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De Gerlien van Tiem and DMC collaborating on a special project “These tankers are state of the art”

09 February 2021

Shipyard De Gerlien van Tiem in Druten is currently busy preparing for the outfitting of the Ultra Light tankers for Belgian shipping company Somtrans. Two special inland tankers with dual-fuel propulsion (gas oil and LNG) and a shallow-water hull which also incorporates the FLEX Tunnel System of Damen Marine Components. “You don’t see this every day.”

Eric Rietveld wouldn’t call it exciting, no. “Challenging is a better description”, says the Project Manager of De Gerlien van Tiem in Druten. For the first half of 2021, part of the shipyard has been reserved for an outfitting project that is different than usual. No standard tankers, but two Ultra Light inland tankers of 135 metres long and 18 metres wide that are exceptional in several respects.

Leo van Zon, Area Sales Manager Damen Marine Components

Both tankers have a special shallow-water hull, the stern of which was developed by research institute DST Duisburg (Development Centre for Ship Technology and Transport Systems) in collaboration with ship designer RensenDriessen. This shallow-water design enables Somtrans to carry enough cargo, even at lower water levels on the Rhine, so that the Belgian shipping company can continue to supply its customers with raw materials. Two retractable and folding Van der Velden® FLEX tunnel systems are integrated into the hull.

Both tankers will also be equipped with dual-fuel engines that can run on both gas oil and LNG. The latter was an explicit wish of Somtrans, which already has an inland tanker, the Somtrans LNG (the name says it all) running on Liquid Natural Gas, which is less environmentally harmful.


“That’s also where the challenge lies,” says Eric Rietveld. “Building an LNG-powered ship takes a lot more effort than building an ordinary tanker. For example, an LNG tank will be placed on deck and then there’s the pipes that run to the engine room. The dual-fuel engines are also more comprehensive systems. We’ve built and rebuilt all kinds in the past, but nothing like that yet. There are of course not that many ships built on LNG propulsion.”

Van der Velden® FLEX Tunnel

It is also the first time that De Gerlien van Tiem is building a ship for Somtrans. Contact was made by RensenDriessen, who not only organises the construction of the hull, but the entire ship. “We’ve had good experiences with De Gerlien van Tiem for years, simply because the quality is good,” says RensenDriessen owner Wim Driessen. “We prepare the outfitting specifications ourselves, incorporating the customer’s wishes, and we try to apply a lot of preparations to the hull, so that the outfitting can run smoothly.”

FLEX tunnel systems are built into the shallow-water hulls, which are made in China. The big advantage of this, compared to a conventional tunnel system, is that the FLEX Tunnels can be retracted when they’re not operationally needed. “You want to be able to sail away at all times, even at low tide”, Driessen explains. In that case, the tunnels come in handy. When the ship’s loaded and you no longer need the tunnels, you can retract them. That way, you always have the best of both worlds.

On behalf of supplier Damen Marine Components, Area Sales Manager Leo van Zon contributed ideas to the underwater hull of the Ultra Light design at an early stage. Not only the FLEX Tunnel systems are supplied by DMC, but also the nozzles placed in the stern. This forms a unique set with the rudder and steering gear, so that the specific customer wishes with regard to loading and navigation depth can be achieved.

DMC also kept an eye on things during the construction of the hulls in China. “We asked field engineers from our DMC location in Jiangyin to assess the quality of the work performed by the Chinese shipyard”, says Van Zon. “So we were also informed by our own people locally, we’ve always been aware of the state of affairs. For instance, we supervise the installation of the systems that we’ve supplied, right up to China.”

De Gerlien van Tiem is full of confidence. “The FLEX Tunnels have proven themselves on a number of other ships and we’re confident it won’t be any different on these ships”, says Eric Rietveld. “Leo has been involved from the start. And later, during commissioning and the trial run, we can count on him again. In recent years, we’ve completed several ships fitted with the rudder and steering systems of DMC/Van der Velden and that has always gone smoothly.”


22 weeks have been allocated for the outfitting in Druten in the first half of this year. “That’s our aim”, says Rietveld. “The intention is for both ships to sail in the summer.” It won’t be for a lack of preparation. “This project demands a lot of preparation time, everything has been extensively discussed and thought out in collaboration with Somtrans, RensenDriessen, DMC and the classification society.”

An extraordinary job for the shipyard that has specialised in new building, repairs and retrofitting for more than half a century. And for Damen Marine Components, because although Leo van Zon has already supervised many projects, this is also very special for him. “The fact that Somtrans has opted for propulsion with dual-fuel engines is one thing, you don’t see that every day. In addition, a great deal of attention has been paid to the lightweight ideology of the design. They will be super-special ships, truly state of the art.”

Eric Rietveld, Commercial Project Manager De Gerlien van Tiem