All over the world they go, the ships of Geo Plus of Groningen. The company designs, builds and rents ships for specialized seabed research, many commissioned by dredgers, survey companies and offshore builders. Work is currently underway on the sixth vessel in the fleet.
A lot of design time, market research and persuasion preceded it. And now the new flagship of Geo Plus is being built in Farmsum. At forty-one meters long, it will be the largest boat in the fleet. The technology on board is smarter, in the form of an array of different sensors and a system of plug&play for additional, project-specific equipment from customers.
'This is what the market is asking for,' says director Patrick Défilet. 'We are convinced that this vessel will be used a lot. Our customers, dredgers, cable layers, wind farm builders, survey companies need a ship that can keep working in the slightly heavier weather conditions. And a ship on which they can easily connect their own equipment. These are all aspects we took into account when designing the ship.'
The new shoot on the tree of Geo Plus fits right into the development of the company, which was born exactly a quarter of a century ago. It started out as a surveying firm on land, but quickly developed into a specialist in mapping the land under water, through surveying shorelines.
'About 12 years ago, we started focusing entirely on building vessels for survey work,' says Défilet, who has been co-owner of the company since last year. 'We decided to design specialty vessels ourselves, in cooperation with shipyards, with high-end sensors and modifications to reduce the impact of vibrations, bubbles, noise and more
limit. After all, these all affect the reliability and accuracy of our measurements.'
That turned out to be a good idea. Geo Plus slowly but surely made a name for itself in the world of large dredging companies. The company thus became involved in major Dutch coastal defense projects. 'We are the underwater eyes of the big dredging ships, keeping an eye on whether the work is going well and where the ships need to be. About five years ago we said: we specialize entirely on the rental of our vessels with crew. Before then, we also did survey work ourselves. Now we are offering our
services more and more to specialized survey companies as well.'
The Groningen-based company rents the ships it co-develops and builds itself to companies that can do their work with them around the world. Including experienced crew and a team with specialist knowledge of survey equipment. 'We are usually the little boats among big ships. With our ships and survey equipment, they monitor the work and feed back the data they need to move forward. In recent years, for example, our vessels sail a lot at offshore wind farms, supporting the construction and maintenance vessels. Our responsibility is great. If something goes wrong with us, the work of those ships also quickly comes to a halt. That is very costly.
With the construction of the then flagship Geo Focus in 2011, NOM also walked into the company. 'These were times when it was very difficult to get funding to build a ship. Especially such a ship of which one did not yet exist,' recalls Investment Manager Jeroen van Onna. He became involved with Geo Plus about six years ago.
WE ARE CONVINCED THAT MUCH USE WILL BE MADE OF THIS SHIP
Last year, NOM expanded its stake in the company a little more. Van Onna: 'We don't often do that, usually we pull out after about five years. But Geo Plus is a special case. It took a little longer than we had anticipated for Geo Focus to start fulfilling its promise. Added to that was the funding of the new flagship last year. In addition
Patrick Défilet was working on his management buyout, and so we were able to help that process a bit as well.'
Meanwhile, Geo Plus is doing well. The largest dredging companies in the world make almost continuous use of the vessels and knowledge of the Groningers. Défilet: 'By now we have a couple of our ships permanently sailing in the Gulf region, because we offer them there directly for laying, and reclamation of islands.' Groningen is and remains the base of operations. 'It is quite special that such a globally operating company is 'just' based in Groningen. Our new ship was designed, developed and built in the North. We are proud of it and should pat ourselves on the back a bit more in this region.'