Britain is to return to the world of semi-submersible rig building for the first time in two decades as prices soar and shipyards in South Korea
run out of space.
, a newly-formed company is to take over a former vessel construction facility on Teesside to build the first in a series of three drilling units worth up to $1.5b.
As many as 600 jobs could be created at the Haverton Hill Shipyard by SeaDragon which plans to float on either the London or the Oslo stock exchange within 12 months.
SeaDragon is backed by Lloyds TSB and has brought in some of the most credible names in the offshore world, including KCA Deutag, a part of the London-quoted Abbott Group, plus naval architects Moss Maritime.
The high-tech and harsh environment rigs - capable of drilling in waters of up to 10,000 feet - will see their hulls built at Russia's biggest shipyard, Sevmash, which has built everything from offshore craft to nuclear submarines.
The first Moss CS50-type rig hull is scheduled to arrive from Russia in October next year and be fitted out with the drilling and complex equipment for 2009 sailaway.
Around $400m of the $500m work on the rig will be done on Teesside.
Mr Baird said the new semis have no firm charters yet but he expected to be able to announce one shortly for the first unit.
The vessels are not built for use in the UK North Sea so much as worldwide, especially the harsh environments off Norway or very deep water off Angola or the Gulf of Mexico.
The high oil price and an inability to grow production by some major companies have triggered a massive boom in exploration and production work that has sent charter rates for rigs racing ever higher.
There is now a major shortage of equipment as the major rig-building yards in South Korea and Singapore run out of space.
One of the last semi-submersibles built in Britain was the Ocean Alliance at Scott Lithgow on Clydeside, which closed soon after. Cammell Laird on Merseyside and Harland & Wolff in Belfast both had difficulties with offshore craft.
Source: Guardian Unlimited