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African maritime builder’s ship comes in

Nautic's James Fisher Nautic's James Fisher

Times have changed and will continue to change for vessel owners and operators. The need to be cognisant of costs, safety, the environment and probably a whole host of additional factors that are waiting to influence maritime operations not just in Africa, but globally means that shipbuilders need to aim to stay apace with developments. There is a need for constant dialogue and we, as ship designers and builders, need to remain at the forefront of the conversation.

We need to bring Africa’s unique needs into this discussion and we need to understand that the continent should not be seen as a dumping ground for older generation vessels that no longer meet the stricter regulatory requirements of more developed maritime nations.

That said, it is encouraging to note that more new builds are being produced to meet the very specific needs of the African maritime domain. It’s especially encouraging given the current economic realities facing vessel owners and operators.

We need to acknowledge the role that ship designers and builders play in facilitating the acquisition of new technology. We can no longer simply offer standard hull designs as stock items. We cannot expect to succeed with a one-size-fits-all type of approach that dictates overall cost and functionality. We need to understand the focus on providing better value from a single vessel. And we cannot ignore the needs and challenges associated with after-sales service and maintenance of marine platforms distributed in Africa.

Understanding these factors is at the heart of every conversation we have with potential clients. It’s not about upfront vessel cost, but rather about the long-term value achieved through optimised design, multi-purpose functionality and long-term operability.

It really needs to be stressed that the success of today’s new builds rests on a greater cooperation between the builder and the end-user. A comprehensive understanding of the nature of the vessel’s operational requirements translates into a purpose-designed platform that does not require modifications later during the manufacturing process.

At Nautic Africa our innovation team of naval architects and marine engineers undertake a full application study to determine the vessel’s ultimate requirements for range, speed, support competencies and other operational parameters.

We believe we have a responsibility to research and share new equipment technology and improved design with our customers and together we agree on technology integration that offers better long-term value and performance.

It’s clear that the value proposition of any vessel is intrinsically linked to its economy of operation. Providing the best life-term options requires optimal hull design and propulsion. I foresee further developments in this area in the next decade being driven from not only a cost, but environmental perspective – and I anticipate that this will drive resurgence in new build activity.

Currently, however, there is a greater impetus to provide improved functionality in a single vessel. And, while the buzz around multi-purpose vessels is valid, it is not altogether accurate. More accurately, vessels should be built around one primary core role with the ability to undertake ancillary functions.

Our aim is to facilitate the design of vessels that, according to specified additional functions, would traditionally be much larger. We are being asked to integrate design additions that allow for pollution control, digital positioning, crew and cargo transfers and deployable daughter crafts. These functions are integrated into a much smaller vessel that translates into a better long-term asset for the owner at a more reasonable cost.

In addition, the nature of operations in Africa has many prospective buyers seeking optimal safety and security add-ons. It is not uncommon for design criteria to include ballistic protected citadels and security equipment with basic mission systems or even clinics.

The challenge for a design team is to maximise the volumetric square meterage available when translating these needs into an optimal platform. While it is tempting to use standardised hull platforms, one has to consider the actual functionally usable space. Fortunately engineering software packages such as Ship Constructor and Catia makes it easier to deliver a customised solution.

But the design and delivery of a vessel should not be seen in isolation in the African market where maintenance and support has traditionally been inaccessible. While our design aims to be as user-friendly as possible, we have seen the need to offer back-up support. As such we are currently trialing our Sea Plan on four of our new builds. This involves remote monitoring, a monthly third-party service review as well as a report to the vessel owner’s representative. If successful, we will consider packaging this into all new vessels.

Routine maintenance training is provided at vessel hand over and in keeping with our long-term belief of keeping the vessel running as near to 100 percent as possible.

This makes good economic sense for the vessel owner who will be looking to at least 10 years of operation to see a financial return. I do not see any reason, however, why with good service and maintenance the vessels cannot remain in service for up to 30 years.

The pressure on replacement will likely be driven from more efficient solutions with more advanced more efficient propulsion with less reliance on large crews. 

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