Belfast Telegraph

Harland & Wolff lays shipbuilding days to rest as lucrative oil rig contracts come sailing in

By Margaret Canning

Harland & Wolff’s latest multi-million pound oil rig contract is evidence that is continuing to evolve from its shipbuilding history.

The Belfast company has successfully diversified into renewable energy and off-shore facilities since the last ship sailed in 2003.

Around 1,000 contractors will work on a survey of the Byford Dolphin, an off-shore oil drilling unit manufactured in 1974 which was sailing towards Belfast via Whitehead yesterday.

Harland & Wolff has a 500-strong workforce, including 198 core staff - and is recruiting up to 60 new full-timers.

The Byford is a sister rig of the Blackford Dolphin, which was renovated by Harland & Wolff last year. Both rigs are owned by Dolphin Drilling in Aberdeen -and Harland & Wolff previously worked on the Byford in 2004.

James Lappin, director of ship and offshore unit repair, said: "This is a significant project for Harland & Wolff and for Northern Ireland. As well as employment opportunities, the supply chain within Northern Ireland will see significant activity in support of the project.

"Local engineering firms will have subcontract opportunities for manufacture and supply of services, suppliers will provide vast quantities of materials, hotels and hospitality will accommodate the hundreds of specialist sub-contractors that follow these large contracts wherever they are awarded."

Graeme Murray, the managing director of Dolphin Drilling Limited, said: "We look forward to delivering the Byford back into service following a successful renewal survey on time and within budget."

Harland & Wolff chief executive Robert Cooper added: "We are pleased to continue our investment in the strength, capability and capacity of our company.

"The expectations of our customers are of utmost importance to us, and this investment demonstrates our commitment to meeting those expectations."

Harland & Wolff general manager David McVeigh said a deal with Canadian oil firm Husky Energy in 2012, in which H&W worked on the vessel SeaRose, had helped forge its reputation in off-shore facilities.

He likened the periodic survey which H&W will carry out on the Byford Dolphin to "a car MOT which may result in some work being required".

Plans to recruit 60 new permanent members of staff had been made irrespective of the Byford announcement, he said.

Harland & Wolff also operates an apprenticeship and graduate development scheme - which Mr McVeigh joined in 1987.

"I was very grateful to the company because I got a four-year engineering apprenticeship programme."

He had been with the company through the decline of shipbuilding and its rebirth in renewable energy and off-shore facilities.

Mr McVeigh said: "I have seen it in the boom and the bad times, and the one thing that always sticks out is the pride in the workmanship in what goes through our door."

Belfast Telegraph