£50m makeover could lead to Belfast ship building renaissance
The chief executive of Azamara Club Cruises, the firm which has docked its Pursuit vessel in Belfast for a £50m makeover, said the project could see the "renaissance" of a bygone industry here.
Larry Pimentel, whose cruise line is part of the Royal Caribbean family, made the comments as he viewed the progress of his cruise vessel's refit, which is being carried out at Harland and Wolff in Belfast by staff from Newry firm MJM Group.
"It is my expectation that this will be the beginning of a burgeoning trade. We'll come to Belfast and bring jobs for the craftsmanship and the bespoke capabilities of a bygone era. I view this as the beginning of something exciting," said Mr Pimentel who was previously chief executive of Cunard Line and Seabourn Cruise Line.
And the Miami-based chief believes that other cruise lines around the world will follow Royal Caribbean's lead by bringing more projects here.
"This is an experiment whose results are going to be so favourable that I absolutely see additional ships from our fleet coming here. But we all keep an eye on each other and when something works in an area, it's another opportunity and I think the competitors will come here too.
"The yard is certainly big enough and now these folks - MJM - have proved they can do it better than anyone else. I personally believe, having been in this business for 30 years, they're the best outfitter in the world. And they exist here and I think that word is going to get out and that means more ships will come here to get work done."
MJM, a marine refurbishment specialist, landed a first for the industry when it won the contract for the refit. Headed by Brian McConville, the firm brought Pursuit here in April, the first time Royal Caribbean chose a UK shipyard for a refit.
The Pursuit project is due for completion mid-July when family of the tradespeople onboard will be invited to view the ship before anyone else. It's an event that Mr Pimentel said he was "excited to share" with MJM.
He also said he expects the ship to return here in 2020 as part of one of its itineraries when "we'll make sure to make that a fantastic moment". "Belfast is part of its history," he said.