'Very historical day' as cruise liner arrives in Belfast for major refit
The arrival of a towering cruise liner in Belfast ahead of a major refit project has been hailed as a new chapter for the city's shipping industry.
The Azamara Pursuit docked at Harland and Wolff shipyards on Wednesday, where it will be berthed for the next four months while undergoing a complete internal renovation.
The entire project is being managed by Co Down-based marine fitout specialist MJM Group.
While the crew who accompanied the vessel on its two-week voyage from the Bahamas got a warm welcome from flag-waving Azamara colleagues on the dockside, the weather was not quite so hospitable - with biting cold rain and wind lashing the decks as they arrived at their temporary new home.
The luxury liner is managed by Azamara Club Cruises, a global brand of Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd.
Brian McConville, founder and chairman of Newry company MJM, said he hoped the Azamara Pursuit was the first of many liners to undergo a refit in Belfast.
"I am already working on potentially trying to secure the next couple of ships to come to Belfast," he said.
"This is a very historical day for Northern Ireland, the fact we have taken this ship back - this will hopefully rekindle the start of many, many great ships and shipping lines to come in here and get such contracts done in the future."
Jonathan Guest, a director at Harland and Wolff, welcomed the arrival of the ship.
"I think it's a great boon for the economy," he said.
"It's the first time a large-scale refit has been carried out in Northern Ireland and I think that's hugely significant."
He added: "Harland and Wolff has a great history of cruise ships and cruise ship building, but not so much in the refit side.
"So we hope this is a new chapter in the development of Harland and Wolff along with MJM in bringing cruise ship refits to Belfast and seeing where that can take us."
MJM will direct a team of around 800 workers during the most intense phases of the refit.
At the same time, the 600-plus crew that will staff the liner once the project is complete will be assembled and trained in Belfast prior to its end of July departure date.
Richard Twynam from Azamara Club Cruises said it was unprecedented in the cruise industry to hand an entire refit project to just one company.
"It's never been done before," he said.
"We are effectively making MJM from Newry an extension of our new build team for Royal Caribbean, so it's really exciting."