Panama Canal's Dutch 'face-lift'

Monday, September 03 2007 @ 10:44 am EDT

Contributed by: Don Winner

The Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal
The Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal
By Wendy Braanker for Radio Netherlands - Within three days of winning the prestigious contract, three members of DHV, a Dutch consultancy and engineering firm, were at the site in Panama. DHV recently won the contract to modernise the Panama Canal. The project officially starts this week and, according to project manager Ben Reeskamp, even though DHV has completed numerous large projects in its 90-year history, the Panama Canal project is the crème de la crème. (more)

It took the company almost a year to win the contract to widen and deepen the Panama Canal. The work is scheduled to be finished in 2014 in order to coincide with the 81-kilometre long canal's 100th birthday. Mr Reeskamp says DHV's main task will be to create a new set of locks in order to "make the Canal passable for larger ships".

The contract is worth 20 million euros, but what is perhaps more important, "the prestige is gigantic".

A world leader

DHV wants to be a world leader when it comes to water management. The company began 90 years ago by focusing on dykes; in fact, Dutch Dykes as current board chairman Bertrand van Ee points out. After the Second World War, the company expanded its focus further afield, with the job of protecting those parts of the Netherlands that are below sea level no longer its only task. "The second significant change for DHV was working abroad". The company's first foreign contract came in 1957, in Syria.

The Canal seen from space

The project to widen, deepen and modernise the Panama Canal will double the canal’s capacity. The increase is sorely needed as the amount of goods being shipped from China to the US goes on rising . It is also much faster to ship goods via the Panama Canal than to sail around South America.

The total cost of the project has been estimated at around four billion euros. Panama will pay for the modernisation project by charging a toll to sail through the canal. The project is scheduled for completion in 2014. The canal is unique as it lies some 26 metres above sea level. Its original construction, 93 years ago, involved an enormous effort, and the modernisation project will also be extremely complex.

Nowadays, 50 percent of the company's profits are generated by projects outside the Netherlands, in places such as Indonesia, Russia, South Africa and China. DHV intends to increase that percentage to 60 by 2009. Large, long-term projects such as the storm surge barrier in Saint Petersburg and the Panama Canal project are, therefore, more than welcome. Senior consultant Dick Kevelaar says these are 'Attractive projects'. He continues, "Can you imagine how wonderful it must be for a young engineer to say 'I have to go to Panama now'."


Mr Kevelaar says DHV is a social company, with its personnel very committed to the business because they are also its owners. DHV is not listed on the stock exchange, and that means, "We don't have to take external shareholders opinions into consideration".

Around 4000 people across the globe work for DHV, but the firm wants to expand further and hopes to take other businesses in North America and Central Europe. DHV believes it can continue to grow on its own in China, India and Indonesia.

The firm is currently working on a large project in Aceh, the Indonesian province that was devastated by a tsunami over two years ago. As he thinks back on the disaster, Mr Kevelaar says, "it's a pity that Aceh has fallen off the public's radar". However, the project - aimed at protecting Aceh's coastline - is almost finished.

Typically Dutch

Even though DHV is an international company, it’s still typically Dutch knowledge and expertise which it is exporting. It's all about combining knowledge of water, soil, concrete and of the maximum level to which that water may rise. Ben Reeskamp says it's wonderful that DHV is associated with the Netherlands. “DHV Nederland, that's the name that we work under in Panama.”

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