Harland & Wolff's (H&W) existence was extended last week as it won a 300 million pound ($458 million) contract to build four passenger ferries. The order from Bahamas-based Seamasters International Inc.
includes an option for two additional ships. If the full order is taken, the six ships should provide work for the yard through 2004.
The order came just a day after Harland & Wolff workers accepted a three-year pay deal, a deal which was equally crucial in ensuring the company's near-term future.
Harbinson estimated the order for the RoRo ferries would secure around 1,000 of the 1,300 core jobs at the shipyard. The yard, whose giant yellow cranes dubbed "Samson and Goliath" dominate the Belfast skyline, is still a mainstay of the British-ruled province's economy.
Harland & Wolff, controlled by Norway's Fred Olsen Energy, said efforts were being made to secure steelwork and outfitting contracts from the marine and commercial sectors before construction work begins on the ships at the end of this year.
The first ship - an Atlantic 4000 class which can carry around 1,000 passengers at a top speed of 27 knots -- under the new contract is due to enter service in mid-2002 and the remaining vessels will be delivered before early 2004 if the options for the extra two ships are exercised -- which would bring the order value up to around $762 million.
Harland & Wolff said it expected the Atlantic 4000 to be 15-20 percent more fuel-efficient than rival designs because of its reduced steel weight and new hull lines. The ships will be powered by Siemens (SIEMENS.NS)
diesel-electric propulsion systems.