The Vision of Wilco Ooms

“While studying at the Shipping and Transport College in Rotterdam to be educated as a skipper, I was called a part-timer, as I was more on board of my parents’ ship than at school.” Inland shipping entrepreneur Wilco Ooms (34) already knew from an early age on that he wanted to follow in his parents’ footsteps in the inland shipping industry. He likes to sail, but is also very interested in the technical side, which resulted in his innovative project Semper Fi.

Since the age of six, Wilco Ooms was regularly onboard of his parents’ 1,200 ton ms Recte Spero sailing on the Donau and when he was twelve years old, his parents had to repower. Ooms: “This triggered my interest in the technical side of shipping and it also helped me a lot when I studied at the Shipping and Transport College.” He also did his internship on the ms Recte Spero and after graduating, he worked on the Catharina, sailing the Rotterdam-Antwerp- Basel route. 3.5 years later, he decided to become self-employed and bought a second- hand dry bulk cargo ship of 1,977 tons, which was built in 1924. “If you start with nothing, you need to have a ship that costs hardly anything,  but makes a lot of money”, Ooms explains. “Our ship was a twin-screwed ship, which was able to transport a lot of cargo during low tide, as it was a lightweight ship with a tare draught of 59 centimetres, something very special. During the 3.5 years we sailed on the ship, there were many periods with very low tide, which meant good business for us. Although it was an old ship, it was very well maintained, completely renovated and on the technical side up-to-date and therefore a very functional ship.”

Carpe Diem

In 2004, Ooms bought the Carpe Diem from his in-laws. A well-known barge to him andhis wife Alice, as they both used to sail on it. “The Carpe Diem is 110 metres long and has a breadth of 11.4 metres, with a tare draught of 75 centimetres. So again, when there are dry periods with low water levels, we do good business. Until recently, I sailed with my wife and we operated under free trade. Free trade is fun, I like negotiating about cargo and I am good at it, but it also costs a lot of time and flexibility, as you need to be available 24/7. In 2009, my brother became my business partner and he operates the Carpe Diem while we work on the plans for our new ship.

Because of our project, we also needed more structure and decided to start sailing on a contract basis. Because of the crisis, I see that service and quality have become of minor importance, whereas the prices have become more important; a development that I regret as in my opinion this is the wrong way to go. The atmosphere in the market is tensed at the moment and therefore I did not mind too much to take on a three year contract. This chance emerged from my network, it is a customer I used to transport cargo for in the past, Pro- log, and we have a good working relationship. The contract comprises of three trips per week between Rotterdam and Groningen. This is a new route, where a new terminal has been built.”

Semper Fi

After sailing on the Carpe Diem for three years, Ooms was ready for a next step and started to look for a new ship and therefore a new investment. “Our philosophy is to have a well- balanced, modern ship that is able to transport containers and can sail on all rivers, a bigger ship than Carpe Diem cannot do that”, Ooms tells Maritime by Holland Magazine. “Everything that was on offer at that time did not seem to be an improvement for utilisation, compared to the Carpe Diem. Most of them had less cargo capacity and their fuel efficiency was not better. That is why we decided to start our own project to build the perfect ship for us, called Semper Fi.”

Ooms began to make an inventory of which conditions should be met to get the most profitable utilisation. In 2005, Carpe Diem needed to be repowered and the propulsion data were read out and a shipping profile was made. “It turned out that an average load of 40% does not achieve the overall efficiency out of the propulsion in combination with the ship’s screw. Of course, you know this, but you do not really think about it. Therefore the starting point of our new project was a better use of the propulsion. Firstly, we thought of using a number of cheaper truck engines to increase the efficiency. It became clear though that generator units on ideal rpm had less fuel consumption, so after investigating many energy sources, we decided to use diesel-electric propulsion.”

