Total, a Partner on the French Coastline

Founded in 1977, and based in Douarnenez, SOBAD Marine1 supplies fuel each day to ships up and down the French coastline. Total is there alongside its Breton partner to provide fishermen — and more recently, recreational boaters — with a wide array of services in addition to the sale of fuel.

1Breton Company for Fuel and Marketing.

Time Savings All Round

Most of the depot's customers these days come from Spain, which accounts for 60 percent of the company's sales. "That's because we've been going to Spain, to meet with ship owners and skippers," explains Jean-Loup Thivet. "We convinced them to come here, to Douarnenez, where they have access to a complete line of services: they can fill up on fuel, obviously, but they can also get medical care and stock up on food before heading back out to sea. While they're doing that, their fish is being unloaded at the fish markets, to be ready for market stalls in Spain the next morning. Every second counts!"

Everyone here is looking for new ways to hone their efficiency and save time. For professional fishermen and recreational boaters alike, SOBAD Marine has set up unmanned stations along the coastline, offering high-end services to vessels ranging from small boats to yachts. Says Jean-Loup Thivet, "We have dock bumpers, night lighting, the option of paying by credit card or direct debit using a card that can be read at any station along the coast, plus real-time webcams so owners can check by phone whether a station is busy or empty. We need to stay current and consistently provide the best services."

Safety, a Constant Theme

Situated between an urban area and a marine park, the Douarnenez depot is a model facility when it comes to safety, including both the standards and restrictions it enforces. But, says Jean-Loup Thivet, "that doesn't stop SOBAD Marine customers from coming back again and again. They know they can always find quality products here. We've maintained our depot's appeal by promoting the product we sell, which comes from the Donges refinery. It's a reliable fuel and 100 percent French, whereas 80 percent of the national supply is imported. We enforce Total's standards in every regard, including complete traceability. Because when you're going out to sea, the quality of the fuel has to be top-notch. That helps keep fishermen safe and secure."

Fishing boat skipper Bruno Claquin, president of the local SNSM2 unit, concurs: "You can tell very quickly when you have poor-quality fuel — the mechanic sees it when he pulls out the filters. When you're at sea, engine failure in waves 10 meters high can be fatal."

2Société Nationale des Sauveteurs en Mer, France's maritime search and rescue organization.

New Regulations on Fishing

Over the past decade, E.U. quotas designed to preserve fishery resources have reduced France's potential catch by two thirds. Sea fishermen have been encouraged to sell their boats for scrap in return for a payout. "When they destroy their boat, those fishing rights are gone for good as well. We've dropped from 15,000 to 7,000 boats nationwide," explains Jean-Loup Thivet. "But fishing isn't dead. It's just been reorganized."

To ensure its long-term financial health, SOBAD Marine has cast its net wider to diversify its customer base, with partners that now include merchant marine vessels, cruise ships, freighters, service vessels and dredgers. Pleasure boats and yachts offer a promising market as well. Two years ago the company set up shop on the French Riviera, notably in the Gulf of Saint Tropez, with locations that offer premium services.

A Continuously Revitalized Industry

"A big part of our business involves meeting people," says Jean-Loup Thivet. "We go visit organizations, clubs, harbormaster's offices; we attend annual meetings where we explain the rationale behind our approach and talk up the value of using SOBAD Marine's services. That's how we serve as ambassadors for quality, providing support, service and advice. It's our way of helping to promote better energy."

Environmental and financial pressures3 have helped to return the fishing fleet to a more optimal size. Ships are turning a profit once more, and new vessels are under construction. Everywhere except in the Mediterranean, "the fish are returning."

3Adopted in 1983 as an offshoot of the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is currently designed to promote sustainable use of maritime resources, maintain marine biodiversity and ensure a decent wage for industry professionals. A reform of the CFP is proposed every 10 years; the 2013 reform was the third in the policy's history. Source:

Focus on the SNSM:

The SNSM: Over 100 Years of VolunteerService on Behalf of Maritime Safety

Founded in 1967 with the merger of the Société Centrale de Sauvetage des Naufragés and the Société des Hospitaliers Sauveteurs Bretons, the Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer (SNSM) is a nonprofit organization, registered in 1970, whose volunteer members work primarily to save the lives of those in danger at sea and along French coasts.

For more than a century, volunteers — many with a background in the maritime world — have been contributing to their local communities by aiding seagoers in three ways:

  • Saving lives at sea and along coastlines. Volunteer water rescue crews patrol the oceans, while onshore lifeguards supervise beaches. The crews at sea render help to anyone facing a real or potential nautical disaster.
  • Training others to save lives, at 32 training centers located throughout France. Eight hundred volunteer instructors provide nearly 400 hours of classroom training and workshops for future beach lifeguards. Graduates of the program volunteer in coastal communities during the summer months.
  • Preventing hazards and educating the public about the dangers posed by the sea and some commonsense rules to follow. To introduce even young children to the principles of ocean safety, SNSM volunteers give talks in classrooms and during school-sponsored seaside excursions.