Multimillion Motueka anchor deal

Last updated 13:00 15/01/2013
Coppins sea anchor
BIG DEAL: A Coppins-made sea anchor being launched during trials with the US Navy.

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A Motueka family business has secured a multimillion-dollar contract with an international salvor to supply sea anchors.

Coppins Outdoor Centre owner Bill Coppins has been devising ways of stopping and steering vessels using the underwater fabric parachute-style anchors, which work by displacing water, since the mid-1970s.

For the past five years Coppin's machinists and designers have been working with the United States Navy on a sea anchor project.

The new contract follows the company's win last year of an international award for its Para Sea Anchor (PSA) ship steerage control project.

The Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) award was for the design, test and manufacture of an automatic release sea anchor that would hold a container ship in position in heavy winds during sea-based transfers from US naval freighters.

Coppins said winning the award over 355 other entries was an industry pinnacle and a great marketing tool. "We are in a new era of high-strength sea-anchors."

The years of multimillion-dollar, full-scale trials with the US Navy meant other competitors would never make up the intellectual ground, he said.

The project saw the company's five-person team have a year to complete not only a 30-metre-diameter sea-anchor with a 200-tonne loading, but also a remote electronic release system, a reliable deployment bag of limp fabric which would release without tangling, a robust fabric buoy shaped like a grade blade to drive into the sea and pull the anchor from its bag and a compact shell to hold and protect all the components.

In use the packaged sea-anchor would be shot to the transferring container ship and deployed to slow and steady the vessel while the goods were moved to another ship.

All the award sea-anchor's development trials were carried out in Tasman Bay using fishing vessels and tugs and all the engineering and electronic parts were built in Motueka, MrCoppins said.

The casual yet competent New Zealand attitude toward product testing amazed the Americans, he said.

"We'll develop something, go down to the Motueka causeway when the tide's coming in and test it, come back and make some changes, head down again and have another go - we could have it finished in a day while they will spend millions and take months to build tanks for water tests."

The 80-panel sea-anchors are being bought by a Norwegian salvage company. The oil industry was also interested in the sea anchors and the Spanish navy has invited the team over to do some trials with a view to a possible contract.

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"That will open it up for the rest - there are a lot of countries wanting these," he said.

However, the fantastic story may not have a happy Nelson ending unless Coppins can find a half-hectare commercial site in Motueka to develop a new factory.

Unless successful he may consider selling the business on the international market.

- The Nelson Mail

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