V.Ships has won a deal to manage the oldest vessel still operational under the French flag.

The three-masted sailing ship Belem made its first cargo run in 1896, taking goods from across the Caribbean, Brazil and French Guinea to Nantes in France.

The 58-metre vessel has 22 sails, which means 1,200 square metres of sail area.

There are 16 seafarers on board, along with 48 trainees, who manage all vessel operations.

V.Ships describes the Belem as an ambassador for French business, promoting trade and industry around the globe.

After many decades on the sea, different owners and flags, the ship was bought in 1979 by the French bank Caisse d’Epargne, which created the Belem Foundation in 1980.

Since then, the foundation has preserved historic professions and promoted the passing on of sailing know-how.

In 1984, the Belem was classified as a historical monument by the French government.

Thierry Sarrazin, V.Ships France managing director, said: “We anticipate a great and exciting collaboration with the Foundation Belem for operating this very old lady. Each year, the Belem sails from April to November, benefiting thousands of trainees.

“This project is a combination of maintaining this historic sailing vessel, as well as providing skilled and competent crew via our network.”

Sarrazin said the project embodies what the maritime industry is — a fantastic link between present activities and the past of “our honourable ancestors”.

“This is also quite fitting for the V.Ships France office being located in Nantes, creating that additional affinity and bond with the history of the vessel,” he said.

The Belem may also be used as a “spectacular” venue for seminars and team-building sessions for shore and sea staff.