Belfast Telegraph

Harland and Wolff 'could go to wall' by next Wednesday

Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

Harland and Wolff could go bust within days as fears mount over its future, it has emerged.

Unions and sources familiar with ongoing negotiations at the Belfast shipyard have said that the company could "go to the wall" next Wednesday, if a buyer cannot be found.

Around 132 people are understood to be still employed at the operation, which was put up for sale by its Norwegian parent company Fred Olsen Energy in December 2018. The group, now known as Dolphin Drilling ASA, filed for bankruptcy last month.

Talks involving political leaders, economic development agency Invest NI and shipyard management have taken place throughout the week.

It's understood that Newry-based MJM Marine had held the status of an exclusive bidder. Jonathan Guest, who replaced Robert Cooper as chief executive of Harland and Wolff in April 2018, is a former managing director of MJM Marine.

During 2018, MJM used Harland and Wolff's dry dock for carrying out a major cruise contract with Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd.

It's unclear if the firm still holds the status of exclusive bidder. It did not respond to a request for comment.

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On Monday, Susan Fitzgerald of the Unite Union confirmed that a firm linked to a potential bid for the Harland and Wolff operation had "gone cool". She has called for government intervention to save the jobs if a new bidder cannot be found.

The shipyard said this week that it had hoped to have already completed a merger and acquisition process, but said it remains in negotiation "with a number of potential bidders".

But economist John Simpson said Harland and Wolff faces a number of substantial issues, including pension obligations to former employees.

"It will be disappointing if the current trading model, based on off-shore technology and exploration rigs, has not proved financially successful," he said.

Belfast Telegraph