TALKS to save Tyneside's Swan Hunter shipyard broke down in acrimony yesterday as the receiver announced plans for the piecemeal sell-off of the assets.
The consortium bidding for the business, led by Organisation Management and Survey, withdrew its offer, claiming the receiver had put a gun to its head over demands for a pounds 1m deposit.
Referring to an MP's demand last month that OMS should 'put up or shut up', the Price Waterhouse receiver, Gordon Horsfield, said: 'They didn't put up and they certainly didn't shut up.'
The slow, painful death of the historic shipbuilder is finally over now that the receiver has exchanged contracts to break up and sell assets to rival buyers.
Swan's Neptune yard is being sold to A&P Appledore - which has a ship repair facility on the Tyne - and Hebburn dry dock is going to Wear Dockyard Group, a Sunderland company also involved in ship repair.
The Wallsend yard, where final work is being carried out on the frigate HMS Richmond, due to be handed over to the Royal Navy next month, is still for sale.
Doubts had grown over whether OMS could raise the pounds 8.5m asked for Swan Hunter and, after protracted negotiations, the receiver asked for a pounds 1m deposit by 1pm yesterday. An OMS spokesman said that the consortium was satisfied it could raise the money, but he would give no categorical assurance that it could have met the receiver's deadline.
Swan Hunter employed more than 2,000 when it went into receivership 17 months after failing to win a helicopter landing ship contract.
Only about 400 remain - 130 of them are due to finish in a fortnight and most of the rest over the following two weeks.
Mr Horsfield said the price for Neptune yard and Hebburn dry dock was greater than OMS's offer for the whole business, but he would not give a figure.
After he told OMS its original offer of pounds 6.8m was unacceptable it increased it to pounds 8.5m. But it indicated it did not regard itself as bound by pounds 8.5m and 'it might be subject to downward revision'.
Mr Horsfield said: 'The receivers were coming under increasing pressure from companies who were clearly able to proceed at an acceptable price.'
The consortium expressed 'utter frustration' at the behaviour of the receivers. 'Given a more reasonable reaction a satisfactory conclusion could have been reached,' a spokesman said.
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