Harland & Wolff new owners InfraStrata to boost workforce to 400 in six years
The new owner of Harland & Wolff has said it plans to increase its workforce from 79 to 400 in six years' time.
Infrastrata plc has said it has reached agreement to pay £6m for the main assets of Harland & Wolff, which went into administration in July, after the bankruptcy of its then-owner Fred Olsen Energy.
The plc said the assets were ideally suited to the energy infrastructure industry.
The 79 staff at the company, many of whom had been engaged in a nine-week sit-in calling for a Government rescue of the stricken shipyard, are to resume work over the next few days.
The energy infrastructure company already has a major interest in Northern Ireland as it's seeking to build an energy facility in Larne, the Islandmagee Gas Storage Project.
Staff will work on the fabrication requirements of the Islandmagee project, as well as on fabrication for similar projects in England and a major energy project in the Irish Sea.
But it would also hope to bid for work in areas including ship repair conversion, sub-sea structures, renewable projects, off-shore oil and gas projects and defence.
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Chief executive John Wood told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday that buying Harland & Wolff would save it £45m of a proposed spend of £303m on the Islandmagee project.
Work on fabrication for the Islandmagee project would be the "backbone" of the work, "but we'll capitalise on opportunities when they arise".
Infrastrata has paid a deposit of £500,000 for Harland & Wolf, with the balance to be paid over two instalments.
Mr Wood, who said he worked as an apprentice on the Canberra, a ship which had been built by Harland & Wolff, said it was already in talks with potential funders for the remainder of the deal and would not have announced the deal without being secure in obtaining the funding.
He said negotiations had gone "down to the wire" with discussions taking place with the administrators BDO, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith and Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton.
Infrastrata plc has bought the multi-purpose fabrication facility, quaysides and docking facilities of Harland & Wolff.
Mr Wood said there was no detail on how much had been paid for which asset but that £6m had been a number which had been settled upon.
But he said there had been no Government money in the £0.5m deposit but that it was likely to apply for Invest NI funding in future.
"As far as training goes, as far as apprenticeship schemes, workforce development, I think there may be some funds in the future available," he said.
"At the moment we've not pursued that but it's something we will look at as we move forward." And he said that the subject of the marine licence the company is seeking in Larne from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) had not been raised during negotiations.
But he said that he was hopeful that a licence could be obtained by the end of this year.
He said that all the staff terms and conditions would be honoured in its purchase but not the pension liability, which will be absorbed by the public purse under the terms of the administration.
Transferring the staff over "really gives us continuity, and gives workers continuity and makes them feel we're not trying to take advantage of the situation".
"The team here, those guys have put a lot of hard work over the years into the yard so we're really looking to build a team on positive terms."
And he said that, in time, he hoped the company could build a Harland & Wolff visitors' centre in Titanic Quarter.
Mr Wood said the Islandmagee Gas Storage Project would benefit greatly from the expertise of Harland & Wolff workers.
"While our core priority will be to deliver our flagship project in Islandmagee, we believe there are opportunities to welcome potential new clients due to the diverse skill set at the facility."
The £5.5m balance will be paid in two parts - £3.3m due by the end of this year at the latest, and £2.2m by April 30, 2020, which is proposed to be funded by a debt and equity mix. The company is already in advanced discussions with asset backed lenders and financial institutions to put in place medium to long term debt-equity structures.
The gas storage project in Larne is expected to provide 25% of the UK's natural gas storage capacity and to benefit the Northern Ireland economy as a whole when complete.
Harland & Wolff was founded in 1861 and once employed 35,000 people.
Julian Smith, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said yesterday he was delighted the future of the historic shipyard had been secured.
"I firmly believe that the shipyard has a promising future and that Infrastrata's plans present an exciting opportunity for both Belfast and Northern Ireland's manufacturing and energy sectors," he explained.
Administrators BDO said: "This is a very positive step towards securing a sale of the shipyard and protecting and safeguarding the employment of the workforce."
Mr Wood thanked the Secretary of State and Alastair Hamilton, the chief executive of Invest NI, for their help.
"The Secretary of State and Alastair have been very helpful and very encouraging to get to this point and they have been heavily involved when negotiations have been getting to a strained point and they have been happy to get involved and smooth things forward and find common ground between us," he said.