Damen Remembers Their Lost Friends & Colleagues

by Hans | February 17th, 2011

Dutch shipyard group and family-owned company Damen has been left reeling from the loss of three of its employees, Ben van Dam, Hans van Schuppen and Walter van den Berg in a tragic aircraft accident in the Caribbean on November 4, 2010.

Knowing that many Tugs Towing & Offshore News readers were friends and colleagues of the three men, Damen wanted to take this opportunity to highlight their successful careers and thank everybody for their moving condolence messages that have arrived from all over the world.

Ben van Dam (60) (pictured in the white shirt) joined Damen in 1974 and he immediately stood out for his hard work, his enthusiasm and for the fact that he was not afraid of anything or anyone. Damen Chairman Kommer Damen fondly remembers: “No matter how difficult the work conditions sometimes were, with Ben you could split your sides laughing.”

But Ben always had an eye out for business opportunities and Mr Damen talked about his hard work in Malaysia in the eighties. “Ben had seen a possibility to make a Technical Specification and General Arrangement Plan, calculate the price for an order consisting of several Buoy Laying Vessels all by himself and he followed it through by seeing to it that the vessels got built within budget as well!”

Later in the eighties Ben got involved in Damen’s Cuban joint venture Damex in Santiago de Cuba and he eventually took the leadership and management of the shipyard on and, together with Damen Sales Americas, won contracts for newbuildings, repair and conversion work.

“In his inimitable way Ben saw the way to break through the Cuban bureaucracy. I can still picture him carrying his paperwork, silently whispering a complaint behind his moustache. But still everything always ended in laughter!” Mr Damen adds.

“He was also a real leader at the shipyard, he was definitely the boss. Almost every decision taken at Damex passed his desk. Everyone could address him; he knew everything and also knew how to tackle the job. It is largely thanks to Ben that Damex is such a big success and also such a successful shipyard in the Caribbean Basin.”

Ben also earned somewhat of a reputation for “scrounging” – but it was all in a good cause. “I can also recall that Ben was forever begging within the Damen Shipyards group for the things that had become redundant and were no longer needed to be shipped to Cuba. Subsequently, you would find them at Damex.” This would include used construction cranes, all sorts of machinery, furniture, store racks, and so forth.

Sander van Oord, Damen Sales Director Americas, comments that as a direct colleague, he had the pleasure of working shoulder to shoulder with the three men.

“When I had just started working for Damen, I became acquainted with Ben mainly through comments made about him because at the time Ben spent more time travelling abroad than at home.” Mr van Oord admits that it was a little disconcerting at first. “After listening to talk, which actually sounded more like ‘instructions for dealing with Ben’, one was prepared for the worst. Speaking with Ben you were never really clear whether he was talking Dutch, English, Spanish or maybe a cocktail of all three at the same time!”

But with time, he got to know the true Ben. “In the last few years, Ben had got more and more involved with the youngsters in the belief that being well-weathered by life he could teach them a few tricks and about life’s intricacies.” Ben and the youngsters had a great respect for each other. The young people loved listening to his interesting stories, applauded his practical wisdom and respected him for the fact that he had already shown what he was made of and what he was capable of achieving, he says.

Mr van Oord laughs, adding that sayings like, “It is better to deal with a short scare than a long misunderstanding” were typical Ben to justify his rather direct approach.

He uses the word “hombre” in Spanish to describe Ben, a man in the autumn of his life, having acquired an enormous amount of experience, a man that knew he could compensate for his diminishing vitality by his shrewdness in the commercial world and his vast experience.

Hans van Schuppen (31) (pictured right) joined Damen as a trainee and after a training period at the headquarters in Gorinchem he joined the Americas Sales Team.

“Very soon Hans impressed us as a great gain for our company. He was young, charming and, although modest, Hans knew how to effectively achieve his goal, that is to say he knew how to get the contract be it for newbuildings, services or license agreements,” Mr Damen remembers.

“I travelled with Hans several times and the experience was always very pleasant. He was inspiring company, with new views and ideas, as one would expect from young people.”

Mr Damen recalls how Hans always remained dedicated to his job. “I remember that at one point I had planned another trip with Hans. Hans came to see me and I could see he was having an inner battle to say what he needed to say. He asked whether, on this occasion, he could be allowed to be absent for a couple of days as he had something important to do but unfortunately was not in a position to say what it was.”

Eventually Hans divulged his secret, urging Mr Damen to keep it strictly confidential. In fact, Hans was actually scheduled to travel to Switzerland to get married. “I am pretty sure that Hans resumed the journey to join me in Canada just after the honeymoon night!” “Typical Hans,” says Mr Damen.

Hans was certainly one of the “up and coming young men” of Damen, which employs 6,000 people worldwide. “It is an enormous loss that he is no longer with us. I shall always remember him as an inspiring and talented young man.”

If Ben was the “hombre”, then Hans was the “joven” or “jovencito” (youngster), Mr van Oord says. Ben used to call Hans “joven”, never with the intention of putting Hans down, but to stress that a “joven” has strength and dedication and that he makes sure everything moves along at the right pace. “With his sharp eye, his love for work and also thanks to his kind and open approach, both with colleagues and customers, he signed several contracts and increased our participation in the western hemisphere,” says Mr van Oord. “And as the years went by, my respect for the way Hans worked only increased.”

Walter van den Berg (pictured left) had only joined Damen four months before the accident and had just celebrated his 25th birthday. Mr Damen says that although he did not know him well because he was training, it was apparent that Walter really fitted in with the Damen team. “He was pleasant, creative and had courage.”

And if Ben was “hombre” and Hans the “joven”, then Walter was the “jovencito”. Jovencito is used in the Spanish language signifying someone with many qualities but that they are still in bud. The bud will at one time blossom into an extremely beautiful flower with bright colours.

Mr van Oord explains: “Walter was a hard worker, intelligent, quick on the uptake, quick to put what he learned into practice, sociable and without any sort of pretension nor claims he could not fulfill.

“Three generations in one tragic air accident. The ‘hombre’ Ben, ‘joven’ Hans and ‘jovencito’ Walter. Three different phases in life – each phase beautiful, valuable with its own potential – and at the same time tragically short.”

As Mr van Oord builds up his team again with new talent, he comments: “If as a Director you are blessed with staff like Ben, Hans and Walter, only gratitude and humility are invoked. I would not have wanted to have missed the time I had with them, no matter how sad we are for their loss today and how much we will miss their presence.”

Ben leaves his wife Janneke, his daughter Sietske and son Tiddo.

Hans leaves his wife Linda, who gave birth to twin girls “Anne” and “Loes” on December 19, just six weeks after the accident and his loving family, mother, his three brothers, Linda’s parents, his father and many friends.

Walter leaves his father Gert, mother Jeanette, sister Anouk, his family and many colleagues, university students and friends.

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