Belfast Telegraph

Potential new bidders show interest as hopes of keeping Harland & Wolff afloat rise

Brexit help: Michael Gove
Brexit help: Michael Gove
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Administrators have said a number of interested parties have made enquiries about taking over Harland & Wolff, sparking hopes of a rescue for the troubled business.

Michael Jennings and Brian Murphy of business advisory firm BDO were called in on Tuesday to run the east Belfast shipyard, which has run out of money in the face of escalating financial troubles.

As well as a dearth of new contracts, it has also suffered as a result of the bankruptcy of its parent company Dolphin Drilling, which put Harland & Wolff on the market in December.

But the administrators have said that since they were appointed four days ago, more interested parties had come forward with a view to potentially buy the shipyard, the birthplace of the Titanic.

Newry-based MJM Group withdrew from the process after previously taking part in talks to buy the firm, while US based-investors Flacks Group also made an offer before the administration process began. However, it is understood the Flacks Group offer did not present a viable option to H&W directors.

A statement from BDO yesterday said: "A number of interested parties/potential bidders have come forward since our appointment and we are expediently following up on these enquiries in an effort to seek a viable commercial solution.

"This is our focus and we are working closely with interested parties and stakeholders with the aim of securing a positive outcome."

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Members of the 130-strong workforce at H&W have been staging a sit-in for nearly two weeks and have called for the nationalisation of the business.

The administrators also confirmed staff have agreed to be temporarily laid-off - a move which secures their contracts of employment while the administrators try to find a buyer.

BDO said: "In light of insufficient funds to cover the current running costs of the business and in the absence of any other funds being available at this point, in conjunction with unions, the administrators have agreed to facilitate an unpaid temporary lay-off until Friday, August 16."

This means that "limited additional time" was granted to find a new commercial opportunity for the company.

The administrators added that a small number of workers had taken redundancy packages, while a limited team of core workers had been retained to maintain the site.

On a visit to Warrenpoint Port yesterday, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove told the Belfast Telegraph he was "heartbroken" about Harland & Wolff going into administration.

"It's an iconic business that has a place in Northern Ireland's history and a place in all our hearts," he said.

After pleas for Government help to save the shipyard were rejected as it was "a commercial issue", Mr Gove was asked why other businesses that could face closure after a no-deal Brexit should expect to receive any other answer.

A package named Operation Kingfisher, he revealed, would help any businesses "temporarily affected by changes of circumstance related to Brexit".

"That means fundamentally viable businesses which may have the occasional cash flow or other issues can be supported," he said.

"It's also the case there will be a number of businesses that will see opportunities as well."

"More will be revealed in the next few weeks," he added.

Belfast Telegraph

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