Firefighter delivery for Dunkirk

The fire tenders can get to the LNG terminal in under 15 minutes
The fire tenders can get to the LNG terminal in under 15 minutes
The layout is deceptively simple
The layout is deceptively simple
Delivered in fog The 0.84m draft aluminium hull has a fine entry, deep-V hull to the fore which then broadens out with two wide chines, allowing it to take hard turns and rougher weather while keeping up stability
The 0.84m draft aluminium hull has a fine entry, deep-V hull to the fore which then broadens out with two wide chines, allowing it to take hard turns and rougher weather while keeping up stability
This pair of 11.4m long, 3.93m beam boats has been designed with to get ten hefty firemen – and their breathing apparatus - to Dunkirk’s new LNG terminal in under 15 minutes
This pair of 11.4m long, 3.93m beam boats has been designed with to get ten hefty firemen – and their breathing apparatus - to Dunkirk’s new LNG terminal in under 15 minutes

“Simplicity. It looks easy when you see the end result: it’s not so easy to achieve,” Pierre Delion told MJ.

Designed by Delion Naval Architects and built at the Socarenam yard in Boulogne , this pair of 11.4m long, 3.93m beam boats has been designed to get ten hefty firemen – and their breathing apparatus - to Dunkirk’s new LNG terminal in under 15 minutes. Unlike many boats, their worth won’t be tested every day, but when and if they are needed, lives could rest on these vessels’ performance.

However, costs are still “very much central” and so the builds also needed to slip under the 12m classification rules and France’s 350hp regulations: crossing either boundary would necessitate extra permits, paperwork and complexity.

The 0.84m draft aluminium hull has a fine entry, deep-V hull to the fore which then broadens out with two wide chines about a third of the way down its body, allowing it to take hard turns and rougher weather while keeping up stability – after all, the firemen on the back might be brave, but they are not necessarily sailors. The last third of the hull “is leaner in the water” said Mr Delion, helping the boat to plane at around 20 knots.

The propulsion comes from an integrated Volvo Penta offering: not only does it make for a much smoother installation as Thomas Buffier of Socarenam pointed out, but the local support provided by Dunkirk-based supplier Debussche tipped the decision for owners Engie (previously EDF); keeping the boats in top-notch condition, despite lack of regular duty cycle, is a concern.

Further, Debussche is an old associate of Mr ​Buffier ​and the company has had a hand in helping tailor the power requirement: “These are commercial specialists, and to tell the truth, I get the best results by involving them in negotiations as early as I can, as close to the tender stage as possible,” he said.​

A pair of 170hp Volvo Penta D3 engines were chosen: the D3 being a particularly compact, common rail engine which is linked to a robust, Z-format Duoprop drive with counter rotating twin propellers which get a good ‘grip’ on the water and help push the boat into planing mode. VP’s system also reaches into the wheelhouse, offering fairly easy-to-read displays and optional functions such as Single Lever Control. Mr Buffier added that for the yard, another advantage of this particular set up is it doesn’t require extra penetration holes in the hull, the cables, seawater cooling and other pipework is channelled through the drive entry.

While the engines have Optima 12V starter batteries, onboard services are more demanding: for example Mr Buffier explained that there is a Worms p52D fire pump and other equipment such as the Italwinch windlass and anchor. Further, although there’s only standing room at the helm the boat comes with quite a lot of electronic kit in order to round out its capability so it has Furuno chartplotters, windspeed and direction monitoring, ECDIS, depthsounders and so on. Therefore a 24V power take-off from the port side engine is fed through to two sets of 24V AGM Energiemobil batteries in order to supply these diverse needs.

The boat’s balance and ‘unsinkable’ notation took some thought: “We have to show that if anyone is breached, the deck will still stay 76mm from the waterline”, said Mr Delion. There are five watertight bulkheads subdivided into compartments: breach any along the length of the vessel “and you wouldn’t really notice a difference in position” he said. However, the one that crosses the bow proved to be a little more complex, needing careful mitigation to provide the necessary buoyancy.

Secondly, a light aluminium boat can easily be affected by variations in load (keep in mind those ten hefty firemen) but the forward placing of the compact wheelhouse, necessary to make the most of the seating area aft, has been balanced by placing the engines as far back as possible on a Z-configuration so the trim stays fairly consistent, even if there’s a general movement of people to or from the extra-wide exits at the rear.

Despite being a coastal, 15 minute run less than 5nm from shore, the area suffers from some nasty, very changeable weather. Therefore the aluminium superstructure on the back deck can be sheathed with soft, rainproof windbreaks to afford the firemen some protection from the elements. There are two runs of bench seats: between them is an easy to access box that keeps the portable Forani & Pecorari electropump and oxygen breathing gear bottles stowed securely.

Interestingly, the Furuno navigation gear got put through its paces early: the three hour delivery from Boulogne started out clear, but halfway through the air turned into an impenetrable pea soup. “We kept up a steady pace relying on the navigation gear, but visibility was terrible,” said Mr Delion. “I was outside and hadn’t realised we’d arrived – until the local ferry loomed out of the fog less than 15m away.” He admitted at that point he was very glad of the responsive stern drive.

Finally, a trial run vindicated the choices, managing a fully loaded test deployment from the station to the destination terminal in under the required 15 minutes with a margin to spare – and despite the result never really being in any doubt, Mr Delion and Mr Buffier were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.

On a strategic note, Mr Delion explains one reason for the boat’s underlying versatility is that “while people buy a vessel to satisfy their immediate needs, very often they can’t tell how operations will develop even in three or five years” and, he said, redeployment or even resale value becomes an important factor.

This approach is proving worthwhile: while this pair of boats was the first commercial order from the Delion-Socarenam Boulogne team, the ‘base’ design is already beginning to be popular for those who need a simple, short range but flexible craft. For example, the build has been followed by an order from the Boulogne fire service who are also in charge of coastal alarms: in their case the boat’s stability lends itself to being equipped with diving gear and a water cannon.

A version is also being developed somewhat for SNSM, the French marine rescue service: this organisation needs to keep operational costs down and didn’t want to deploy much heavier allweather craft when the conditions didn’t require it – so the next order could potentially see a long run of these boats produced for tackling rescues around France’s coastline.

By Stevie Knight

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