Harland and Wolff strikes oil with rig refit: Workers buoyed by contract worth millions as more deals in pipeline
New temporary workers – around 30% of whom will be recruited from Northern Ireland – will soon be descending on Belfast's shipyard to commence work on the refit of a 360ft oil rig which will be sailing into the city at the end of the month.
The structure is so large that Samson and Goliath, Harland and Wolff's landmark yellow gantry cranes, will have to be moved to the side of the yard while the 60-day works programme takes place.
David McVeigh, head of sales and marketing at Harland and Wolff, said that the contract, worth tens of millions of pounds, could lead to more lucrative new work in 2014.
Aberdeen-based Dolphin Drilling Ltd awarded Harland and Wolff the contract for the dry-docking of the Blackford Dolphin rig earlier this year.
The rig was demobilised in Brazil, and is currently passing the Azores, before it arrives in Belfast later this month for the upgrade and maintenance work.
It will then be remobilised for its next drilling contract in the North Sea.
When it ports in early December after a tidal change, 1.2m tonnes of water will be removed from what is still the longest dock in the world, to accommodate it.
Mr McVeigh added that the company's work on another vessel last year helped clinch the contract.
One thousand workers helped complete the one-month project on the SeaRose "floating production, storage and offloading vessel" for the Canadian firm Husky Energy.
The floating factory left Belfast four days early, under budget and with no injuries or environmental incidents before sailing to Newfoundland. The vessel is used to process tens of thousands of barrels of oil every day, making it a multi-million pound asset.
"Winning and delivering that project in the way that we did was a real game-changer," said Mr McVeigh.
"There are multiple projects at other yards which are delivered late, over-budget or even ending up in court.
"Husky were delighted with the work carried out here and when we visited them in Newfoundland they were introducing us to their compatriots and other business contacts because we had done such a good job.
"If we succeed in this job then there are three to four even bigger jobs next year that will be up for grabs."
He added: "We are finding it increasingly difficult to source workers for the local labour market. We go for Northern Ireland workers first, but everyone is getting older and the good people often move on and seek work abroad.
"Next we go to Scotland and the north of England but some of the workers will be sourced from as far away as Portugal and Poland. All of the workers will undergo safety certifications and tests. They will include welders, electricians, engineers and painters on good salaries.
"Our safety record is top notch and that is what helps us clinch the big jobs."
The shipyard is now busy with work on oil rigs and renewable energy structures as well as overhaul and maintenance contracts.
One source said last night that up to 600 skilled tradesmen would be needed to work on the project.
Temporary canteens and other facilities have been set up to accommodate them.
It is hoped that the travelling workers will also be a boost to the city's hotels, apartments and restaurants.
The height of the oil rig which arrives in Belfast at the end of this month
Harland and Wolff's old friend returns after success of previous upgrade
The Blackford Dolphin oil rig is no stranger to Belfast.
The rig underwent a major deep-water upgrade in 2006 to 2008. Harland and Wolff designed and built new 130-man accommodation blocks, a power generation module, mud room and additional buoyancy for the huge structure.
James Lappin, Harland and Wolff project manager, said the firm had a strong relationship with Dolphin Drilling, which is headquartered in Norway.
"As a major player in the offshore drilling market, we recognise the importance of this project to Dolphin and their customers," he said.
"Prior to the rig arrival, we will have a dedicated team working in conjunction with Dolphin, planning every aspect of the workscope to ensure all the equipment, manpower, sub-contractors, materials and components are ready."
Graeme Murray, Dolphin Drilling managing director, added: "We're pleased to have entered into this agreement with Harland and Wolff. I'm confident both project teams will leverage on the close co-operation and strong teamwork to achieve the timely completion of the project while meeting the stringent standards of quality, safety and reliability."
The last ship fully built by Harland and Wolff, the MV Anvil Point, launched in 2003, was owned by a consortium including the Bibby Line, which ironically owned the Venetian, one of the first ships which sailed out of the yard in 1890.