Home' Work Boat World : July 2009 Contents The best is not always left to last
Faire d'une pierre deux coups
That, I am reliably informed, is French for "To kill two birds
with one stone". Reliable, that is, in the sense that the internet
It's what I had hoped to do with this column... write about
French fast ferries and in so doing align myself with two of the
principal topics of this issue of "Work Boat World". It has,
however, proved a little more complex than I thought -- and not
simply because my French is so poor.
Modern France is, at least according to my CIA insiders, "one of
the most modern countries in the world" and "a leader among
European nations". To me, that -- and a population of something
over 60 million, some 1,850 nautical miles of coastline, and a GDP
of some US$3 trillion -- suggested it should be a key market for fast
ferries. Yet from what I can gather there isn't too much activity in
the intersection of the French and fast ferry sets in the global
maritime Venn diagram.
Naturally, there is a very current link between the two topics. As
revealed in this column a couple of issues ago, there is a new fast
craft operating across the Channel. Unlike most predecessors of her
ilk she is controlled from the French side (perhaps another sign
that Britannia no longer rules the waves!?!).
I write, of course, of the new 'Norman Arrow', which has joined
the Louis Dreyfus fleet. The new Incat is, apparently, a bit of a
French-Irish venture. It was reportedly sold to a company called
MGC which has a registered office on the shamrock isle (but
which, like any good shipping company worth its salt has its main
office in The City -- by which I mean London).
MGC, it would seem, has chartered it to LD though for how
long, and how much, is currently anyone's guess. And since it is
anyone's guess, I'll guess a year plus options and not too much. At
economic times such as these, I can only imagine that it's both
pencils and arrows that need to be sharp.
Until the very recent arrival of the latest Incat behemoth,
there was just one really large (i.e. 1,000 passengers plus) fast
craft flying the tricolour. 'NGV Liamone' appears, though, to be
the last chick to leave the formerly government-feathered nest
that was Société Nationale Maritime Corse Méditerranée. The
rest of the flock has already flown east to new homes and it's not
difficult to imagine the turbine-powered 'NGV Liamone'
following suit -- especially if there's an owner out there who also
owns a gas station.
One reason for that is that SNCM is now in the hands of the
private sector, who really are the people that are the best at cutting
costs and generally squeezing the best out of an organisation -- at
least as far as the profit and loss is concerned.
My research indicates that last year was the first in many
a year, perhaps ever, in which profit and SNCM could
be reasonably combined in one sentence. The result was put at
less than a million Euros to be sure, but at least -- and at last -- it
was written in black ink. Cutting large sections of the
workforce has certainly been part of that, but fleet changes have
also been made. It's hard to imagine the economists and
accountants looking too favourably at a ship like 'Liamone' with
a propulsion system more akin to a frigate or destroyer, so my
bet is that the "navire grande vitesse" may well be being looked
at as "mauvaise valeur" or "not good value" as it could be
written in English.
Ils ont perdu le pouvoir
Staying with the French theme but moving from ferries to
propulsion systems, I was surprised to hear news about French
diesel, gearbox and propeller supplier Moteurs Baudouin
recently. Surprised because, quite frankly, I can't recall hearing
anything at all about them for many, many years. Certainly my
most vivid recollections in relation to its products were some
descriptions I heard from a marine engineer in a small European
port a few decades ago now. I may have misheard them, for he
was speaking from deep within the machinery space of a vessel
along the wharf from me. Even from that distance, I certainly
got the impression that he wasn't enjoying his encounter.
One angry mechanic doesn't a bad product make, and that
would seem to be the opinion of Chinese company Weichai Power
which, according to the news I heard, has bought the French firm.
Seems that the transaction may have been on a "forced seller,
willing bargain buyer"... apparently things were not too good at
Baudouin which is perhaps why there had been no news, or
perhaps things would have been better had they been more visible
in the marketplace.
July 2009 WORK BOAT WORLD
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