FAO Fisheries Department
The only surviving example of a concrete motorboat made by Italian engineer Pier Luigi Nervi is currently on display at FAO headquarters.
The 8.5-metre-long craft was the Nervi family’s holiday motorboat but uses the same construction technique as the low-cost fishing vessels FAO commissioned from the engineer in the 1960s to navigate the lakes of Africa and South America.
Nervi (1891-1979) came to the Organization’s attention for his pioneering work after World War II in creating boat hulls from a reinforced concrete known as ferro-cement, which made them rot- and fire-proof as well as less likely to leak.
Although the concept of concrete boats was not new, Nervi was the first to experiment with making hulls from an extremely thin concrete skin around 20 millimetres wide.
FAO wanted to promote the building of the inexpensive ferro-cement hulls in developing countries by training local workers. “FAO was interested because the ferro-cement building materials were cheaper than fibreglass, and because of concerns about using too much wood for sustainable forestries,” explains FishCode manager Jeremy Turner who has also sailed a ferro-cement boat across the Atlantic.
“But it wasn’t entirely successful because of the difficulties in ensuring quality control. In the end only Cuba and China mass-produced ferro-cement boats.”
Poor-quality materials meant that the boats were more likely to suffer from one of ferro-cement’s disadvantages – a lack of impact resistance.
“Even bumping against other boats in a harbour can rub off layers of cement, leaving the steel wire mesh vulnerable to rust and resulting in deterioration of the steel framework,” says Turner. “Ferro-cement never really took off.”
The motorboat is on display at FAO for the annual assembly of the General Fishery Commission of the Mediterranean, which opens on 9 May and will remain until 31 July.
Caption: The Nervi family boat outside FAO headquarters