In Depth: Goulphar

Image Courtesy: Flying Focus

Along with South-East Asia and Japan, Europe has an infrastructure which relies heavily on ferries and RoRo vessels for its transportation needs. As traffic is increasing and many ferries are aging, the construction of ferries is seen as one of the potential growth sectors in the shipbuilding business.

Many of the traditional European ferry builders have either closed down or have their order books filled with large cruise vessels, and this opens up opportunities for other shipyards. One of those shipyards is Thecla Bodewes Shipyards, which recently delivered a small RoRo vessel to a French client.

France has a number of islands, both on its Atlantic coast and in the Mediterranean. The French shipping and shipbuilding industry has long been a fairly closed ecosystem, with local ship owners dealing with local naval architects and building at local shipyards, except for the large ferries serving Corsica or North Africa.

It was a ship broker based in Paris, BRS Brokers, who pointed out to their client from Brittany the possibility of building their new ferry in the Netherlands. Thecla Bodewes Shipyards submitted an offer and won the order based on a good ratio between price, quality and delivery time.

TB Shipyards

Thecla Bodewes Shipyards has previously built the Paris Etoile, a day-passenger ship operating on the Seine in Paris and the Nemo, a hydrogen fuel-cell powered tourist boat for Amsterdam.

The company has also extensive experience in seagoing vessels such as short-sea cargo vessels, offshore vessels and the injection dredger Terra Plana.

The Goulphar is their first seagoing RoRo vessel. While the ship can carry up to twelve passengers, it is predominantly intended to ship cargo from Vannes and Quiberon to the island of Belle-île-enMer and to St-Nazaire. This cargo is either transported in trucks or as containers.

In the summertime, when the population of the island grows from about 5,000 people to 35,000, the ferry also transports many camping cars to the island. While other operators focus mainly on passenger traffic, Transport Maritime Côtier (TMC) focuses predominantly on cargo transport to the island.


The RoRo vessel will operate as a liner service between the peninsula of Quiberon, Vannes and Belle-île-en-Mer, with occasional stops at Saint-Nazaire. Goulphar will be an addition to two geared coasters already operated by the TMC.

The ship owner collaborated with its broker and a local ship design office to create a preliminary design, and then invited bids from several shipyards for the detailed design and construction of the vessel. The design is governed by its functionality and sailing area.

The principal dimensions such as length, beam and draught, are limited by a lock on the island of Belle-Île-en-Mer, giving access to a sheltered port with crane infrastructure. Within these limited dimensions, the maximum cargo carrying capacity was desired along with good seakeeping abilities, as the ocean is often very rough in this area.


A major influence on the design is the tidal difference in this area. The difference between low and high tide can be as much as six to seven metres.

Normally, Goulphar will moor outside of the area protected by the lock (which is only opened at high tide), and therefore has to embark and disembark rolling cargo at very different sea levels.

The solution to this is that the vessel moors alongside a quay which has a very long slope. When the tide is high, the vessel will sail further along the quay, and when the tide is low, Goulphar will moor at the lower part of the quay.

To embark and disembark the trucks or motorhomes, the vessel has a large fold-out ramp on either side. This ramp is hinged both at the deck and on a diagonal axis, to ensure a proper fit between the sloped quay and the horizontal main deck. Smaller hinged flaps at the outboard edge ensure that trucks can drive onto the ramp without too much of sill height.

Each of the ramps is lowered by a single cable which runs onto an electric winch on deck. Lowering or raising the ramp takes about one minute and is controlled by a single person. Because access from the stern is not possible, trucks will have back up onto the deck in reverse. The whole loading process takes about fifteen minutes, which is short enough to be independent of the tidal change during the port stay.


As the cargo loading can generate significant heel angles during loading, and there’s a limit to the height difference the ramps can overcome, the ship is equipped with anti-heeling tanks which are controlled manually.

When discharging containers, the large crane on portside is used with a portable remote control station. This crane has a capacity of 3.5 tonnes at an outreach of ten metres or 11,4 tonnes at an outreach of three metres. The entire cargo deck is certified for Class-1 dangerous goods, which means that the crane and deck lighting are certified explosion-proof.


The operational profile of the vessel will consist of six to eight hours of navigation per day, for six days per week throughout the year. With its operating speed of ten knots at 85 per cent of the engines’ maximum continuous rating, refueling will be needed approximately once every ten days.

For sufficient thrust in the ship’s limited draught, each propeller has a fixed propeller nozzle. Bilge keels are installed for additional roll damping, but no active stabilizers were installed.

The hull shape was designed with a plumb bow for reduced pitching in head waves. The maneuverability is ensured with a Van der Velden Marine Systems spade rudder and with a Veth electrical tunnel bow thruster.

Both the main engines and the auxiliary engines are marinised John Deere engines, by preference of the owner. The propeller shafts have a water-lubricated shaft seal. The electrical installation was done by El-Tec. Fresh water is tanked in port, but sewage is discharged through a sewage treatment system.


The accommodation provides for sleeping quarters for the whole crew. As the vessel only operates during the day, a double crew is not required.

The vessel is not a passenger ship, but a drivers’ lounge is provided on the forecastle deck, separate from the galley and crew mess. The wheelhouse is equipped with a navigation and communication system from SAM Electronics with control positions on the bridge wings.

On the lower deck, there is a large steering gear and engine room aft, and a switchboard room amidships, with fuel tanks on either side. All fuel tanks are separated from the outside shell, either with void spaces on the sides or ballast tanks in the double bottom.


The Goulphar is named after the famous lighthouse Goulphar on the island of Belle île-en-Mer.

Arjan Nieuwenhuis, Project Manager, said: “The owner knew very well what they wanted: an efficient, safe, comfortable RoRo vessel at a low cost. As the preparations were done very meticulously, the entire build process went fast and smooth. The keel was laid in January 2016 at TB Shipyards Harlingen. On February 11, 2017, the vessel was launched and moved to TB Shipyards Kampen for final outfitting. The handover took place mid-March 2017.”

At the shipyard in Kampen, which is the former Peters Shipyard taken over by Thecla Bodewes Shipyards in September 2015, work progresses on two 40-metres pusher tugs for the offshore sector and a new ferry for the city of Schoonhoven.

Thecla Bodewes Shipyards has three other shipyards, based in Harlingen, Meppel and Hasselt and focuses both on new builds and shiprepair.

Bruno Bouckaert

This article was previously published in Maritime Holland edition #2 – 2017.

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