Feature: Dutch Treat

Thursday, August 07, 2003

By Larry Pearson

For many years Houma Fabricators, Houma, La. built passenger boats, offshore boats and other steel hulled vessels much like a dozen other shipyards in the Gulf south. In the mid-90's they built several large gaming boats for Iowa entrepreneur Bob Kehl.

If you hadn't stopped by Houma Fabricators for the past two years, today you would not recognize the place. Purchased by Shipyard De Hoop of the Netherlands in 2001, the shipyard has undergone an amazing transformation with an $8.6 million expansion.

The Dutch shipyard is turning the 42-acre Houma site into a shipyard to resemble the company's main facility in Lobith, Netherlands. " So far we have added three steel preparation halls, four subassembly halls, new slipways with bulkheads and a permanent launching system," said O.M. Monnier, President and CEO of Houma Fabricators. A two two-story administrative center and engineering department has also been built.

The building of these new facilities to some extend was accelerated by a contract from Otto Candies LLC, Des Allemands, La. for five 187-ft. diesel electric supply boats. The first boat in the series was built in the Netherlands bringing the total order to six. "In effect, we have been building boats while building a shipyard," Monnier added.

The hull modules of the Candies' boat are being built in the new subassembly buildings.

The building is built on rails so it can rolled open to allow cranes to lift the completed hull modules out of the building so they can be stored for later assembly into complete structures.

Other modules for the vessel were also built in the new facility and they are seen throughout the shipyard waiting to be welded in place.

A second phase will see a 450- by 120-ft. covered construction covered dock, so that vessels can be built at water level but in a dry environment and then floated out by opening watertight doors. "Timing of the second phase of construction depends more on market conditions than anything else," Monnier said..

Houma Fab is now over half-way through their five boat contract with Otto Candies. The vessels feature a trio of Caterpillar 3508 diesels powering 910 kW generators that supply all of the power needed by the ship. Ulstein Z-Drives provide primary power with a Rolls-Royce 440 kW tunnel thruster in the bow.

The cargo deck measures 124-foot by 33.5-feet. Under deck hauling capacities include 110,000 gallons of fuel oil, 180,000 gallons of potable water, 3080 barrels of liquid mud and 4,000 cubic feet of dry bulk material.

"These vessels have the ability to carry 1,700 deadweight tons and can work on deep water or on the shelf," said Brett Candies, traffic manager for Otto Candies.

The employment at Houma Fabricators has risen from 68 when Shipyard De Hoop purchased Houma Fabricators two years ago to 123 today.

Jan Smit, whose family owns Shipyard De Hoop, is very impressed with the quality of the Houma workforce. "The attitude of the American shipyard worker is very good and so are their skills,' Smit said. Smit discounts the idea that American shipyard workers are not competitive against foreign workers. " Better organization and better management is the answer, not better workers," Smit added.

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