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FRATELLI ORLANDO . . . . . . Resurgence of shipbuilding in Livorno

Just 18 months after its sale by Fincantieri to an employees' cooperative, the Livorno shipyard has re-emerged as a force in the industry, attracting the confidence of specialist tanker operators and investing in a switch to the construction of larger vessels.

The re-styling of the enterprise as Cantiere Navale Fratelli Orlando underscores the shipbuilding tradition in the Ligurian port, where the Orlando brothers started the business in 1866. It also signifies the perception of the yard as an integral and essential element of the local economy, in which a broad cross-section of townspeople involved in the building and repair of vessels now have an ownership stake.

For 12 years, the family name had been subsumed into Fincantieri, which had merged the former Cantiere Navale Luigi Orlando into one of its operating divisions in 1984. The years leading up to the spin-off of the yard by the state-owned group had marked a period of uncertainty for the industrial community at Livorno, albeit with a maintained presence in specialized shipbuilding having enabled the retention of key skills.

The yard's operating platform, spanning the more demanding areas of small-ship construction as well as ship repair activities, has been used to full effect by the new, autonomous owning company. The orderbook extends through 1999, and the prospects are such that the enterprise plans to shift newbuilding work to an adjacent, larger berth.

Last month saw the completion of the 14,000- dwt refined oil product and chemical tanker Montebello, the first vessel to have been laid down at Livorno since the takeover. The $32 million newbuilding set the scene for a surge of July, 1997 business in specialized tanker construction with an estimated, aggregate value of around $380 million.

The work, all to the account of private Italian owners, is concentrated on tankers in the 9,500 to 14,000-dwt range, most of which have been specified to be equipped with stainless steel throughout the cargo section. But the latest series of contracts signed at the beginning of 1997 also included two combined-role oil/chemical tankers of 36,000 dwt, vessels which give form to the yard's strategy of extending its remit.

The orders for the 36,000-tonners, entailing a class of tanker for which Orlando anticipates significant demand in the coming years, have acted as the catalyst for a project to transfer newbuilding operations within the yard estate to a much larger slip that has lain idle for many years.

Accordingly, work is due to start this September on the rehabilitation and equipping of the 656 x 115-ft. (200 x 35-m) berth in the Morosini Dock, from where a ship was last launched around 30 years ago.

A 360-ton gantry is to be purchased for the facility, which is scheduled to be ready to lay down the first of the 36,000-dwt newbuildings in June 1998. The two lead ships for Finaval and Marnavi, partners in the Novamar tanker pool, embody a design which the Livorno yard has developed to raise its profile in the international market. It is looking to become fully competitive in the handy-size tanker category with yards in the Far East.

The high-volume (45,000-cu-m), full-bodied type embodies 12 cargo tanks and four segregations, horizontal pumps and a deck cargo control room in the interests of economy, and an 8,000-kW, two-stroke propulsion engine to give a laden speed of 14 knots. The yard has put a price tag of around $38 million on the class for delivery in the second half of 1999.

By contrast, the intervening and overlapping program of much smaller, sophisticated tankers, most of which will employ Avesta stainless steel throughout the revenue-earning areas, has commanded unit values of $36-$40 million.

Despite the current concentration on tanker construction, the company is studying a range of other vessel types through project discussions with a number of European owners. In terms of technical scope for specialized tonnage, the yard's recent experience in diesel-electric propulsion and dynamic-positioning systems is pertinent.

Last year, 70 percent of the yard's business was on the newbuilding side, including the supply of sections to other Italian yards, with the balance of business arising from ship repair and a well-equipped mechanical workshop. The company is looking to maintain a similar ratio in the future.

The new enterprise attaches great importance , to ship repair operations, which benefit from a range of facilities including the 300,000-dwt graving dock commissioned in 1975.

In the light of good geographical location relative in relation to market demand, including that generated by U.S. shipping principals, Orlando plans to supplement its repair resources with a floating dock of around 12,000- tons lift capacity. Both secondhand and newbuilding opportunities are reportedly being investigated

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