Business

H&W prepares to say goodbye to oil platform

Gary McDonald Business Editor

BELFAST shipyard Harland & Wolff confirmed yesterday that the specialised emergency work it has been carrying out on one of the world's biggest oil platforms is "now nearing completion". And depending on the tides in Belfast lough, the 360-foot Blackford Dolphin oil drilling rig - which has been in dry dock on Queen's Island since before Christmas - will finally head for home in Norway. The multi-million-dollar renovation project on the rig, a vast industrial behemoth which has dominated the titanic Quarter skyline for months, was meant to take just 60 days.

But despite H&W completing the original work scope on time, additional defects were found on the 40-year-old structure which could only have been identified when the vessel was in dry dock. That was duly confirmed by classification body Det Norske Veritas (DNV) in Oslo, and owners Dolphin Drilling then informed the Norwegian stock exchange that the work would have to continue in Belfast. The current contract price for work the rig is believed to be around $185 million (about £110m), of which a sizeable chunk is due to H&W. The shipyard's head of marketing and sales David McVeigh told The Irish News yesterday: "We've been working 24/7 on the contract but we're down-manning at the moment and the rig should leave in June."

"This has been very specialised work, hence the extension to the deadline for the rig to leave us."

While Norwegian-built rig continues to sit in Belfast it's depriving its owners of income - it costs approximately $500,000 (£335,000) a day to hire for drilling projects. The Blackford Dolphin rig is so big that samson and Goliath - the iconic yellow cranes which dominate the Belfast skyline - have been kept locked in place at the sydenham end of the shipyard since the project began because they are not tall enough to pass over its central tower.

"she's probably the biggest rig we've had in for about 15 years but she's almost one of the best out there," Mr McVeigh said.

H&W had come in for criticism for having to hire in specialist workers from outside Northern Ireland to work on the rig.

But Mr McVeigh said: "Out of the 424 workers employed on this contract, only 26 were non-UK." These were thought to have been hired in from Portugal, Poland and lithuania, countries with a tradition of shipyard work, while many of the other temporary staff were drawn from Scotland and north-east England. Although H&W is no longer directly associated with ship-building (the last

one left Queen's Island in 2002), the company has moved into the offshore renewables, oil and gas sectors as well as ship design, repair and conversion. And it's been a hugely successful diversification, propelling the shipyard to the top of the premier league of UK maritime building and repair specialists and helping it win the Dolphin contract in the face of global competition.

Belfast shipyard has competed successfully against numerous well-established international competitors to secure another three or four major lucrative projects, and this too has involved bringing in hundreds of employees on short-term contracts. Around 1.2 million tonnes of water had to removed from the longest dock in the world to accommodate the rig, which has a water depth of 7,000 ft and a drilling depth of 30,000 ft.

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