Lowestoft support firm’s sale seals growth

Ken Turner at previous boat launch

A windfarm support company launched by two Caister fishermen with the backing of a local entrepreneur has been sold in a multi-million-pound deal to allow it to continue its growth.

The acquisition of Lowestoft-based Iceni Marine Services by the Turner Group, a Scottish firm with an annual turnover of more than £220m, was due to be formally announced today at the Seawork commercial boatshow in Southampton.

From buying their first £200,000 vessel four years ago, Richard Thurlow and Guy Gibson, both still crewmen on Caister's independent lifeboat, have developed a business employing more than 50 people,

Iceni has since invested more than £4m and built up its fleet to five vessels providing crew transfer and marine support operations for the emerging offshore windfarm market.

A sixth boat, Iceni Victory, a 24m catamaran, is due to be delivered from South Boats, a division of Great Yarmouth-based Alicat, in August.

The pair, who will continue to run the business under the new owners, had been rebuffed by a succession of high street banks before they found a financial backer in Ken Turner, a South Walsham businessman who founded and built up the discount QD empire before selling it in 2004.

Mr Turner said selling the business to a large firm had been the only way of securing the financial backing necessary for the next stage of its development. He said: 'Our first 11-metre boat cost £180,000 but the 24-metre boat that will be arriving from South Boats cost £3m.

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'The general industry trend is for larger vessels and a 28-metre vessel would cost £4.5m.

'You simply cannot borrow the sort of money that is needed at the moment. The banks are not lending, even when you have established yourself as one of the fastest-growing companies in the sector.

'The final straw came when the bank that runs our account reduced our overdraft level just after we had posted a record annual profit of more than £1m.'

Mr Turner said a further necessity for 'finding someone with deep pockets' was the nature of the contracts they were beginning to negotiate for the third round of windfarm development beginning in 2016-17. He said: 'For these large-scale offshore windfarms, you are looking at long-term four or five boat contracts and the developers are asking whether small companies can perform. I think you will see a lot of mergers in the coming years.'

Mr Turner, who is leaving the sector to focus on other interests including the development of a large business park in the region, said Iceni, currently servicing windfarm projects off the coast of Suffolk and the North-East, had developed an unrivalled reputation thanks to its 'exceptional quality of service'.

He said: 'There is huge potential to create more jobs. The whole industry is set to explode next year when they start building the East Anglia Array windfarm.

'Richard and Guy have a passion for the area and they will be looking to take on more local people, including local fishermen like themselves.'

Mr Gibson, 47, whose son Daniel, 20, is training to be a boat skipper, described the integration of Iceni Marine Services into the Turner Group as 'an important step to strengthen our position within the renewable energy sector, bringing the experience and financial backing of the Turner Group together with the industry knowledge and skills of Iceni'.

The purchase of Iceni is the Turner Group's first venture into the windfarm support sector.

The company, which provides wide-ranging engineering and support services, was established more than a century ago and employs 2,000 staff.

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