Harland and Wolff shipyard is saved at the 11th hour by £300m contract

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The Independent Online

The Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast was celebrating last night after winning a £300m contract to build four passenger vessels that has saved the yard from closure.

The deal came less than 24 hours after workers at the yard agreed to a no-strike package of terms and conditions involving a wage freeze for three years, which management said had to be in place before it could sign any new orders.

The contract should secure shipbuilding in Belfast, certainly in the short term. However, despite the deal, up to 300 jobs could go unless the yard wins extra immediate work.

The contract is for the design and construction of four sophisticated Ropax - roll-on, roll-off - passenger vessels for Seamasters International in the Bahamas, and includes options for a further two ships, which would make the contract worth approximately £500m. A shipyard spokesman said: "It provides a substantial workload for a period of time for a significant number of people."

Design work will begin immediately and construction is expected to start before the end of the year. But the yard is looking for work to fill a gap between the end of a contract for an American oil drilling ship during the summer and the start of the new contract.

The order provides for delivery of the ferries between mid-2002 and the end of 2004.

The Harland and Wolff chief executive, Brynjulv Mugaas, said: "These will be truly innovative vessels, illustrating the capability of Harland and Wolff to undertake the design and construction of sophisticated projects." He said the contract provided the yard with a "significant opportunity" to establish itself in the Ropax market.

Harland and Wolff's shipyard workforce was put on 90-day protective notice in March when the company failed to secure the £450m contract to build the Queen Mary II for Cunard.

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