Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 5 December 2019

Titanic shipyard goes bust despite protests

The shipyard is a symbol of Belfast's industrial past but has been in decline for half a century

Harland and Wolff cranes Samson (top) and Goliath at the Belfast shipyard, which has entered administration. Reuters
Harland and Wolff cranes Samson (top) and Goliath at the Belfast shipyard, which has entered administration. Reuters

The iconic Belfast shipyard that produced the Titanic will go into administration on Monday, a company spokesperson has said.

More than 130 workers have been made redundant at the Harland and Wolff plant after management failed to find a buyer.

The announcement came after weeks of protests by workers calling on the British government to intervene to save the yard.

Workers occupied the shipyard last week, locking the gates and refusing to leave in the hope of forcing the government to step in and save the operation.

The government has declined to intervene and on Tuesday said that the situation at the shipyard was “ultimately a commercial issue”.

Susan Fitzgerald, an official at trade union Unite, on Monday called for the British government to take the yard back into public ownership, echoing a letter given by members to new Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week.

"In the absence of politicians and other people creating a space for a solution to be found, we have already advanced what we think it is - that's renationalisation," she said.

Fitzgerald said she was concerned by media reports that the yard might be sold by administrators without liabilities such as pensions and workers' contracts, adding: "This would be a cynical move designed to jettison jobs and workers."

Almost 2,000 people signed a petition calling on the government to renationalise the shipyard, which was state-owned from 1975 to 1989.

The accountancy firm BDO has been appointed as administrators.

Opened in 1861, Harland and Wolff employed around 35,000 people at its height and produced hundreds of ships during World War Two.

The shipyard went into decline in the 1950s with the rise of air travel but in recent years diversified into marine engineering and wind energy projects.

The last ship produced by Harland and Wolff was completed in 2003.

Democratic Unionist Party MP Gavin Robinson told journalists: "We've pulled all the political levers that we can."

Protesting workers took to social media to show their determination to save the shipyard: “The fight is not over in Harland and Wolff until we, the workforce say it is,” wrote Shipbuilder Joe Passmore.

“We will not permit anyone to take our yard until they can convince us that they will provide Belfast with a viable and sustainable future in shipbuilding, green energy development and heavy industry,” he added.

The shipyard is due to formally cease trading at the close of the business day on Monday.

The yard, whose huge yellow cranes tower over central Belfast, remains one of the most potent symbols of the city's past as an industrial engine of the British Empire.

Updated: August 5, 2019 06:38 PM