CRIST shipyard is celebrating its 30th birthday! -
CRIST shipyard is celebrating its 30th birthday!
Date of publication: 17.11.2020

CRIST shipyard is celebrating its 30th birthday! Thanks to innovative projects, it has become one of the most renowned players in the marine industry sector. We had the opportunity to talk with Ireneusz Ćwirko and Krzysztof Kulczycki, founders of the ship manufacturing shipyard in Poland, about tough times during the pandemic, untapped national potential to construct cruise ships and about new possibilities in the shipbuilding industry due to the construction of offshore wind farms in the Baltic Sea.

CRIST shipyard was established in the 90s. At that moment, you were already experienced in the industry. What led you into cooperation?

Krzysztof Kulczycki: We had been working together in the Stocznia Polnocna shipyard. In the mid-70s, we both headed different departments. A little later, Ireneusz and I travelled abroad. I was working as a manager for shipyard contracts in Libya, Dubai and Kuwait. I came back to Poland in 1990 following the escalation of the conflict in Kuwait.

Ireneusz Ćwirko: At the end of 70s, I worked as a warranty engineer on a tuna vessel which belonged to the Soviet Union. That contract showed that I was competent enough to prevent the most failures, so the shipyard management decided to redirect me to different tasks. I was assigned to the painting department, which was not my thing at all. On the other hand, I was young and ambitious. It took me 3 years to make the department run smoothly. Throughout the next 8 years, I headed the biggest department in Stocznia Polnocna. My next step was to enter the recruitment process for the position of Technical Director. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I was not a member of the then-ruling socialist party, I had no chance for this position. Actually, this event made me quit the shipyard. Not so long after, I met Krzysztof, and with two other colleagues, we decided to establish our own company.

Did you have a tough start?

Krzysztof Kulczycki: It was not easy. At the beginning, we were a very small group, hired to work on air-vent installation in a hall in Poznan. Determined to take on any kind of job, we constructed pipelines, tanks and even equipment for coffee roasting.

Ireneusz Ćwirko: Each shift lasted almost a whole day and night – we had to cover our first salaries from our own resources. I remember going to the manufacturing plant with a case full of cash. We were solid and fair, so our employees grew in number. More and more contracts emerged, so we concluded that the quality we offered and our attention to deadlines made clients come back for more.

Which moment was a gamechanger for your company?

Ireneusz Ćwirko: Definitely, it was the moment we accepted the contract for the construction of the Thor vessel, designed for offshore wind farms. This successful project gave us the opportunity to compete worldwide in this sector. I strongly believe that today we are the leader in manufacturing jack-up units of this type in Europe.

Krzysztof Kulczycki: Thor is a jack-up platform produced in 2009 for the German syndicate Hochtief. It took us 9 months and opened our doors to success and subsequent purchase orders.

Ireneusz Ćwirko: Our next project was the construction of the most innovative Heavy Lift Jack-Up Vessel unit for the German-Belgian outfitter HGO, which was utilized in the North Sea during their cooperaton with the French company Areva. The “Innovation” unit, with a length of 147.5m and a carrying capacity of 8 000 t, was equipped with a crane with a lifting capacity of up to 1 500 t, 29.000 kW rated power and four 95m foundation legs steered by an electrical system of lifting/lowering, as well as integrated with a DP2 positioning system. This setup allows hydrotechnical works to be performed while maintaining full autonomy.

Krzysztof Kulczycki: The construction of such a highly innovative unit was a great challenge and an even greater risk. During negotiations, we did not own a production area here in Gdynia. There was no dock, no gantry and no infrastructure crucial for the process. Fortunately, after signing the contract, we were able to acquire key areas previously occupied by Gdynia shipyard. The manufacturing of these kinds of units, intended to install and service offshore wind farms was a factor which elevated our company to the level of an industry leader.

In just 5 years’ time, the Pomeranian region will be supplied with the first energy produced by the first Polish offshore wind farms. Does CRIST shipyard have the potential to add to this?

