Damen Shipyards is the superlative of Dutch entrepreneurship. Using all kinds of Dutch export support – from royal visits to export credits – and manoeuvring along political sensitivities, it has expanded a global network of yards, building ships small and big. The Damen family-business sells mega-yachts to the world’s richest as well as anything from tug boats to major warships to governments around the world.
Patrol boats are especially a growing niche for Damen, with significant sales to coast guards mainly in Europe and the Americas. It capitalizes on subsidies from Brussels [Schengen money] and the Hague [development aid] to equip countries along Europe’s external borders: Romania, Bulgaria and Albania.
Part of Damen’s sales success is that it often enables local assembly in the country of destination. “To live up to expectations for full NATO membership the Albanian Government works on the transformation and revitalisation of its armed forces. Monitoring and protecting the territorial waters is one of the ambitious tasks set. With this project Damen Shipyards supports this process, starting with the sharing of its own shipbuilding knowledge.” While that may sound like charity, it is in fact a highly profitable business enabled through generous tax payer’s money.
Similar ships are being built under licence by Bollinger Shipyards for the US Coast Guard, with orders possibly as high as 54 cutters. Canada struck a similar deal for 9 boats, locally built by Irving.
In the southern part of the world Damen coast guard vessels have been built under licence production agreements in South Africa and Vietnam. Also, the navies of Barbados, Jamaica and Honduras [soon] operate Damen patrol craft.
Quite peculiar is Damen’s cooperation with Cuba and Venezuela, considering that Dutch military trade policies often run in parallel with the US. For more than fifty years Washington has exercised far-reaching trade sanctions against Cuba and has repeatedly accused Venezuelan officials of aiding FARC rebels in Colombia – as well as many more mutual accusations. One would expect a very restrictive approach in terms of dealing with the militaries of these countries, not least because it might endanger future US business, financially much more lucrative. Moreover, political circles attach high value to smooth Dutch-US political ties. But Damen sails past all cliffs.
In 1995 Damen, with Dutch development aid, established a 50:50 Cuban joint venture called Damex – ‘Dutch knowledge, Cuban expertise’. Well aware of US sanctions, its website explains: “A year later the American embargo against Cuba was strengthened with the Helms-Burton Act. This act extended the territorial application of the initial embargo to apply to foreign companies trading with Cuba. Damex however is not located on confiscated property nor is Damex using other confiscated property.”
In 2012 the Cuban yard delivered the first of four Stan Lander multi-purpose landing ships to the logistical arm of the Venezuelan navy; all others will have been delivered before the end of this year.
Answering parliamentary questions, the Dutch government in 2011 stated that these vessels were not armed and did not embody specific military characteristics and therefore did not need an export licence. Moreover, it said that it did not have legal authority over exports from the Cuban based Damen venture.
The Dutch government over the past few years has held a position not to grant export licences for “major, offensive and advanced weapon systems” to Venezuela.
Now the latest news is that Damen is dealing with state-owned Venezuelan yard UCOCAR – La Unidad Naval Coordinadora de los Servicios de Carenado de la Armada – for the construction of two Damen Stan Patrol 4207 patrol boats, as well as five smaller fast interception craft (Stan Patrol 2606), all ordered by the Venezuelan Coast Guard.
In this case however, according to this month’s issue of Sea Power, the Stan Patrol 4207 ships will be equipped with one 20mm canon, two 12.7mm and two 7.62mm machine guns. The Stan Patrol 2606 craft will be equipped with three 12.7mm and three 7.62 machine guns and one automatic grenade launcher each.
According to news sources Cuban technicians from Damex cooperate with UCOCAR for this deal.
Big question: how does the Dutch government look at the sale of Damen-design patrol craft to Venezuela’s military this time? Do they consider 42 meter long ships equipped with cannon and machine guns “major, offensive and advanced weapon systems”, or not?
[FS, 10 Feb 2013]