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Old Posted May 11, 2009, 2:00 PM
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Global shipping firm sets up in BRBy CHRIS GAUTREAU
Advocate business writer
Published: May 10, 2009

For American audiences, the Dutch name Mammoet Transport might not roll off the tongue, but it’s been music to the ears of the Port of Greater Baton Rouge.

In late December, the global maritime and shipping firm opened a branch with a handful of employees at the port’s Inland Rivers Marine Terminal on North Line Road in Port Allen in what was built originally as a maintenance building.

With the staff now at 15 and climbing, branch manager Doug Lowe has already trucked in a double-wide trailer for more office space. Preliminary plans are in the works for construction of an office building.

“Our plan is to develop over the next two years and grow into a permanent facility to hold up to 40 people,” Lowe said.

In the coming months, Mammoet will be searching for engineers and project managers, among other professionals. The timing couldn’t be better as south Louisiana tries to stave off the brunt of the nation’s deepest economic recession since World War II.

Mammoet (pronounced ma-moot) is the Dutch word for mammoth, the corporate logo and an apt description of the company’s specialty of moving some of the world’s largest cargo.

One of its clients, for example, built a desalination plant in Saudi Arabia. Mammoet’s job was moving in 14 giant evaporators, each one weighing more than 1,500 tons, from the fabrication site across the Persian Gulf in the United Arab Emirates.

The local office, a branch of Mammoet’s regional headquarters in Rosharon, Texas, south of Houston, offers the company’s full array of services. Much of the work so far has been loading large equipment on and off barges floated in on the terminal canal that connects with the Intracoastal Waterway.

The maintenance area of the current office doubles as a storage area.

“To find a tenant like this complements our infrastructure, and it bring jobs. It’s not just some relocation,” said Jay Hardman, the port’s executive director.

Hardman said Mammoet, which did not seek tax breaks in opening the new branch, also brings with it new opportunities for the local petrochemical sector.

Hardman recalled how a local plant manager told him recently of replacing a large vessel at his facility. Despite meticulous planning, the entire operation hinged on whether the barge transporting the vessel upriver would arrive on time. Fortunately it did, Hardman said, but the wait was a nervous one.

Mammoet’s staging services offer plants more flexibility, Hardman said, by giving them a nearby area for assembling and storing large pieces of equipment.

Lowe said that while New Orleans was in competition for the new branch, the Baton Rouge port was a virtual lock because of its facilities and access to rail and Interstate 10.

“The thing I think that really got them was the ability to get some of this equipment onto and off of barges, and move this equipment around,” Hardman said. “With the access and the proximity to the Intracoastal Waterway, it just all fell into place.”

Privately held and based near Rotterdam in The Netherlands, Mammoet is a global player in heavy lifting and transportation via water, rail and truck and mobile crane rentals and sales, with clients mainly in the petrochemical, civil engineering and energy sectors.

Its corporate roots trace as far back as the early 19th century. But in its present form, the company began with the merger of three family-owned Netherlands transport companies in the early 1970s.

Through a series of mergers and acquisitions over the decades, the company now has operations on six continents with a reported 3,200 employees worldwide — 400 in the United States. According to a British news report earlier this year, the company has annual revenue of about $945 million.

In addition to its cargo handling, Mammoet is known for designing and engineering customized equipment, like the self-propelled modular transporter known by its acronym, SPMT. Essentially a remote-controlled trailer, the SPMT has 12 independently controlled wheels that make the devices highly maneuverable for their size.

Using a team of SPMTs, the company record for heaviest move was set last year in Oman, where Mammoet moved a gargantuan metal tube known as a xylene column a distance of 2‰ miles. The column stretched for 100 meters — the length of a football field and one end zone — and topped the scales at 1,605 tons — 3.3 million pounds.

Moreover, Mammoet offers salvage and removal services for shipwrecks and damaged offshore platforms.

The company entered the media spotlight in late 2001, when it took on the somber task of recovering the Russian submarine “Kursk.”

In August 2000, a torpedo aboard the Kursk exploded, leaving it crippled at the bottom of the frigid Barents Sea. The entire crew died before rescuers could reach them.

Mammoet formed a consortium with Smit International, another Dutch maritime company. Together, the companies lifted the submarine and hauled it back to Russia.

Based in Rosharon, Texas, Jan Kleyn now serves as chief operating officer of Mammoet USA. But as a project engineer eight years ago, Kleyn oversaw all fabrication work for the Kursk salvage operation.

In Port Allen last week for the local branch’s ceremonial opening, Kleyn said the Kursk was his last project.

“I said I’m not going to do any more projects. Nothing could ever compare to that one,” Kleyn said.

Closer to home, Mammoet has been hired to lift into place completed sections of the new Huey P. Long bridge in New Orleans. The operation, Lowe said, allows crews to more-safely build bridge sections on the ground.

Last year, the company also transported a reactor vessel — a mere 500 tons — to the ExxonMobil refinery in Chalmette.

Hardman said it’s still early, but other local companies already have begun inquiring about Mammoet’s services.

“We got a prospective tenant that met with Mammoet, trying to conceptualize the layout and the ability for a joint venture on some lift capabilities,” he said. “The synergy starts to build.”
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