Dual capabilities

BKS Sommerfeld is a barge shipping and bulk transport company based in Germany. The family owned company was founded in 1991 by Rudolf Sommerfeld and marks its 20th anniversary next year. In 2006, BKS was integrated with shipping repair yard Jöhnk Werft Gmbh enabling the company to expand its service range and to maintain its own vessel quality. BKS employs 95 staff, 35 within the shipbuilding division, with a turnover of 15 million euros a year.

The company operates a fleet of 25 barges, each capable of transporting between 400 and 2400 tonnes of goods with a total fleet capacity of 35,000 tonnes. Simon Sommerfeld, assistant managing director of BKS, expands on the company’s set-up: “We transport a variety of goods with a focus on animal feed, buildings materials such as gravel, potassium and cellulose. Beyond that we have the ability to transport anything from large engine parts to construction parts and basic containers.”

As a long-standing customer of the Jöhnk Werft shipyard, or Schiffswerk Jöhnk as it was previously called, BKS acquired the company after it went bankrupt for the third time. A division of BKS, Jöhnk Werft specialises in the repair of barges and small vessels of up to 90 metres long and 21 metres wide in its dry-dock. The company also has repair facilities in its ‘wet harbour’ enabling it to work on vessels of any length. Simon comments on the synergies between the two companies: “The integration allows us to maintain and upgrade our own vessels cheaply, as well as adapt them quickly to meet customer demands such as increased hold capacity for animal feed. It also opens up increased networking possibilities and opportunities to use common suppliers, which has certain financial benefits.”

BKS mainly operates within the triangle between Magdeburg, Bremen and Hamburg, although the company maintain the necessary licenses to operate anywhere within Northern Europe, with clients in the Netherlands and Poland. The majority of the shipyard’s customers are German companies, but in the past it has completed work for Dutch, English, Polish, Czech and Russian clients.

With an emphasis on building strong client relationships, BKS maintains contracts with a number of major corporations. The company’s biggest customer is a large international corporation, which is currently working with BKS to transport animal feed from its production facility in Hamburg to distribution sites in northern Germany. Other typical projects include the transportation of large quantities of potassium for another listed corporation, and the shipping of gravel for several construction companies in Germany.

Currently Jöhnk Werft shipyard is involved in plans to build a concrete pontoon pier for the Elbe-Jet catamaran, measuring 50 metres by 15 metres. The company has worked on similar projects before including a working platform for the Hamburg Port Authority and a pontoon for a construction company to use as a base during harbour deepening works. Simon describes other developments within BKS: “Recently we have launched our new website with a built-in vessel tracking system for customers. This system allows customers to track their cargo from its origin to final destination, and is offered to customers free of charge. We are the first company within our area of the market to offer this service and have seen high levels of uptake from clients.”

One of BKS’s key strengths is that it is one of the few shipping companies who own its own vessels. This allows the company greater flexibility as it is not dependent on other owners when calculating prices or availability. A major benefit of the shipping yard is its lock, which regulates the water height in the harbour, allowing it independence from tidal changes. “We pride ourselves in our dependability, cost-efficiency, quality and transparency. Our combination of traditional values and modern attitude mean we are not afraid to move into new areas, whilst remaining true to our core ideals,” says Simon.

The economic downturn coupled with the particularly harsh winter has resulted in a challenging period for the shipping industry. Simon describes what this has meant for BKS: “Although there has been a decline in the market, owning our own vessels has meant we can take advantage of opportunities as they arise. We’re currently experiencing an up-turn in the market and although it will be a while before it fully recovers we expect further economical growth over the next two to three years. Having another source of income such as the Jöhnk Werft shipyard has also been beneficial, as we are able to capitalise on different opportunities within the market.”

Moving ahead, Simon outlines BKS’s ambitions for the future and its plans to expand upon its market position: “There are a number of new markets that we are interested in moving into, such as the energy sector and container distribution with barges. Looking at the Jöhnk Werft shipyard we are hoping to replicate the slow and sustained growth that we achieved with BSK. A particular area of interest for us is a fast response team for the small onboard repair of vessels, once we have secured the right expert personnel. We also want to continue to work on developmental projects such as working pontoons and to support these building projects with our own vessels.”

Fleet of self-owned barges

Almost 20 years’ experience

Integrated shipping yard