Swansea Dry Docks closed

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THE CLOSURE of the Swansea Dry Docks company yesterday by the Cayman Islands-based Ugland International Holdings group ends 60 years of ship repairing at the South Wales port, writes Tony Heath. The move means the loss of the jobs of 200 full and part-time staff, many highly skilled and well paid.

Hopes for the company's long-term future were high when vehicle shipping group Ugland bought the docks six years ago, with the ferry companies P&O and Stena among users. But competition from overseas, notably Poland, and unfavourable exchange rates squeezed the business. In 1997 it lost pounds 482,000 on turnover of pounds 5m, rising in 1998 to a pounds 4.3m loss on turnover of pounds 4.6m.

Ugland, which wrote off the pounds 3.5m value of the business in its results, is hoping to sell the site as development land.

The group's chief executive, Jonathan Palmer, said the company was not prepared to go on keeping the dry docks afloat. "It [the closure] is regrettable and we are sorry about it, but we are not in the business of losing money," he said.

Ugland is focusing on its global business of shipping vehicles and preparing them at ports, particularly on the US Atlantic seaboard. Ugland last year recorded a 17 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to pounds 15.7m on an pounds 80.3m turnover.

Swansea's maritime tradition was founded more than a century ago on coal exports, but today only one deep mine is still in production in Wales.

Swansea Cork Ferries runs regular crossings between Wales and Cork, and much of the inner harbour has been turned into a yachting marina overlooked by flats and houses.

The first dry dock was built in 1923 and the second in 1959. The redundant site could be destined for a makeover similar to London Docklands.