Ooms determined the shipping profile of his new ship: use of the propulsion, velocity and the influence of the hull form on the sailing characteristics. As a reference the Carpe Diem was used and all issues that should be improved were collected. Next to the electric drive with optimising efficiency on the ship’s screw, Ooms identified another four spearheads: a very light hull, an improved design model barge line plan, counter-rotating rudder propellers and light propulsion engines. “Next step was to find a shipyard. We decided to contact shipyard De Kaap for the casco and the design, as we wanted to build a custom-made vessel in the Netherlands. Together with Stichting Projecten Binnenvaart (a foundation for inland shipping projects, ed.) and Peter van de Zanden I wrote a project proposal to apply for governmental funding because of all the technical innovations, fulfilling the criteria of EOS Demo regulation. In 2008, the subsidy was granted.” Suppliers were asked for quotations, but because of some disappointments regarding delivery times and above-budget prices, Ooms decided to wait with the next steps, although financing was in place. In the meantime, the development of the barge was continued in cooperation with Michel van Wiel, who made the design, and MARIN, where the model testing took place. Ooms: “I did not want to quit the project because of some disappointments. I dedicated myself to Semper Fi for such a long time already and I was – and still am – convinced that this is the right thing to do and I wanted to convince other parties about this, too.”

Advantages and disadvantages

Then the crisis hit and brought advantages, but also disadvantages. Prices and delivery times became lower and Ooms was ready to contact all parties again. The bank, however, decided to withdraw the financing as the risk was too high, so additional requirement had to be met. Ooms comments: “This meant more paper work. I had to contact our partners Pro-log and Danser to draw up contracts, to show the bank that we were in this together and shared the risks. They showed their interest to bring an innovative vessel into service in the future, which helped to convince the bank and they agreed to financing the project early 2011. It costs a lot of energy, but it does not matter if such problems occur. It means that all risks have been analysed, which is very motivating. Not only one, but two banks were willing to finance the project, which is a huge compliment for our project and our company, especially in these economically difficult times.”

As soon as the financing was arranged, orders were given to the shipyard and the suppliers. “Unfortunately, our budget is not enough to build the ship in the Netherlands, so it is being built in Romania”, tells Ooms. “We made the design ourselves and the quality in Romania is comparable to the Dutch quality, although the building time is longer. Veth supplies two Hybrid Drives built to our specifications, thrusters with two counter-rotating propellers with a diesel as well as an electric engine attached. The engines have a 90 degree angle and can manoeuvre separately from each other, allowing them to each to maintain propulsion. The system allows for diesel-electric or diesel- direct propulsion, but also a combination of both, which in turn means the propulsion can be adapted to each shipping profile. We also ordered two Scania 512 kW propulsion engines and two Scania 634 kVA generator sets from Veth. This is special, as it is the first time that they are used in a barge.”


“Being sustainable is important to us”, says Ooms. “On board, we will have two generators for propulsion and the reefer system. For domestic use and during mooring, we use a system with lithium batteries, that have more capacity than lead batteries, for 80% of the time. This means we can provide the vessel with electricity for six up to ten hours without using the generator. The batteries are charged by the generator that propels the electrical engine. This also is a hybrid application, which reduces CO2 emission. Next to that Semper Fi will also have reefer capacity for 50 connected reefers, which is very special for a vessel of 110 metres. With our systems we can generate enough electricity by the generators to supply these reefers with electricity.” The barge has been launched beginning of June and is expected to be delivered early in the fourth quarter of 2012.

“I want to develop myself further and innovate with barges and my company. This is very important to me and I continuously work on that. While brainstorming and networking with other people new ideas arise. People can and should share their knowledge; that is the way to elevate your industry to a higher level. Because of our Semper Fi project, I was hired as an inland shipping expert at MARIN and am part of their inland shipping team now, working on three different projects. One of them, Save, is about optimising existing ships and here I can adapt what I learned during my experience with Semper Fi. I think it is special that there are so many innovative projects going on in the inland shipping industry, despite of the crisis. That takes a lot of courage as it can turn out well as well as badly for a company, but that is what being an entrepreneur is all about.”

Gail van den Hanenberg