Ireneusz Ćwirko: Renewable energy is the future and we have long-standing experience in this sector. We are unique on a European scale, meaning that CRIST was the only shipyard able to produce 3 jack-ups designed for such offshore installations. We simply know how to do it properly. The whole Polish shipyard industry needs some stimulation and these projects seem to be the perfect tool for that. The construction of offshore wind farms in Polish waters is an amazing opportunity to create an almost new market for our country. This is important especially during such times of economic crisis.

Krzysztof Kulczycki: Offshore wind farms are a vast, multi-billion-zloty industry – most of which could remain in the hands of Polish companies. The construction, and consequently service of vessels, and the whole construction of turbines themselves requires a tremendous amount of steel and work for many years. Due to the increase in the size of turbines today’s building units are constructions which weigh even up to 15 000 tonnes. Many shipyards may be involved in a project such as this, but we certainly have extensive and unique experience in building units of this type.

Ireneusz Ćwirko: To take care of the Polish economy, we need to unleash the local potential we have. If decisions were made on a governmental level, we would be ready to finish this kind of unit within 3 years.

How are you dealing with the pandemic?

Ireneusz Ćwirko: The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly influenced the global economy. When it comes to the shipbuilding industry, cruise ship building has been heavily impacted. All of us hope that this is temporary, and that soon the economy will recover. CRIST shipyard is coping with the pandemic. One of the cruise ship building projects was slightly postponed, but to compensate we signed some other contracts.

Krzysztof Kulczycki: Recently, we signed a contract to construct an electrical ferry for Finferries. Moreover, we continue to supply equipped hulls for Ulstein. In September, a fully equipped 172m floating block was delivered in terms of our cooperation with one of the largest French shipowning companies, Chantiers de l’Atlantique. At the same time, we are building smaller vessels, designed for polar areas for an outfitter organizing cruise tourism in that region.

Ireneusz Ćwirko: Most of the the production in Polish shipyards is based on the construction of cruise ships. These projects have flourished over the last couple of years and in this area of business we have a constant chain of orders up to 2023. Bearing in mind the current situation, there is no doubt that this sector will definitely slow down. We remain in close contact with our clients, who assure us that all the signed projects will be finished. However, from our perspective, the financial decisions of shipowning companies are not 100% certain. We need to take into consideration the impact of the pandemic on orders. This is another reason why we cannot wait for decisions to be made on the governmental level when it comes to offshore wind farms. We, as CRIST shipyard, are confident that we have the potential to play a key role due to our experience.

The construction of ferries for Polish shipowners might be another important impulse for the shipbuilding industry. Would you take on this kind of contract as well?

Ireneusz Ćwirko: It was clear since the beginning that ferries of this size cannot be manufactured in Szczecin. The harbor is not properly adapted and such units would hit the banks. Gryfia shipyard has not completed a ferry project independently for 3 years. To work with this kind of project, up to EUR 50 mln would need to be invested in the proper equipment. It is a renovation facility, the setup of which significantly differs from building from scratch. There are not enough qualified personnel either. Currently, finishing such projects as Ro-Pax ferries is simply impossible in Gryfia shipyard. Fortunately, units of this type can be smoothly constructed in the Tri-City.

Krzysztof Kulczycki: We already presented our recommendation for possible solutions in terms of Ro-Pax construction. The boundary conditions were defined as well as the time required to prepare the necessary documentation and for the construction itself. This is actually the moment we stopped in our negotiations. During our assessment, we assumed cyclical production of 1 ferry every half a year. The first was planned to be finished in 2023, and the next one 6 months later. This is the last call for action to meet those deadlines, but it is still achievable.

What should we wish for CRIST shipyard over the next 30 years?

Ireneusz Ćwirko: For devoted people to come and take over from us! We work with very capable and creative managers and directors. Their great effort defines our success. It is thanks to them that everything operates so smoothly. We have the knowledge, people and possibilities – we are just waiting for decisions to be taken. If this happens, in the upcoming decades, the shipbuilding industry in Poland will have plenty to do.