Socarenam has been building boats at Boulogne-sur-Mer since 1969. “But our history goes back to 1961 when Caen-based boatbuilder Navale Caennaise established a new yard with a 200-metre drydock at Calais for fleet maintenance,” says Philippe Gobert, the yard manager. In 1969, Socarenam took over the Baheux yard at Boulogne where it is still based today. In 1973, the company opened a workshop in Dunkirk specialising in mechanical engineering and industrial maintenance. Then, in 1980, Socarenam took over Étaples-based marine joinery Lefebvre. “We’re committed to northern France and we’re here to stay,” adds Philippe Gobert.
In 1969, the Navale Caennaise yard had to cease operations. “So the employees decided to buy the company. Some 50 employees bought stakes and are still the company’s sole shareholders. This form of governance combined with the shareholders’ spirit and commitment have contributed to our success,” says the CEO. “The yard continues to build around three 16- to 40-metre fishing boats a year for a variety of fisheries”.
Diversification in the 1990s
Like many other yards, but possibly with more drive than some, Socarenam decided to diversify in the 1990s. “We started paying close attention to the contracts offered by the DGA, our defence procurement agency. Indeed, we quickly realised that our know-how was largely applicable to the design and construction of naval vessels.” Our first DGA contract was for navigation instruction vessels Glycine and Églantine, followed by another for sonar tugs Antarès, Altaïr and Aldebaran. “Having a client like the DGA helped us to raise our standards and improve our organisational skills. With time, meeting the challenges inherent in meeting the DGA’s requirements helped us how to win further contracts awarded by other government agencies.”
Alizé, diver support for the French special forces (© MARINE NATIONALE)
Orders for naval vessels peaked in 2004 with the construction of the Alizé. Since commissioning, this diver support boat has undertaken a number of missions with France’s special forces. “The design specs presented quite a challenge.” Following the delivery of the Alizé, the yard was awarded a quality trophy “which motivated us to tackle more demanding projects”.
Innovative designs for offshore work
The next step for Socarenam was to put forward its own designs for demanding offshore projects. In 2006, Bourbon, a France-based offshore oil and gas service provider, entrusted the company with the construction of multi-purpose supply vessels Bourbon Enterprise and Bourbon Supporter. “With a length overall of 75m and a beam of 20m, these ships presented new challenges. In fact, their success proved a springboard for further diversification. Since then, we’ve felt ready and able to take on just about anything that floats. While steadily raising our standards, particularly as regards quality, we’ve nevertheless retained the agility of a smaller yard. Indeed, quality has become the hallmark of everything we build. Our ships and boats are built to last and to cost their owners less over the long term.”
Bourbon Enterprise (© BOURBON OFFSHORE)
A healthy orderbook
To better pursue our objectives, we took over the Gamelin yard in Saint-Malo in 2009. The yard’s 91-metre drydock along with its expertise in aluminium hulls complement the capabilities of our Boulogne yard, with its 55-metre drydock, nicely. This initiative led to orders for 32-, 45- and 54-m patrol boats for French Customs along with others for the Belgian Navy, PLG-type vessels for French Guiana, a buoy tender for Belgium, and a fireboat for Marseille. Meanwhile, the yard continued to win orders for a total of seven fishing boats from 12 to 25 metres for French clients.
PLG-Type La Confiance for the French Navy (© TRISTAN SERCA)
Breizh, a 16.5 m trawler for coastal fishing in Brittany (© GPAL)
Étaples for smaller boats
“In 2013, we set up Socarenam Côte d’Opale, a subsidiary specialising in boats ranging from 10 to 12 metres. This gave us an opportunity to return to one of the ports where our story began, while at the same time putting us in a strong position on a new market.” Here too, the orderbook is healthy. After building several boats for the firefighters at the Dunkirk LNG terminal, the Étaples yard won a contract to build 21 utility boats for French Navy services between ports like Brest, Cherbourg and Toulon in France and others in French overseas territories.
“Socarenam employs a total of 250 people. Our Calais facility specialises in industrial sheetmetal work and fabrication, especially for the offshore oil and gas industry and for Dunkirk, where we also have an industrial maintenance business.” While growth has been strong, the CEO remains modest: “It’s true that we are not big on public relations. Perhaps it’s because we prefer to focus more on client satisfaction while remaining cautious when talking about growth.”
Written by Caroline Britz, translated by Steve Dyson
12 meters rescue boat Notre Dame des Flandres (© MARINE NATIONALE)