The award of a major cruise liner conversion contract to Cammell Laird, the British marine services group, could herald the return of shipbuilding to Merseyside according to Brett Martin, the company’s deputy chief executive.
Under the £52m deal – the world’s largest liner conversion contract – the company will upgrade the Costa Classica for Italian operator Costa Crociere.
Steel fabrication work is due to start in November 2000 at Cammell Laird’s Birkenhead yard.
Martin believes the former naval shipyard, sold by Vickers in 1995, could capitalise on a shipbuilding backlog and escalating demand for cruise liners. `We’ve got the skills to be building these ships, as well as converting them,’ he said.
He added: `I don’t think we will be able to compete with Japan or Korea for the big projects, such as building tankers, but we can build other specialist ships.’
The conversion work will extend the 1991-built cruise liner by 44.6m, add a new deck and increase the ship’s gross tonnage and passenger capacity by 50%.
Cammell Laird beat San Giorgio del Porto of Genoa with a last-minute £8m price discount and a tight turnaround time of just 115 days. Additional work on Costa Romantica, a sister ship, will be secured if the project is completed to order.
The Birkenhead yard last completed a building contract in 1991 with HMS Unicorn, the diesel electric submarine, and four years before that HMS Campbelton, a surface ship.
In the past two years the yard has expanded from 250 to 800 people. It secured its reputation in the tough cruise ship refurbishment market last year with work for Airtours’ Sun Cruises.
In April Cammell Laird paid £1.9m for 4.4ha of workshop land from its neighbour GEC-Marconi.
Martin said: `We now have half a million square feet in Merseyside with a highly skilled workforce – I can see no reason why we can’t build ships again.’