Northern Ireland news

Harland & Wolff owner misses final payment `due to Covid-19 distruption'

Harland & Wolff has received inquiries from `several cruise ship owners... unable to operate their fleet during the Covid-19 crisis'. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

ENERGY firm InfraStrata has asked for an extension from Harland and Wolff administrators to pay the final instalment for its purchase of the Belfast shipyard - due yesterday - blaming the coronavirus pandemic.

The company still has £1.45m outstanding from the £5.25m deal which rescued the iconic company from closure.

However, it did not make yesterday's payment, saying it had been affected by the pandemic and worldwide lockdown restrictions.

"Given the current Covid-19 situation, the company has formally requested the administrators for an extension period in order to pay the final amount of the consideration," it said.

"Positive discussions are continuing with the administrators to determine an optimum time frame for the company to complete this final tranche of payment. The company will make an announcement as soon as an agreement has been reached."

Infrastrata has also applied for an extension for repayment of a loan for its Islandmagee gas storage project in Co Antrim, which was due in January, saying "in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown, discussions are currently on-going... to extend the term of repayment".

In its interim report issued yesterday, the London Stock Exchange-quoted group said it "is of the firm opinion that, as the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak dissipates, there will be a substantially increased demand for dry dock availability".

Harland & Wolff has received inquiries from "several cruise ship owners... unable to operate their fleet during the Covid-19 crisis" on maintenance and refurbishment while the vessels are idle.

Describing it as "a highly strategic and critical piece of infrastructure for the United Kingdom" Infrastrata says it will "seek to ensure that its facility in Northern Ireland obtains the same level of support in order to pursue defence and other contracts and to keep it on a level-playing-field with its competitors".

In December it announced its "first ever operating revenues" from Harland & Wolff when it was awarded the repair and maintenance work for two vessels of Sea Truck Ferries, with other repair contracts serviced in January.

In its interim report issued yesterday, the London Stock Exchange-quoted group said it intends the shipyard "to service the complete lifecycle of assets", from design and building to repair, conversion and decommissioning and recycling.

It said despite Harland & Wolff's "skilled workforce", deep water access and two of the largest dry docks in Europe it has been "underutilised in recent years".

The company said it has completed the first of three relaunch phases, by establishing "a credible ship repair business" and has contracts with Seatrucks, Irish Ferries, Stena, P&O Ferries, and Clarksons.

However, just eight vessels have been through the yard and there are only eight more contracts in the pipeline, which Infrastrata admits are "small projects... not material in value individually", but insists are "an opportunity for Harland & Wolff to demonstrate its capability and enhance its reputation" to help it bid for larger jobs.

It insists there have been "several active enquiries for cruise vessels, defence and commercial projects" and "some technical services projects are already contracted".

The company also revealed plans for establishing a division called "Harland Heritage" to planning for the celebration of its 160th anniversary next year, with proposals for a museum and a tourist centre around the shipyard.

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