Ships don’t come bigger than the Pieter Schelte. They don’t come more controversial either. Built in Korea at a cost of nearly $3 billion, the gargantuan new ship is now sailing towards the Netherlands, where it will soon enter service in the European offshore oil industry.
A huge catamaran, it weighs 932,000 tons, a world record, and nearly 18 times the Titanic. It will lift offshore oil rigs weighing up to 48,000 tons, again a world record. So much for the technicalities – but there is, ahem, a slight political problem: the ship’s name.
Almost unbelievably, the ship has been named in honor of Pieter Schelte Beerema, a Dutch collaborator in Nazi-occupied Netherlands. An officer in the Waffen SS and a propagandist who allegedly denounced the Jews as “parasitic,” Beerema was sentenced to three years in prison after World War II. Although the sentence was later reduced (apparently because of evidence that, after a row with the Nazis, he had changed sides in 1943), he went on after release to flee to Venezuela, where he allegedly helped German war criminals escape Allied justice.
To put it mildly, Pieter Schelte hardly seems the most appropriate name for one of the world’s greatest engineering feats. But some people disagree – not least Beerema’s son, Edward Beerema. As Edward happens to control the Swiss-based Allseas oil services company that owns the ship, his opinion matters.
The interesting thing is that Allseas seems to be getting away with this. The Dutch government even provided a subsidy for the project. Meanwhile, after a brief flurry of interest in 2008 when the original contract to build the Pieter Schelte was signed with Korea’s Daewoo shipyard, the Dutch press has largely swept the controversy under the rug. The Korean press too has been quiet. (Even as the ship left Seoul in November, the event seems to have gone almost completely unrecorded — rather different from the publicity in Belfast for the launch of that city’s most famous product: the Titanic.)
As for the ship’s Big Oil customers, they too seem unfazed. In the North Sea alone, important potential customers would appear to include Marathon Oil and ConocoPhillips, neither of whom has responded to requests for comment. Other key potential customers include Exxon Mobil, Statoil, and BHP. As for Allseas, a spokesman stated that the company has no plans to rename the ship and said that, as a matter of company policy, it does not provide information on future projects. A request to comment on whether Pieter Schelte Beerema had used the word “parasitic” in relation to Jews went unanswered.
If Shell whistleblower John Donovan is to be believed, the Pieter Schelte’s first customer will be Netherlands-based Royal Dutch Shell. Assuming this is correct (a request from Forbes for an interview is being considered by the company ), Shell’s embrace of the Pieter Schelte will provide lesser companies with useful cover. The fact is that as of 2013 Royal Dutch Shell had surpassed Exxon Mobil to become the West’s largest oil company by revenues (though even Royal Dutch Shell these days trails behind two Chinese oil companies in the world league table). For more details on the Pieter Schelte, click here and here.