Harland and Wolff: Administrators expected on Monday

Harland Wolff cranes, Belfast Image copyright Rebecca Black/pa

The Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast is expected to be placed into administration later.

It puts 130 jobs at risk and could spell the end of the iconic business.

Its best known vessel is the Titanic, which was built at the yard between 1909 and 1911. At its height, Harland and Wolff employed more than 30,000 people.

The firm had been up for sale amid serious financial problems at its Norwegian owner.

Unions want the shipyard to be nationalised, a call that has been backed by the Labour Party, but the government has said the crisis is “ultimately a commercial issue”.

Last Monday, workers said they had taken control of the site and established a rota to ensure their protest continued around the clock.

The shipyard was founded in 1861 by Yorkshireman Edward Harland and a German, Gustav Wolff.

By the early 20th Century, it was the world’s most prolific builder of ocean liners.

Image copyright fox photos/getty images
Image caption The HMS Eagle was launched by Princess Elizabeth in March 1946

It was one of Northern Ireland’s key industrial assets during World War Two, producing 140 warships, 123 merchant ships and more than 500 tanks.

Its workforce reached a peak in the post-war years when it employed about 35,000 people.

By the late 1950s, the yard was facing increased global competition and the impact of the rise of air travel.

Image copyright Ron Case/getty images
Image caption The Canberra was built for P&O to sail between London and Sydney

The launch of the Canberra in 1960 marked the last cruise liner to be built in Belfast.

By the mid-1960s the business was in serious decline.

At one stage in 1966, the management went to the old Stormont government and pleaded for a subsidy because it did not have enough money to cover the next pay day.

That was the start of more than 30 years of subsidies, during which about £1bn of taxpayers’ money was pumped into Harland and Wolff to keep it afloat.

The firm was nationalised in 1975 with the Northern Ireland Office minister, Stan Orme, describing the business as having “a sorry financial record”.

Image copyright Peter Macdiarmid/getty images
Image caption Much of the shipyard’s work in recent years has been in the construction of offshore wind turbines

By that stage it was still employing about 10,000 people.

It returned to private ownership in 1989 through a management-employee buyout, backed by the Norwegian industrialist Fred Olsen.

It increasingly focused on the oil and gas sectors, but struggled to compete against major shipbuilders in east Asia.

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Image caption The Anvil Point beneath the Harland and Wolff cranes after it was built in 2003

The yard built its last ship in 2003 – a Ministry of Defence ferry called the Anvil Point.

Since then, it has worked on other areas of marine engineering such as oil rig refurbishment and offshore wind turbines.



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