Is This the End for Our Shipbuilders?; Cammell Laird Sent the Pride of the British Fleet out to Roam the Oceans but the Order Books Are Empty and the Yard Will Fall Silent Tomorrow Once There Was Work for 40,000. Now the Last 360 Will Go

By Atik, Nilufer | Daily Mail (London), July 30, 2001 | Go to article overview

Is This the End for Our Shipbuilders?; Cammell Laird Sent the Pride of the British Fleet out to Roam the Oceans but the Order Books Are Empty and the Yard Will Fall Silent Tomorrow Once There Was Work for 40,000. Now the Last 360 Will Go


Atik, Nilufer, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: NILUFER ATIK

ITS workers witnessed the launch of some of the world's most famous ships.

But when the last remaining few hundred arrive at Cammell Laird shipyard this morning they could be seeing the end of the 175-year history of shipbuilding on the River Mersey.

Tomorrow the work will run out and the Birkenhead yard will close its gates for what could be the last time. And it will send home the 360 who remain of what was a 1,500-strong workforce at the turn of the year and 40,000 when the tard was the envy of the world.

A series of contracts has failed to materialise and, with repairs to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels Argus and Sir

Tristram almost completed, the orderbook is finally empty.

And the shipyard that built the battleship Prince of Wales, the aircraft carrier the Ark Royal, and the doomed submarine Thetis will be 'mothballed' by receivers Pricewa-terhouseCoopers.

Union leaders and employees hope a buyer can be found, just as one came forward when Cammell Laird closed in 1992, but if no bids are made it could mean the end of Merseyside's proud shipbuilding heritage.

Mechanical fitter Brendan Reynolds, 60, from Birkenhead, had hoped to stay at the site until he retired. Yesterday he said it would be a 'tragedy' if the shipyard did not reopen.

'Everyone is absolutely gutted,' he said. 'Most of the men here have families to support and it is devastating news for them' The yard first faced extinction in 1992 when it closed because of a lack of orders.

It was reopened three years later as a ship repairer by an investment consortium which began an expansion at Birkenhead and Cammell Laird's other yards in the North East including planned expansion into shipbuilding.

Until recently the company had been hailed for helping to halt the decline of the industry and a [pound]50million contract to build a new 'midsection' for Italian cruise ship the Costa Classica seemed to herald a bright future.

But the ship into which the extension was to be installed was dramatically ordered home when it was halfway from Genoa to Merseyside and the deal collapsed amid mutual recriminations.

Cammell Laird then pinned its hopes on a [pound]350million order to build two cruise ships for American firm Luxus, but that ended in disappointment over ministers' reluctance to assign millions of pounds in subsidies to what they regarded a paper company.

Five hundred workers were laid off at Birkenhead between January and April, but ship repairs continued and the 1,000 remaining workers were confident the company was in good shape.

But the shipbuilder never recovered from the Costa deal and went into receivership in April with debts of [pound]150million. Work on the existing contracts is due to be completed tomorrow.

The yard will be mothballed by the end of this week, the receivers said last night. …

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