Swan Hunter could save hundreds of Govan jobs

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The Independent Online
HOPES ROSE last night that the Kvaerner Govan shipyard on Clydeside may be purchased by the Tyneside shipbuilders Swan Hunter, saving hundreds of jobs threatened by the yard's possible closure.

As about 1,000 local people watched the launch of one of Kvaerner's last ships at the yard, Jaap Kroese, the owner of Swan Hunter, met a government- appointed task force charged with finding a rescue package.

Norman Brownell, Swan Hunter's commercial director, said the company was part of a consortium of continental and British investors interested in buying the Govan facility, the UK's largest merchant shipping yard, employing 1,200 people. "The fact that we are here shows how serious we are," said Mr Brownell before meeting Sir Gavin Laird, head of the task force. Sir Gavin said that expressions of interest in the yard had come from several quarters.

Mr Brownell declined to name other members of his consortium. "We have a number of different proposals. We are interested, for example, in the market for building smaller ships between 100 metres and 120 metres long, rather than major tankers. In the longer run, we are also interested in a business converting ships into oil rigs, but with the price of oil as it is, that is not for now."

It is understood that the consortium would expect to employ about 500 people at Govan, so large-scale redundancies would still be required. Mr Brownell said: "Let's not build up hopes of thousands of jobs being saved, when that may not be possible."

Swan Hunter at Wallsend has been a success story since Mr Kroese, a Dutch entrepreneur, bought the yard in 1995 for pounds 4m after it had gone into receivership following its failure to win an important Royal Navy helicopter carrier contract.

Since the purchase, the yard has concentrated on decommissioning work for the oil and gas industry and on converting ships into oil platforms. Earlier this year plans began for a return to shipbuilding at the yard.

The desperate situation at Kvaerner Govan was highlighted by yesterday's launch of the Crystal Ocean, a supply vessel for North Sea oil rigs. The launch was attended by busloads of children from nearby Govan Primary School; most of their fathers work at the yard.

The only remaining shipbuilding project in the yard is the hull for an icebreaker.