Kvaerner Govan’s sale will end the Norwegian company’s troubled history at the yard since it was bought from state-owned British Shipbuilders in 1987.
Govan never made a profit for Kvaerner, despite investment, the adoption of flexible working arrangements and government cash.
The yard’s recent history has been dominated by attempts to win government contracts. As the sale was announced, it remained part of a shortlisted consortium to provide ferries for the Ministry of Defence. The shortlist’s early announcement was an attempt to sway Kvaerner’s shipbuilding review.
Govan’s last great hope was a £200m contract for two Royal Fleet Auxiliary oil replenishment ships, which went to the then VSEL (now Marconi Marine) at Barrow-in-Furness in 1997. Kvaerner then said it might close the yard, but other small contracts kept it going and major layoffs were avoided.
The yard’s last big defence contract was building the hull of Royal Navy helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, launched in 1995. Govan also built three gas carriers, but similar expected contracts did not materialise.
Nor did major mercantile vessel orders. Despite productivity improvements and a £35m investment, Govan could not compete with Far Eastern suppliers.
Govan is among UK yards which could build the £200-£300m hulls of two UK aircraft carriers to enter service in 2012. But by the time a prime contractor is picked in 2003, it will be too late to save Govan.