Belfast 'on cusp of shipping renaissance' says cruise liner boss
BELFAST is on cusp of a "shipping renaissance" which could lead to a whole new cottage industry springing up, according to the head of globally renowned cruise company Larry Pimentel.
And he has praised the family-owned MJM Group in Newry for the unique role it has played in helping to restore the craftsmanship and bespoke capabilities of a bygone era.
In April the specialist construction firm landed a multi-million pound deal to refit the Azamara Pursuit cruise liner, with all work being done at Harland & Wolff in what is seen as a "potential game-changer" for the industry.
Normally teams are flown out to locations around the world to carry out refits on cruise liners.
But for MJM founder Brian McConville, who started life as a joiner, the Azamara contract allowed him to realise his dream of bringing a major refit to a UK port.
Around £2 billion a year is spent on cruise ship refits (there are 335 ocean-going ships which dry-dock on average every two and a half years), with the majority of the works carried out in shipyards in the Caribbean, Europe, USA, Canada and Asia.
Pimentel, president and chief executive of Azamara Club Cruises, said this is the first time any company within Royal Caribbean Cruises has used any UK shipyard for works of this scale.
And during a visit to personally see progress on the vessel, which is due to leave Belfast on July 27, he told the Irish News: "It is my expectation that this will be the beginning of a burgeoning trade which will bring jobs to Belfast."
He added: "I personally believe, having been in this business for 30 years, that MJM are the best outfitter in the world. That word is going to get out and that's going to mean more ships coming in to have work done in Belfast.
"Azamara is owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises, the second largest passenger shipping company in the world, and for us this has been an experiment where the results are going to be so favourable that I absolutely see additional ships within our fleets - and also those of our competitors - coming here.
"Our industry demands quality, and frankly it's coming out of here. This is an opportunity for Northern Ireland, because we know the craftsmanship is here.
"We're at a point where this is not just a new renaissance for MJM Group but for shipping and refitting right here in Belfast. That to me is about as exciting as it gets."
The 700-passenger vessel is being refurbished from bow to aft, with every single stateroom being dramatically reworked, all managed by MJM.
Pimentel added: "I've no doubt that Brian (McConville) will succeed. He is one of the greatest entrepreneurs in the country, drive with passion and pride and performance. That's a very solid combination. I view this deal as the beginning of something very exciting."
He confirmed that in 2020 Belfast will be on the itinerary for the Azamara Pursuit.
"There'll be many reasons to bring the vessel back here, we'll make it a fantastic moment. In our case we stay longer at ports and its not inconceivable to do an overnight stay and give our guests time to take in Belfast and play on the heritage that the ship was refitted here in this great city," he said.