Skip to content

Visit the museum ship Amandine in Ostend

Museum Ship Amandine

Despite the scale of the renovation work, the revamped Amandine does not look all that different than it did four years ago – which is good news as the ship’s authenticity is maintained.

The ship that was showing its age

The Amandine has been closed to the public for the past four years to allow renovation work to be carried out. It was certainly showing its age. This is not surprising, as it was built between 1960 and 1962, so is currently 62 years old. Structurally there were a lot of problems: large rust spots, water seepage, and welds that were broken. The museum displays were in dire need of modernization too.

What’s new in the museum ship Amandine?

The exterior of the ship was completely sandblasted and repainted. Everything internally that was broken was repaired. New accessories such as nets were added. The museum’s reception area has been renewed, and the on-board exhibition updated. The previous display cabinets with tools and utensils that the fishermen used on their voyages to the waters off the coast of Iceland have been replaced by a large interactive wall.

Experience the life of the fishermen

The interactive wall enables you to see film and sound clips of fishermen that sailed to Iceland on board the Amandine or on other ships of the Belgian Icelandic fleet. You will be able to see for yourself how grim things could get during that perilous voyage into the rough North Atlantic Ocean. I thought it would be good to explore the history of the Belgian fishing fleet to Iceland to put the Amandine into context.

Middle Ages to 17th century

Belgian sea fishing has a long history dating back to the Middle Ages, with the ports of Ostend and Nieuwpoort enjoying particular prosperity and status in the industry. The 15th and 16th centuries marked the heyday of the Flemish herring fisheries. However, political turmoil in the 16th and 17th centuries led to the decay of Flemish fisheries.

A relaunch in the 19th century

The 19th century saw significant advancements in fishing technology and with them a revival of the Belgian fishing industry. The beam trawl – one of the earliest forms of towed fishing gear – made its entrance into Flemish fisheries in 1822. The use of ice to keep the fish fresh on board was introduced in 1874. The first steam trawler was launched in Ostend in 1884.

Icelandic fish in Ostend fish market
Icelandic catch in the Ostend fish market in 1932 (Foto: VLIZ/Verbrugghe, L).

20th century changes

The 20th century brought about major changes in the Belgian fishing industry. The overall number of days spent at sea decreased by approximately 84% between 1938 and 2010. However, the efficiency of the vessels increased: the average tonnage of fish landed per day per vessel doubled in the same period.

The Belgian fishing fleet to Iceland

Turning now to the specific situation of fishing off the coast of Iceland, for centuries, tough local sailors had braved the bleak Atlantic off the southern coast of Iceland to fish, primarily for cod. From the 17th century, this was done with sailing sloops, which were away from Belgium for months. From the 20th century, steam and motor trawlers were introduced, which cut the trip to about three weeks. At one time, the Belgian fleet to Iceland comprised more than 80 ships.

The launch of the Amandine

The O.129 Amandine was launched on September 27, 1961 from the shipyard of Richard Panesi Senior which was located in the Visserijdok of Ostend. It was built for the shipping company of Engel Verhaeghe, and was named after the wife of Engel Verhaeghe, Amandine Danneel. On Tuesday, March 20, 1962, the ship left on its maiden voyage to Iceland. Initially, the Amandine only fished during the summer on the fishing grounds around Iceland. During the winter the ship opted for the less icy seas of the North Sea and the Channel.

0.129 Amandine from Ostend
The Amandine in full working mode

The cod wars

The Amandine was launched at a time when Icelandic fishing was at a turning point due to the expansion of Icelandic territorial waters. In 1958, the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in which foreign vessels were no longer allowed to fish was increased to 12 nautical miles (22 km). The Icelandic government wanted to protect its own fisheries and prevent the depletion of fish stocks.

In 1972, the Icelandic EEZ was extended to 50 nautical miles. Three years later it was further extended to 200 nautical miles (370 km). Non-Icelandic fishermen were not happy. The enforcement of the zone caused several incidents between fishing vessels and the Icelandic coastguard. During these so-called “cod wars” even ships from the British Navy were deployed. But to no avail. The extensive fleet of mainly British and German fishing vessels was soon phased out.

The cod war collision
The famous collision in 1975 during the “Cod War” between the UK’s HMS Scylla and Iceland’s ICGV Óðinn 

Belgium continues fishing in Icelandic waters

However, for Belgium the situation was slightly different. Under fisheries agreements between Belgium and Iceland of 1972 and 1975, 19 Belgian fishing boats, including the Amandine, were allowed to continue fishing in Iceland in seven defined zones – although any boat that sunk or was taken out of service could not be replaced.

Hit by the oil crisis

Another global crisis arose to significantly affect the fishing industry. In 1973 the OPEC countries raised oil prices, making fishing in Iceland increasingly less profitable. A ship like the Amandine used 1500 to 1800 liters of diesel per 24 hours. During an 18-day campaign, this would amount to approximately 31,000 liters of fuel – a huge expense. Not surprisingly, the fleet of Belgian Icelandic fishermen steadily shrank from the mid-1970s as the ships were taken out of service. Of the 19 boats allowed to fish in Icelandic waters in 1975, by 1980 the number was down to 12. Five years later is was only six, and from 1988 only three were left.

By 1993 only one ship was still making the trip to Iceland – and you can guess its name: the Amandine.

The Amandine’s final voyage

On April 3, 1995, the Amandine entered the port of Ostend for the last time. Just three days later, on April 6, 1995, the Amandine was removed from the official list of fishing vessels. The shipowner Willy Versluys and the city of Ostend agreed to design the Amandine as a museum about Icelandic fishing. The fishing vessel Amandine entered a new phase of its life, as the museum ship Amandine.

Museum Ship Amandine in 1995
Moving the Amandine into its new home, 1995

Where is the museum ship Amandine?

You can find it opposite the railway station on Vindictivelaan, after you cross the drawbridge over the Natiënkaai and immediately on your right. The Amandine is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Further information here.

Where to stay in Ostend?

Over the years, Liz and I have stayed a few times in Ostend for a weekend getaway. The nicest of all stays was at the Andromeda Hotel on the seafront, closely followed by Hotel Du Parc. For business reasons I was put up once at the Thermae Palace which is grand old hotel if in need of a facelift. These are three options to stay in Ostend while visiting the museum ship Amandine, but there are plenty more lovely places to stay.

6 thoughts on “Visit the museum ship Amandine in Ostend”

  1. It’s a lucky ship, in so many respects, isn’t it? Fascinating history, Denzil. We passed through Ostend very briefly some 50 years ago so my memories are hazy, to say the least, but were I to go back I’d surely visit the Amandine.

Add your comment or question:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.