Construction company steps up production of concrete feed barges

Aslak Berge

The Backe Group, best known as a building contractor, is increasing its turnover from building concrete feed barges. Now they are also fabricating floating closed-containment post-smolt tanks.

“That’ll be the tenth barge to leave Stamsneset this year,” says Claus Haaland Thorsen, project manager at Backe Bergen, pointing at a hefty gray-painted feed barge.

The barge will be delivered September 15.

“There are two ways to agree contracts. First, you have a basic contract, where we build a barge for another contractor who is responsible for the [feed] silo. We build the concrete hull for others to finish. Then you have a complete contract, which we would prefer to work on. We reach agreements with subcontractors and suppliers of diesel and water tanks, electricians, plumbers, feed capacity and certification,” he explains.

At the floating dock that runs from the quay, two completed feed barges lie ready for delivery to the customer. Inside the dry dock the atmosphere is busy with several ongoing projects.

“We have been in business for 40 years. Mainly, Backe Bergen works in the construction industry. That is our main business. Here we have a sub-department that operates with maritime concrete,” says the project manager.

Nearly quadrupled
“Our revenue was about €1.6m in 2016, and it will probably be about €5.3m in 2017,” continues Haaland Thorsen.

The Backe Group, based in Lysaker, outside Oslo, had a total turnover of €394m in 2016.

“We compared steel barges with how cost-effectively we can supply concrete barges. We believe the customer will profit by choosing a concrete barge if he spreads costs over 20 years. We never deliver feeding facilities, the customer chooses that for himself,” says Haaland Thorsen.

Closed containment
A passenger plane flies above us. The dock is located on Stamsneset, just northeast of Flesland airport in Bergen, Norway.

In addition to feed barges, Backe has begun working on a closed containment facility for the small salmon farmer Engesund Fiskeoppdrett. In this innovative project, the company will produce post-smolt.

“This is a trial project. If it works, there may be larger facilities. The tank is 30 x 20 meters and has a capacity of 1,000 cubic meters. We believe synergies are to be found between feed barges and floating concrete post-smolt farms. We are due to finish three barges in 3-4 months.”

– How is the demand for your barges in 2018?

“We have started working with enquiries for 2018. We have available capacity,” says Haaland Thorsen.

Backe Bergen has four different barge concepts in different sizes that they advertise and build.

“We can offer between 300 and 750 tonnes of feed capacity; that matches the feed capacity we see going into the market for steel barges to many customers.”

The smallest holds 300 tonnes of feed and has dimensions of 22.5 x 16 meters.

“We can build up to 45 x 20 meters in our 90 meter dock. I think we have the largest dock among those who build feed barges.”

– What are customers concerned about when buying a feed barge?

“First price, then feed [storage] capacity. These factors are crucial to customers in making their choice. Concrete is heavier than steel. As far as we know, no one offers a 50-year warranty on barges. A steel barge can’t offer that,” says Haaland Thorsen.

– Is it the same discussion as steel versus concrete as for oil platforms?

“If you go for a price, you choose steel, but some users want concrete,” Per Bessesen, concrete manager for Backe Bergen comments.

“Steel is lighter, lies more lightly in the sea and moves more than a concrete barge. Concrete is more stable,” argues Haaland Thorsen.”