Liner contract leaves Harland and Wolff in crisis

Belfast-based shipbuilder Harland and Wolff today received a crushing blow when Miami-based Cunard announced it has awarded multi-million pound cruise liner contract to a French shipyard.

The £400m contract for the Queen Mary II superliner has been seen as the last chance for the Belfast yard, which this week put all 1,745 staff on 90-day protective redundancy notices.

It could also have supplied subcontract work to other British yards including Cammell Laird across the Irish Sea in Birkenhead.

An eleventh-hour Department of Trade and Industry offer to guarantee a loan to finance 80% of the project failed to influence Carvival, the Miami-based parent of Cunard. Following the announcement, Harland and Wolff described the offer as ‘too little, too late.’

Harland and Wolff’s workforce, which is completing work on one of two mobile offshore rigs for US oil contractor Global Marine, expected to be completed in June. The company has no further orders to work on until the Ministry of Defence awards its aircraft carrier contract in 2003.

The French yard which won the order, Chantiers de l’Atlantique in Saint Nazaire in Brittany, has already secured a number of major orders for cruise liners. A subsidiary of Alstom, it is hiring 1,000 extra workers over the next two years. Before today’s announcement, the yard was set to double employment between 1998 and 2003, increasing to 4,500 direct employees and a further 8,000 subcontractor jobs.