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The History about the
Ferro-Concrete Ships
 

It is widely but erroneously believed that the Ferro-concrete ship was born of the necessities of the First World War. In point of fact, there had been sporadic building in this material since the first small craft was build.

It started 1854 in Carces in France of Mr. Lambot which built a small rowing-boat and put it on display on the Worldexhibition in Paris the same year. However this first attempts was soon forgotten, and nothing happened before 1887 when Zementeisen-Fabrik Gebruder Picha-Stevens in Sas van Gent, Holland started to build a rowing-sloop (DE ZEEMEUV), which was a little bigger then Mr. Lambot's.

Next Ferro-concrete ship come from America, there a schooner was build 1892 by Daniel B. Banks but even this was soon forgotten.

The first practical use of Ferro-concrete ships started in 1896 by Carlo Gabellini in Rom, Italy who in 1905 built the lighter LIGURIA   and was soon followed by other nations. In Germany 1908, England and Holland 1910 and Norway in 1913.

In Germany started 1908 Firma Grastorf in Hanover to build a mud-lighter whit the dimensions: Length=14,0, breadth=3,6, height=1,1 meter.
1909 build Allgemeime Verbundbau Gesellschaft at Frankfurt am Main a river-barge with 200 tons burden. Soon after build Pommerchen Zementsteinfabrik a boat of 10 meters in length. 1913 started Eisenbeton-Schiffbau Gesellschaft to build a seagoing lighter of 700 tons burden.

In Panama Canal there was 1911 build several barges.

England started their first building 1910 when Cubbitt Concrete Construction Comp. build a small motor-driven mud-lighter. 1911 Yorkshire Hennebique Contracting Co. build a 200 ton lighter for the Manchester Ship Canal and 1912 a dredger. After this initial attempts started James Pollock Sons & Co, London and Concrete Seacraft Ltd., Liverpool.
A London firm, L. G. Mouchel & Co., had been interested for some time in design for ferro-concrete vessels and in 1917 they joined there forces with Yorkshire Hennebique Contracting Co. In conjunction with the powerful Vickers group, they set up the Ferro-Concrete Ship Construction Co., at Barrow-in-Furness, and proposed to lay keels for 6 ships of 1.150 dwt, for sale to private interest if the venture were a success. However, when the British Admiralty programme of concrete barges was inaugrated, this yard turned to barge-building, and turned out only one steamer insted of planned 6.
The barge programme was originally envisaged as a means og overcoming the shortage of bottoms for the carriage of ore from Spain. The tug programme was an attempt by the Admiralty to tap new building sources at a time when ways for the building of tugs were needed more for the building of anti-submarine trawlers and mine-sweepers. The combined total orders for tugs and barges amounted to 154, this total was not achieved. In fact, by the time the ARMISTICE was signed, 1 barge had been completed and 74 were building. By the end of July 1919, only 19 vessels had been launched.

Naturally such a programme encouraged expansion of facilities for the building of this type of vessel. 21 firms, many of them new, were given contracts for construction. Old established shipbuilders had a part in some of these, for instance, the Wear Concrete Shipbuilding Co. at Southwick, Durnam Co. was organised by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson, while Palmers of Newcastle were responsible for Amble Ferro-Concrete Co. at Amble, Northumberland. (See for more at Ferro-Concrete Yards ).

It is interesting to note that several different techniques were evolved. At Gloucester, sideways launching was employed, at Fiddler's Ferry (near Warrington), at Northfleet in Kent, at Preston and later at other yards, pre-cast sections were used and the gaps were filled in at the same time as the longitudinal members were encased in the sections. In Shoreham, tugs were built on slipways and barge in dry basins.
Final figures for barges were reported to be 54. Lengths of these barges varied- being 51,80, 54,86 and 57,91 meters. The first of the programme was launched in August 1918 by Hill, Richards & Co., of Poole and was the CRETEACRE.

Forerunner in Scandinavia was the Norwegian and especially under the First world War (1914 - 1918) when they build many Ferro-concrete ships. Under a time of one year there was started 11 new shipyards in Norway, specialised for Ferro-concrete ship. One of those was Porsgrunds Cementstoperi, Porsgrund who started to build a bridge-pontoon 1913, followed by Fougners Staal-Beton Skibsbyggnings Compani A/S, Moss, Melby & Scjoll A/S, Kristiania (Oslo), Sorlandske Staal-beton Skibsbyggeri A/S, Vanse and Jernbetonskibsbyggeriet A/S, Greaker.
Jernbetonskibsbyggeriet A/S, Greaker was that yard which built the first classed Ferro-concrete ship in Scandinavia.

The first patent for design of a concrete ship capable of deep-sea trading appears to have been taken out in 1912 by a Norwegian named N. K. Fougner, but it was not until 1916 that he was sufficiently confident of his ability to overcome the many technical difficulties as to enable him to undertake the building of such a ship. While working at Manila, Philippines, some years before, he had had practical experience in the building of a concrete lighter, and later built som lighters and harbour craft in Norway. An ocean-going concrete ship, however, was another matter.

Unable to find a shipowner willing to place a firm order, Fougner's firm, at Moss, built at its own risk, a motorship named NAMSENFJORD. She started her career badly by "sticking" on the launching ways when attempts were made to launch her on July 25, 1917. She was finally lifted into the water by a Norwegian Navy floating crane, eight days later. Before this happend, Fougner had build many lighters on his yard in Moss and in the meantime he had been able to interest a couple of Norwegian shipowners in his project.

Experiments were made in several other countries as in Denmark 1920, Spain 1919, Italy 1898 and 1920, Canada 1918 and in Sweden 1918.

References:
"SHIPBUILDERS" - Various Issues 1919 and 1920
Lloyds Register 1916 onwards
The Belgian Shiplover No. 74
Reports of the United States Shipping Board, 1919 - 1932
L.A. Sawyer & W.H. Mitchell "From Amerika to United States" Part 3, page 92 - 99
Ferguson "Seagoing and Other Concrete Ships" about 1923.
Various Swedish, Danish and Norwegian Newspapercuttings and
interviews with former employees.
Sodermandlands Museum, Sweden
Harnosands Lansmuseum, Sweden

Copyright: Maritime Research, Uddevalla / Rolf Skiold