How they make unsinkable boats in Port Harcourt
by IGNATIUS CHUKWU
February 23, 2017 | 10:00 am| | | Start Conversation
– As Epenal helps Nigeria lead Africa in boat building tech
There is a new brand of flying boats criss-crossing the waters of the Niger Delta but they do not sink, as believed by those why fly in them. The biggest risk in the waters for travelers is when the engine goes dead. The boat will begin to swallow water until it begins to sink. Lives are lots.
Now, some of these smart boats no longer sink. Even it bullets or sharp objects strike them (as was the case in the one that led to the death of a journalist in recent times), the boat would just be swirling until help comes.
BusinessDay traced the place where the boats are being built. The neon light on Marine Base Road spells Epenal in simple words, looking unimportant. Inside, the yard is also simple but the admin and management buildings look exceedingly beautiful in brilliant colours. On the far end is the River where some water-based leasing equipment and tugs are moored, ready for jobs.
Epenal is a group of companies but the Epenal Boat Builders Ltd, established in 2000, is the flagship.
The General Manager, Numo Lele Aaron, is the action man in operations across the four companies. The chairman and founder, Tuguemi Ebi Inala, worked in John Holt where he picked up the rudiments of boat building and launched into his own venture. “In fact, he is the driving force behind Epenal Group. He is from Bayela State (Nembe to be specific)”, the GM disclosed in an exclusive interview with Port Harcourt By Boat column.
Today, 17 years after, Epenal is building military boats (restricted). The lucky break came when Epenal was discovered by one of the international oil corporations (IOCs) that saw his work and became interested. “We have gone very far in the business of boat-making. We now make different kinds of boats even for seismic operations. We customize boats for people. You say what you want I we make it. We make luxury boats with TV, fridge, air conditioners, etc. Technology grows and we are still in learning process, eager to grow beyond this stage”, the GM said.
The Nigerian Navy tried Epenal and they delivered 80 armoured boats to the shock of most Nigerians. Aaron added: “Our boats are free from corrosion and are unsinkable. Even if they try to sink, they cannot go down.”
Port Harcourt By Boat found the secrets at the manufacturing yard far into the other side of Marine Base.
There is a foaming chemical added to a number of other devices. They use a special steel to keep the boats for a long time in the water. They use special fibre that floats around the special steel. A hole is created at the top centre of each side of the trunk of the boat. After full production, a special forming chemical (liquid) is mixed and introduced into the hollow of the frame through the two holes. It solidifies into foam inside the hollow. This keeps the boat from sinking no matter what is done to it. This is because the foam inside cannot go down beyond a certain level.
The boat expert said this is just one of the innovations coming out in Epenal. “We have other designs that are coming out soon”. He said in other countries, companies such as Epenal build things for the armed forces. “The army will say what they want and companies produce for them”.
He said they use special screw nails because the locally made ones are not perfect. “If you use anyhow bolts and nails, the salty waters would corrode them”. That must be why Epenal management is grateful to the Navy for giving them the chance to produce the 80 armoured boats. This helped to sustain the over 136 workers in their employ.
Boats made by Epenal are about half the price imported ones but the quality is far ahead, Aaron noted. Besides, the technicians are here to rush down and fix any technical problems whereas foreign ones take weeks to get attention.
The big deal is in the waters and when danger knocks on the door. The Epenal boats would not sink, would not submit to corrosion quick. When pirates injure them, they still hang around till rescue comes. In fact, the Navy is keen because Epenal armoured boats withstand shooting due to special anti-ballistics steel in them all round. Governments in the oil region are now placing orders for their use and for donation to the marine police and Navy to police their waters.
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