where do you usually see weak spots?

Engineering was (is) by many not seen as sexy. When watching a movie before the financial crisis of 2008, bankers and lawyers were guys with classy clothes and fancy houses and a luxurious lifestyle. Engineers were traditionally gray and boring (that is in the movies, I mean). Therefore, this meant that the interest in engineering was declining. Luckily, this has changed, but the current generation with say 15-20 years of experience is not that big and a big group of engineers who are now around 60 will retire soon. It remains to be seen if the new generation of engineers will have matured enough before the big group of older engineers leaves.In general, it is easy to understand why an accident happened, but it is our task to recognize weaknesses up front and put measures in place that prevent accidents. In the end, it is all about knowledge – most accidents occur because people do not recognize the weak (or even missing) link in a chain during the preparation or execution.

3. In what particular areas do personnel usually lack in knowledge and skills? How can the upcoming course help them?

Most projects involve

  • design
  • manufacturing
  • transport to location and finally
  • installation

We as heavy lifters and transporters mainly get involved at the 3rd and 4th phase, while a lot of decisions that affect our work are taken during the 1st and 2nd phase. We know for sure, however, that problems created at the start of a project must somehow be solved at the end of the project. These solutions can be very costly.There is definitely a roll here for management as well. With big projects, one cannot do everything him or herself. By chopping the project into comprehensible parts, these small parts of work can be assigned to one engineer, one department or one company. As explained above, the big challenge is to oversee the entire project. If an engineer only gets a very small part of the entire project, he cannot be aware of the effect of his decisions on a bigger scale. It is the task of the managers to tie all the knowledge together and to encourage their team members to seek contact with engineers of other disciplines and to understand their possible impact on other disciplines. People that know what they are doing, why they are doing it and how they are contributing to the whole project are generally more valuable than people who only execute instructions. A project can be total chaos and still be in line with the specs and regulations if people have only learned a trick and do not understand the full context or the philosophy behind the contract, rules, guidelines and regulations.Attending a training course is a quick way to increase knowledge and awareness. Not only about your own discipline but also about other disciplines you have to work with.

4. What is your prediction for the heavy lift industry in terms of technology/equipment? What are the upcoming trends?

Everything gets bigger. With bigger equipment, one big lift can replace perhaps five small lifts, which can reduce the downtime of a plant significantly. When constructing a side or platform, bigger lifts mean that the plant can be assembled with fewer lifts, meaning that more testing and commissioning can be done in the factory – resulting in a reduction of interfaces when assembling a plant.Examples:


The Pioneering Spirit from. Topsides lift capacity 48,000 t and Jacket lift capacity 25,000 t


AL.SK190 (190,000 Tm /4200 metric ton lifting capacity)

AL.SK350 (354,000 Tm /5000 metric ton lifting capacity)


PTC 200 DS (200,000 Tm)


Vanguard 117,000 ton deadweight


SGC-120 (20,000 Tm /3200 metric ton lifting capacity)

Bigger equipment also means that more knowledge is required to operate and understand this equipment. Trainings contribute to this.