Swan revival means 1,200 jobs

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Industrial Correspondent

Swan Hunter, the Tyneside shipyard, yesterday staged a comeback with a pounds 50m contract which will create 1,200 jobs and bring a much needed boost to the area. THC, the Dutch firm which bought the yard less than a year ago said the award is "exciting and more than we expected" so soon after taking over the Swan Hunter facilities.

The contract is for the final stage of conversion of the world's biggest pipelaying vessel, the Solitaire, which is owned by the Swiss Allseas group. The 285 metre-long ship is due to arrive on the Tyne next months from Singapore, where earlier work was carried out.

The project manager, Jan Vonder, said: "As Solitaire sails up the Tyne next month, the sheer magnitude will without doubt remind people of the days past, when Swan Hunter was a world-renowned yard for turning out major ships and specialised vessels."

It is now three years since Swan went into receivership although work on frigates kept the company going until late 1994.

Mr Vonder added: "We expect the very best of those employed to show the construction industry that Swan Hunter can once again be a name associated with first-class performance."

He said that THC has invested heavily in facilities and retraining local personnel to convert the shipyard into more of a multi-purpose construction yard in order to meet today's market requirements. The company is now pursuing potential deals worldwide in the hope of securing continuity of employment.

Mr Vonder said: "We believe we have the right corporate structure, management and expertise to deal with any type of contract whatever its complexity."

The company has already been inundated with 4,000 applications for jobs in local anticipation of the deal. Jan Veldhuizen, managing director of Swan Hunter said:"Although a tough first project for the new Swan Hunter yard, I believe there is ample talent in this area to select the very best workforce."

Tom Brennan, chairman of the Tyne Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions and one of the leaders of a campaign to save the yard, said: "I am delighted with today's development. We are seeing the re-emergence of Swan Hunter, which is rising from the ashes almost three years since going into receivership.

"Although I always believed a new owner could be found to keep the yard going, I must admit in the later stages no-one would have gambled on a marine-related industry breathing life into the yard like this."

"This is a contract of massive proportions. To win something so big augers very well for the future, and we hope there will be more contracts like it to provide employment continuity.