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Sanitised family history of Allseas Pioneering Spirit billionaire, Edward Heerema

By John Donovan

Printed below is an English translation of an article published this weekend on their website by the Dutch equivalent of the Financial Times, Financieele Dagblad under the headline “Stubborn and contrarian in all its fibers“.

It is presented as being a conversation with the sinister billionaire Edward Heerema about various subjects, including the worlds biggest ship – the Pioneering Spirit – and his late father, Pieter Schelte Heerema (SS officer right).

The main photograph on display shows Edward Heerema with a portrait photograph of his father in the background and a reference to him as “a great example”.

What the article does not reveal is that Pieter Schelte Heerema was a diehard member of the Nazi party and a Dutch officer in the Waffen-SS officer convicted of war crimes.  Nor does it mention that the Pioneering Spirit was originally named the Pieter Schelte by Edward Heerma in homage to his father. Neither is there any mention that a global outcry triggered by me, resulted in the ships name being changed while still on route to Shell its first client. Shell – with its own reprehensible Nazi history – reversed its long-standing previous support for the original name. 

The only reference in the FD article to his fathers’ past is as follows: ‘Yes, my father has that history… with no indication whatsoever of what that history actually was. 

Several hours after the publication of this article I received the following information from Bert van Dijk, Energy Editor of the Financieele Dagblad:

Hi John, due to some mistake a paragraph in the piece, where we write about the SS-history of his father, has been omitted in the online version. That already has been corrected as you can verify. The original version in the printed newspaper today was correct anyway and does include the paragraph, so your point that our article does not reveal that Pieter Schelte Heerema was a ‘diehard member of the Nazi party’ is not correct, although I understand your first reaction based on the wrong version online. Hope this clarifies it a bit. Besides, this issue has already been widely reported about in Dutch media and our newspaper before.

The following paragraph in bold italics is a translation of the missing paragraph now added to the FD online article following our publication of a translated version of the original wrong version online.

The Pioneering Spirit also has a history to bear. The initials refer to father Pieter Schelte, for whom Edward has so much respect. Not for nothing did he want to call the ship the Pieter Schelte. But his father had a black page in his life: he joined the Waffen SS for a few years in the Second World War. That is why criticism came up for the naming. ‘They never asked for it, but I finally changed the name for Shell, for whom the ship dismantles a number of platforms.’


Stubborn and contrarian in all its fibers

His contrariness appears immediately. Usually a spokesperson or secretary gets journalists at the reception and accompanies him or her to the top man, often somewhere high in a tower. But not with Edward Heerema.

The 70-year-old founder of offshore company AllSeas – gray-white hair, classic double-breasted dark blue suit with red tie and pocket square – picks up his guests at the reception. With a warm handshake, he also said goodbye to the revolving door two hours later.

Heerema does not give many interviews, but this time he even takes all the time. He is friendly, modest about. Is this the CEO of a company active in the hard offshore sector? A conversation with the nestor of the Dutch offshore about leadership, his father, the relationship with his brothers, the climate and his succession.


Sometimes Heerema bursts out laughing when his guests once again express their doubts and amazement about his unconventional vision, statements and standpoints. ‘We do not follow trends. I also do not believe in the story that CO van emissions lead to climate change. The scientists who say that will all receive a subsidy. ‘ At the same time, he is thinking about clearing plastic soup in the oceans and preventing hurricanes.

It is not his only deviant position. No one believed in the ship that, after thirty years of thinking, he eventually had it built: the Pioneering Spirit. ‘Yes, the construction of the world’s largest ship is partly proof,’ says the man who is still primarily a techie and then a manager. But also vision, he says in the back. ‘When I actually started building it, Shell started to show interest.’ The banks doubted, but still gave him financing. ‘They did want all the assets of our company as security.’

He must smile broadly when he hears the next question. Why in the world does he want to build an even bigger ship a few years after he put the € 2.7 billion Pioneering Spirit into service? While the crisis is not over in the offshore. “Yes, that’s a very good question, ha, ha. It is not currently a booming business. ‘

Is it then again the need for proof? “It does play, I think. Every techie has that. “In addition, he looks at the market in the longer term:” There are oil platforms that the Pioneering Spirit can not handle. “

Black page

And so Allseas is working on the Amazing Grace, a ship of 160 meters wide. The Pioneering Spirit stops at 124 meters. The ship must be able to lift even larger and heavier oil platforms, with the self-developed technology that cuts through a platform as it were and lifts it up in 11 seconds to take it to a shipyard where it can be demolished. In 2016, the time came when the mega-ship lifted a large platform for the first time.

He did not care for him deep in his heart. The controversy he would have been willing to collect as a 100% shareholder of Allseas, but yes, he also has to take into account customers and shareholders of those customers. ‘Yes, my father has that history, but he is also the man who placed nearly all oil and gas platforms in the North Sea in the sixties and seventies. An unprecedented pioneer. “

Result okay, but polite

During the conversation it becomes clearer: here is a stubborn man. The embodiment of innovation. All designs and technological innovations are conceived in-house. It is also a large department, where around three hundred engineers work. Heerema tries to use ingenuity in other ways. ‘We are working on a method to clean up the plastic soup in the oceans.’ And he looks at a way to prevent hurricane formation over the ocean. He does not want to say much more about it. He needs a few more years.

That stubbornness has brought him a lot, but can also be a risk, especially if you are also CEO and sole owner of a company. Then it is possible to invest € 2.7 billion in a ship that has to serve a market of up to 26 very large platforms to be removed. And if the results for the outside world are invisible – the Allseas holding company is in Switzerland – then that feeds an image of mystery. Incidentally, Heerema indicates that a much larger number of smaller platforms must also be removed, for which the Pioneering Spirit already has contracts.

