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50 years of Hydrex

50 years of Hydrex

(Posted on 04/07/24)

On May 16th, 1974, Hydrex was officially born. In the 50 years since then the company has grown from a small diving firm operating from a home office into a large underwater maintenance and repair company with a 5,000 m² headquarters in the port of Antwerp.

Hydrex founder and CEO, Boud Van Rompay recalls how it all started with him dropping out of law school. “I wanted to do something that was tangible, that I could touch with my hands, that I could look at with my eyes. Not some theory from a book. It had nothing to do with formal education: I had to find out for myself.”

“I had a very strong urge to see how things were cooking. How do you do this? Very simple: you go outside,” says Boud who is still very involved in the daily workings at Hydrex. “In my case, I was terribly attracted to anything to do with mountains, glaciers and (underwater) caves. It wasn’t the adventure, but the exploration that fascinated me. The experience of discovering things. I wanted to see what this planet had in store for me.

“That’s what made me create the company a couple of years after my mountaineering and caving activities began,” continues Boud. “I saw so much careless handling of water and so much pollution in it, that I said: This is what I need to be involved in – I need to start exploring it further. The first goal was: Clean rivers, seas and oceans. That’s a static goal towards which you can work. The sub-goal or purpose was action oriented: To build expertise with water, which gave us the name Hydrex.”

For Boud this was a very clear-cut purpose. “Expertise is knowing what you are talking about. The first thing to do is to look. You look for yourself, you don’t listen to others or read a pre-cooked book without thinking. I read a lot, but I assessed it against my own observations. This exercise of increasing knowledge leads to an increased responsibility. When you know what you are doing, you can control your actions. This is what an expert does. That is what we have been doing for fifty years, from day one.”

“We started working from home, but very rapidly we came to the city,” Boud says. “We rented a small office and one of the warehouses of a ship repair company in Antwerp. That was the start. From day one we had a dedicated training center. In 1980 we built our office in Antwerp at the current location of our headquarters. The warehouse included a dive tank to practice underwater welding and other repair work. I felt we needed to have direct access to the water. The Asiadok was ideal because it looked like a swimming pool. It still has very little traffic fifty years later. This allowed us to do all kinds of experiments. Being located there was part of the urge to discover. You don’t need much water to discover things. You just need to get wet and that’s what we did.

“From that point onwards, there was no stopping us. Hydrex kept expanding and expanding. We were active in Rotterdam and the entirety of the Netherlands from the very beginning. The rest of Europe soon followed. In the ‘80s we went worldwide with our services because the demand was there.

Boud remembers the next phase as if it were yesterday. “The next thing was to develop the required techniques. That came very rapidly, from pure observation. How do you fix damage in the shell plating? For permanent repairs you have to be able to work in dry conditions. How do you do this? You use a cofferdam. So we developed the cofferdam. We didn’t know we were the first back then. In 1979 we used our first cofferdam on the general cargo ship Lunar Venture, and that was it. This was the first major repair with no condition of class, no need to drydock the ship for follow-up repairs. Since then, we have built a very large number of cofferdams. In the early ‘90s we had three to five cofferdam interventions per week. This way we kept ships out of drydock very consistently.”

September 2015 saw the start of another large expansion of the Hydrex headquarters in Antwerp. This expansion was the natural consequence of the growth Hydrex had undergone in the last couple of years. New offices and meeting rooms were constructed, and the existing areas were completely refurbished. A totally new workshop was also added to the existing locations and new training facilities were constructed, bringing the total area covered by the premises to over 5,000 m².

Earlier this year, yet another very large warehouse was added to accommodate the constant growing demand for Hydrex services.

The fleet of vans, trucks and workboats have all been recently updated. Today the fast response centre is state-of-the-art as far as equipment and vehicles goes, with everything in excellent condition, ready to deliver advanced underwater maintenance and repair services wherever they are needed in the world.

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