Pioneering vessels sailing towards £1.5m Africa deal
AN EAST Yorkshire business is leading the way in next-generation boat building after securing a unique opportunity in Ghana.
Seahorse Marine is on the verge of completing a contract worth almost £1.5m for the Ghana Government.
The business is manufacturing three passenger ferries to transport people across Lake Volta – the largest reservoir by surface area in the world – covering more than 3,200sq miles.
The boats have been developed using an innovative product – high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and, according to director Tony Tait, Seahorse Marine is the only company in the world to create boats of this size using the "durable, incredibly strong and lightweight" material.
Mr Tait said: "For a small company in Hull, we are leading the design and development for this material in boat building, which is new to the UK market and all the world.
"There are seven companies that use this material, but on a much smaller scale.
"These are the first boats of their size to be made from HDPE."
The idea to launch into boat building using HDPE started in Canada when Mr Tait, who was living in the country at the time, was working at a shipyard building vessels. With his experience, he built a boat made out of HDPE for his father-in-law – now his business partner.
This was a success and someone snapped it up straightaway.
Mr Tait said: "It worked really well, better than expected, so I built on the design. Every time I built one, someone would buy it."
After the immediate success of the HDPE boats, Mr Tait's father-in-law then went on a charity trip to Ghana, where he met president Mahama's brother Alfred and got into discussions about boats for Lake Volta. Mr Tait said: "They were looking for boats on Lake Volta, so I went out there with a basic design."
The manufacturing then began.
The business, based in west Hull, launched at the end of February and was able to employ 11 people as a result of the contract.
Mr Tait said: "I never envisaged it would go this far, but when I started testing, it was obvious to me there was a future with HDPE.
"With this material, seeing is believing."
The high-speed vessels, which can take 52 passengers with three crew members, will replace "dug-out" canoes, currently used for transporting people across Lake Volta.
The new ferries, which are 14m in length and 4.2m in breadth, will be equipped with safety features, something which will come as a novelty for those travelling across the lake.
According to the business, hundreds of people have died during crossings because of severe weather conditions and a lack of safety features, such as life jackets available on the boats.
Mr Tait said: "The boats used on the lake don't have any safety features and are simply hollowed out trees with wood planks.
"They often break down and some of the ferries are 70 years old and worn out.
"When we went over to Ghana, we could see people needed something safe and something they could maintain.
"HDPE is durable and it doesn't corrode – it could last 50 years or more, so it is very simple for the people in Ghana to look after."
In order to fulfil the business's first significant order, Seahorse Marine invested £100,000 on new equipment in the factory, which has modelling design software and CNC cutting equipment.
The contract, with the Ministry Of Transport on behalf of the Volta Lake transport company, could be the start of a blossoming relationship between Seahorse Marine and West Africa.
Mr Tait said: "We are looking at other contracts in West Africa and we are in talks with the Ghana Government about another four of the HDPE vessels.
"We have got lots of things to look forward to.
"We have made significant investments and now we need to develop the product and the uses of it.
"We are looking at military patrol boats ordered for West Africa that will put us in a much bigger market for defence and military and all kinds of different projects in the world.
"Our biggest challenge is promoting the material.
"People want to see the proof. We have got to prove to the world that this is the future and we are leading the way in developing the future boats of today."
Mr Tait said the site, which is also used to manufacture other smaller rigid buoyancy work boats using HDPE, has the potential to expand, with more space to use for manufacturing.
He said: "There is a lot of scope here to develop the business further.
"There is definitely a market for this product."