Heerema understands skepticism. But he does not give figures. Is Allseas profitable? “That can vary from year to year.” But he recognizes the danger that an entrepreneur can be blinded by successes. “Fortunately, I am not the only stubborn person. There are a lot of stubborn people working here. ‘ He gets counterweight from the techies, from the commercial department and from the finance director. ‘The CFO is not a second man for me. He must ensure that sufficient reserves are built for the long term. That the Amazing Grace can be built. ” He does set a condition for their reply: ‘They have to say it politely.’ After a short break: ‘But sometimes I will go my own way.’

A long fossil

The offshore sector is indeed in the longest crisis ever, but Heerema can not be distracted by it. He has the firm belief that the world can not do without oil or gas for the time being. ‘The world is far from fossilized. That will remain the pillar of the energy system for many years to come, because the consumption of oil and gas is increasing every year. That is not an idea, but a simple calculation. ‘ His ships may dismantle platforms, they also still put new ones down. Next year, for example, a very large one of Statoil in the Norwegian part of the North Sea.

Yet there is also a strong movement towards more renewable energy from wind and sun. ‘Politicians run away too much with what is currently in vogue’, is his answer. However, some peers choose eggs for their money. In this way Van Oord gets most of its revenue from the construction and maintenance of wind farms, and not with services to the oil and gas industry.

They do not have these plans at Allseas for the time being, although Heerema also smells like opportunities. ‘Our ships are too big and too expensive to install light structures such as wind turbines, but we could place the transformer stations of the parks. We have also offered that, but so far we have no orders for it. ‘

Man does not cause global warming

There are orders for laying large gas pipelines. The Pioneering Spirit is now working in the Black Sea with the construction of a part of Turkstream and starts laying the pipelines for NordStream 2 next year in the Baltic. These are both controversial projects of Gazprom, which maintains close ties with the Kremlin.  President Putin even came in person earlier this year and took a look at the Pioneering Spirit. ‘A great honor, of course,’ says Heerema, who was the host of Putin.

Talking about renewable energy, Heerema brings back to his earlier, to say the least, unusual statement about the cause of climate change. ‘The trend that the earth is warming up is unmistakable,’ he says, ‘but I do not believe that man is the cause of this with the emission of CO₂.’

According to Heerema, the cause of climate change falls within the normal fluctuations of solar activity. ‘The ice ages were caused by changing activity of the sun. The earth has been warming up for 20,000 years since the end of the last ice age. In that process of warming, many fluctuations have occurred, such as the relatively warm Middle Ages and the relatively cold seventeenth century. Even now you see these fluctuations: the earth has not become warmer during the past 14 years. ‘

By far the most important greenhouse gas is the ordinary water vapor, he says. ‘The effect of CO2 is comparatively probably small.’ Yet he is in favor of more renewable energy. “My reason is different. We are vigorously dealing with fossil energy sources. ‘

Brotherly twist

A circle closes with the Pioneering Spirit. With the ship, part of the platforms installed by his father will be removed in the coming years. The entire Heerema family is connected to the oil and gas industry. Two of Edwards’ five brothers also set up an offshore company: Pieter went to work with the Heerema Group and Hugo started Bluewater.

It should have been different. Edward was the eyeball of his father and destined to take over and lead the Heerema Group. A quarrel between the brothers after the death of their father in 1981 eventually led to a fraternal relationship, after which Pieter bought out his brothers and each went his own way.

The sharp edges of the fraternal freak have disappeared over the years. Edward has deep respect for the performance earlier this year of brother Pieter, who was the first Dutchman to successfully sail the solo sailing race Vendée Globe. He himself does not even have a boat: “No time for it. I can not get any further than to sail the IJsselmeer with someone else’s boat. ‘ But it will no longer come to one company for the time being. “As a thought game, it sometimes plays through your mind. But it will not happen. In retrospect, I am also happy that I have gone my own way. ‘

‘No never’

Heerema is not concerned about the continuation of the family dynasty. ‘Fortunately, my children opted for technical studies. They are interested in the company. ‘ He himself will probably continue until he drops. At the end, all stubbornness comes up once more when asked if he would ever allow a fellow shareholder. ‘No never.’


Born 1947 in Caracas, Venezuela

1974 civil engineer, TH Delft. Starts career at research and development department of Heerema Engineering Service, the offshore company of his father

1978 promotion to general manager Heerema Engineering Service

1981 after death of his father promotion to president of Heerema Holding Company

1984 leaves after power struggle with his brothers

1985 establishes its own offshore company AllSeas

1986 commissioned first own pipelaying ship, the Loreley

2014 victim of millions fraud by master crooks

2016 the commissioning of the biggest work ship in the world, the Pioneering Spirit

2016 award Fellow Chartered Engineer of Royal Institute of Engineers (KIVI)

Edward Heerema. Behind him on the wall is a portrait photograph of his father and a great example, Pieter Schelte Heerema. With his name is ‘Vision-Daring-Skill’ (vision, courage, skill) Photo: Ries van Wendel de Joode for the FD


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1 Comment on “Sanitised family history of Allseas Pioneering Spirit billionaire, Edward Heerema”

  1. #1 Bert van Dijk
    on Jan 6th, 2018 at 20:39

    Hi John, due to some mistake a paragraph in the piece, where we write about the SS-history of his father, has been omitted in the online version. That already has been corrected as you can verify. The original version in the printed newspaper today was correct anyway and does include the paragraph, so your point that our article does not reveal that Pieter Schelte Heerema was a ‘diehard member of the Nazi party’ is not correct, although I understand your first reaction based on the wrong version online. Hope this clarifies it a bit. Besides, this issue has already been widely reported about in Dutch media and our newspaper before.

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