Shipping firm that’s willing to think the unsinkable

But now the builders of a new fleet of ferries – built in Yorkshire – are confident their vessels will stay afloat – whatever the world’s largest man-made lake throws at them.

Covering a huge area of around 3,275 square miles, around half the size of Yorkshire, Lake Volta in Ghana is still uncharted.

Hundreds have died taking crops to market in unsuitable craft, with many accidents due to overloading, poor navigation skills and badly designed boats.

An added hazard is the innumerable trunks of trees that are still sticking out of the surface of the lake as the trees were never cut down when the reservoir was created back in 1965.

Now hopefully this should change as Ghana is about to receive the first of three ferries built in Hull by Paseda Seahorse.

The ferries, which will take 52 people each, have been built out of high-density polyethelyne – a material used for everything from fuel tanks to hard hats – which director of the family firm Tony Tait started experimenting with for boat-building, when he was running a shipyard at Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island.

The business took off when he and his father-in-law Roger Prince were living in Canada and Roger asked him to build him a boat that wouldn’t get damaged on the rocky fringes of the innumerable islands in the area.

Roger impressed one doubter so much when he drove up a concrete ramp in the new boat, that he offered to buy it on the spot – turning a tidy profit for an enterprise, that is now located back in Yorkshire.

Tony, who started out as an apprentice at Hepworth’s Shipyard at Paull, said: “Roger bought himself a little rigid inflatable but he kept 
puncturing it. I was running 
an engineering department at 
a shipyard and they used the 
high-density polyethylene for fenders.

“It’s an incredibly tough plastic.

“I built him a boat and he had it for a few weeks and then sold it and then I built another one and sold that and it progressed to a small business.

“I moved back over here as my wife wanted her baby over here. A few years later Roger came back and mothballed the business over there.

“Roger had been out in Africa doing charity work, doing things like drilling wells, and they were interested in getting a vessel for a river crossing.

“We both went out and it snowballed to passenger ferries and ended up as a contract for $2.3m.

“Hundreds have died on the lake and these will literally replace old, dugout canoes. The main trade is in the chillies, yams and sweet potato they take to market.”

Tony demonstrates the polyethylene’s qualities by dropping a bit into a tub of water – it floats – and shows off a tube of the material that’s only slightly dented when fired at by both barrels of a 12-bore.

He said: “It’s indestructible, and technically they are unsinkable. We fill boats up over the deck with water and put crew and cargo on it and they still stay afloat. You don’t need to paint them as marine growth doesn’t stick to it.”

The ferries, built at the company’s premises on Carlton Street, in Hull, are propelled by water jets, so there is nothing sticking out below the surface 
of the hull. Forward-looking sonar, which is used in military and research vessels, has also been installed, allowing the 
crew to look ahead under the water.

The firm has just taken on two apprentices who are learning the old-fashioned skills as well as more modern technology, and they are in discussions with a major order with Ivory Coast for patrol boats. Nigeria and the South African Navy have also expressed an interest.

With three companies in Hull building ships – including building offshore wind farm vessels at Paull – the trade, once a huge one in the area, could be described as having a mini-revival.