Caught Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

Another major repair is about to start on the Plastic Odyssey vessel after more than two years of shipyard. After more than two years of shipyard, the team looks back on these steps with many twists and turns.

The tale of the never-ending shipyard

Last Friday, the Plastic Odyssey ship was to set sail from Marseilles to reach her first stops in the Mediterranean.
But on November 12th, no farewells were bid on the dock, no waves were made in the harbor of Marseille. For last Friday, like today, our proud ship was still tied up in the shipyard of Dunkirk. She is about to undergo a major structural repair on the rear part of her hull. An unforeseen and lengthy repair that will push our departure back by several months.

Now that the initial disappointment has passed, we wanted to share with you the journey that we have been on since 2019, the year when we bought the Victor Hensen ship. To restore a ship from the 1970s and to convert her into a floating recycling center – The idea was mad, and we knew it. It has since put us through thick and thin.
But “No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” (It’s not from us but from Aristotle)
and today, we share with you the events that have rocked our boat in the last few months.

History of the Shipyard

In the absence of heroĂŻc tales of our ship sailing through roaring seas and oceans, here is the tale of our first storm : the one of a shipyard with multiple pitfalls, the one of our journey within the journey – in which we have not emerged unscathed. In short, the tale of the Plastic Odyssey vessel:

October 2019

After several months of study and research, we became the proud owners of the MV Victor Hensen upon its return from a voyage from Denmark. She is a 40-meter ship built in 1974 which sailed until then in the North Sea, to carry out oceanographic research missions. She takes her name from the German biologist Victor Hensen, to whom we owe the discovery of plankton. We renamed her MV Plastic Odyssey and gave her a French flag. This ship seemed to be THE ONE for our expedition: large crew capacity, versatility of spaces, very low fuel consumption… And above all, we had a certificate guaranteeing the absence of asbestos on board.

Victor Hensen vessel

February 2020

First rebound. We found out this certificate was a fake: as soon as the shipyard work started, asbestos was found on board. The crew disembarked immediately and the ship was quarantined. In the middle of winter, in the cold and rainy port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, and in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis, the first phase of asbestos removal began on the ship. First of a (too) long series, but we didn’t know it yet.

Summer 2020

We then launched the next phase of work to transform the ship into a floating recycling laboratory. The MV Plastic Odyssey was transported to the Damen shipyard in Dunkirk to build the new deck that, once positioned on the stern, would house the recycling workshop. Inside, a second asbestos removal was carried out to remove all traces of asbestos on board and to put an end to this risk once and for all.

Winter 2020/2021

Asbestos removal is completed, leaving the ship bare: no more bulkheads, no more bridge equipment… an almost empty hull that must be completely refitted. But new measurements of the hull thickness revealed some weaknesses that could not be detected before the removal of all bulkheads. We undertook several boiler repairs, to give a new life to this ship – working as much on the substance as on the form. The construction work continued to intensify on what was already a very busy calendar.

March 2021

Hope was reborn. After months of hard work, the ship came out of dry dock proudly displaying the Plastic Odyssey colors. The work should be completed in a few months. The team started to prepare and plan the first stops of the expedition, to begin at the end of summer.

July 2021

The mandatory inspections are validated. At the end of August, the ship should leave for the Tour de France. One last repair on a ballast ceiling and the ship would be ready to go!

August 2021

This latest repair gives a glimpse of the catastrophic condition of a ballast tank that had not been examined in the nearly 50 years of the ship’s life. The structure may be damaged. Time was suspended – the departure would not take place on August 27.

September 2021

The decision was made to totally redo the defective ballast. It would take months to find another shipyard, as the busy dry docks in Dunkirk could no longer take on the new work. With the help of our partners, we reviewed possible next steps to move forward, despite the storm. All tracks were then explored. All tracks were then explored.

October 2021

We made the decision to entrust our vessel to a shipyard in Saint Nazaire, to carry out the necessary repairs. The crew began preparing to bring the boat from Dunkirk to Saint Nazaire, with transfer planned for the end of November. We will soon share this journey on our social networks.

Next steps

These twists and turns have taught us one important thing: we chose to recycle an old ship, and that choice was clearly not the easiest path. With this story, we are writing an “adventure within an adventure” that we will not soon forget.

The new departure date? Here is a second important learning: as long as this ship is not really sailing, we will not be able to validate an exact departure date for our world tour.

Virtual visit of the Plastic Odyssey in the shipyard

Immerse yourself in the ship under construction with this virtual visit whose 360° images were taken last July.

VR link:

To answer all your questions about the shipyard and to share how we are taking action against plastic pollution – starting the exploration without the ship – we invite you to join us on:

Wednesday, November 24th on BRUT Live

Here you will discover best and worst anecdotes from the shipyard, the first cities where our machines will be installed and our action plan for 2022.
for an exclusive live interview (in French), conducted by the journalist Clémentine Rouve.

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