Wilhelmsen Ships Service is challenging traditional dry-docking processes by shifting the focus to greater coordination and improved transparency and efficiency.

Words: Eeva Haaramo Photos: Wilhelmsen

Dry-docking is a vital part of every ship’s life cycle and has to be performed at least twice every five years. It is an expensive and highly technical process vulnerable to complications, and can take months to plan and execute. Despite this shipowners often hand the care of their vessel over to an unknown ships agent for the duration of the dry-dock. This is the approach Wilhelmsen Ships Service (WSS) has set out to change.

Paul Rogers, regional sales manager, Asia at WSS.

WSS has launched a new agency model giving shipowners the opportunity to use their existing business relationships and work with a ships agent they already know and trust. This upgrades the current tradition where the shipyard chosen to undertake the dry-dock also nominates the agent based on their own preferences.

“This process has an inherent conflict of interest. If the agent is working for the owner but is nominated by the yard, what happens if things go wrong? Where do the agent’s loyalties lie?” asks Paul Rogers, regional sales manager, Asia at WSS.

“That is where we come in, we are an independent agent acting solely in the interest of the owner.”

Furthermore, while the shipowner often meets the agent for the first time when their vessel arrives at the shipyard, WSS has an existing relationship with most of its agency clients from its other maritime businesses. This enables the company to be involved not only in the actual dry-dock, but in every step of the dry-docking process from planning to execution to final evaluation.

As thorough planning is critical to control any unexpected issues in dry-docking, WSS believes this unique approach improves transparency, efficiency and cost-efficiency of the whole process.

“We offer a real end-to-end service, complete transparency of our services and customers only pay for the services they use,” Rogers says.

“They have full control because they are dealing with an agent they already know.”

These changes are part of even wider improvements at WSS designed to go beyond traditional agency services. Customers get all necessary ships agency, products and safety services from a single point of contact wherever the dry-docking is carried out.

This can include the supply of marine chemicals, ropes, crew and personnel support and even the coordination of all specialist services which may be outside the shipyard’s capabilities.


“We are introducing a ‘dry-docking desk’ where we coordinate everything, all the spare parts, all the equipment and the necessary activities for the shipowner to attend at the dry dock,” explains Rogers.

WSS introduced its agency model two years ago and it has been well received by both customers and shipyards, particularly in China. Rogers is positive this is the way forward for the dry-docking process and believes WSS has created the right conditions to improve transparency and efficiency across the industry.

“This is a unique model, it takes time to adapt, but we are very confident it will be the way this business will be done in the future,” Rogers concludes.


Dry-dock is a narrow basin where inspections, constructions, repairs and maintenance of vessels can be carried out. The basin can be filled with water to move a vessel or drained empty to expose a vessel’s underwater parts.

It is mandatory for every vessel to undergo one intermediate and one complete inspection within every five year period. Dry-dock typically takes 10 to 14 days, but this can increase by weeks or even months if a vessel is older or needs extensive repair work. Different types of dry-docking methods are used depending on the required maintenance and repair. Dry-dock is an expensive project not only due to its size, but as the vessel is out of commercial service for the duration of the work. Costs are best managed with thorough planning which should be started several months prior to the actual dry-dock.

Dry-docking is available at shipyards around the world, prominent areas include China, South-East Asia, Middle East, USA, Iberian peninsula and Northern Europe. A large shipyard handles 150-200 dry-docks per year.