Bright future for Marine Fire Services

In January 2020 VIKING acquired the Fire Safety and Rescue division of Drew Marine, adding to its own marine fire supply, inspection, certification, and repair expertise. The purchase was the latest step in VIKING’s strategy to offer one-stop safety solutions in marine and offshore and follows its 2018 purchase of leading lifeboat, rescue boat, and davit supplier Norsafe.

According to William Gielen, a 30-year Drew Marine veteran and now VIKING MFS Global Service Director, “Marine fire safety is a critical requirement and necessary cost for shipowners, and an activity where service expertise is scrutinized closely by regulators and class authorities alike. Unexpectedly, perhaps, marine fire safety inspection, installation, and maintenance is a service where global owners are often supported by small-scale, local contractors. In many ways, no news is generally the shipowner’s preferred option when it comes to fire safety. However, VIKING Life-Saving Equipment’s takeover of Drew Marine Fire Safety and Rescue may prove an exception - simply just because VIKING MFS (Marine Fire Services) emerges better equipped to offer owners peace of mind.”

"As a critical requirement and a necessary cost, marine fire safety demands scale to secure both consistent service levels and predictable pricing"

William Gielen, Global Service Director, Marine Fire Service

The acquisition brings further marine fire expertise and also new dry docking services into the group, broadens product choices and adds service flexibility. Where VIKING Marine Fire Service (MFS) had concentrated on passenger vessel and offshore markets, Drew Marine’s FSR’s focus was on fixed-firefighting foam, extinguishing and dry-powder systems, and gas detection calibration, for oil and gas tanker markets. Active at over 150 ports, Drew Marine FSR brought an 8,000+ ship reference list, many of which use other VIKING safety products.

Safety at scale

“In return, the former Drew Marine FSR becomes part of a business with a single-minded focus on safety”, says William Gielen and continues; “VIKING Life-Saving Equipment has long been proving to shipowners that ‘one stop’ marine safety supply and service agreements ensure consistent performance while saving money. At a time when the IMO has also introduced general requirements for equipment servicing to meet standards set by OEMs, VIKING believes a fragmented approach to marine fire safety service is no longer acceptable.”

To put the acquisition into this perspective, it meant marine fire service locations increased from 44 to 47, with technician numbers growing from 58 to over 100.

According to Gielen, “Joining VIKING MFS and Drew Marine FSR creates a business with common expertise in complementary markets, with the geographical coverage, service expertise and unified approach to shake up an industry.”

The result will be the “best from both cultures”. “We’re taking lessons from our former private equity owners on cost management but learning from VIKING’s service excellence on the ground. We can already see that there is more direct access to technical expertise and management knowledge across the company.”

Greater scale offers opportunities for better planning and a spreading of workload, which customers experience as greater predictability, lower administrative burden cost savings, Gielen says, “in an industry where fire services are often provided by contractors employing 1-3 technicians”.

VIKING Life-Saving Equipment has long been proving to shipowners that ‘one stop’ marine safety supply and service agreements ensure consistent performance while saving money

Like VIKING, the Drew Marine FSR business had developed advanced IT platforms and digital planning software to meet customer needs for both service consistency and predictability in budgeting. Going forward, customers will take advantage of a consolidated service and planning portal. 

The acquisition will also add impetus to the VIKING Shipowner Agreement, Gielen says, through which customers simplify safety equipment compliance and service by using a single global expert supplier. A harmonized offer is being developed for fire safety. Also unfolding is a digitalization project for every service technician to use an iPad to key in project specifics to improve accuracy and reduce duplication in back office work.

Having visited VIKING service outlets in Dubai and Singapore already, and the company’s training center in Thailand, Gielen says that the expanded operation will also benefit from the strong emphasis VIKING placed on its MFS training program.

“As an ex-Drew Marine employee, I can say there were clear reasons why it established itself as a top three global marine fire service provider but it’s also fair to say that it was held by private equity investors with wider priorities. At VIKING, any harmonized agreement is enriched by the fact that MFS is a core activity in a safety-based business: directly relevant experience runs through the company.”

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