Administrators allow extra week to explore bids for Harland and Wolff

Several potential bidders have expressed an interest in buying crisis-hit Belfast shipyard Harland and Wolff, its administrators have said.

BDO Northern Ireland said it had agreed to a “temporary” unpaid lay-off of the workforce for a one-week period to enable those potential commercial opportunities to be explored.

The administrators said a small number of the workforce had taken up the option of redundancy.

Harland and Wolff, famed for building the Titanic, went into administration at the start of the week after its troubled Norwegian parent company, Dolphin Drilling, failed to find a buyer.

Harland and Wolff administration
Harland and Wolff went into administration after its Norwegian parent company failed to find a buyer (Liam McBurney/PA)

Fuelled by donations and support from the public, workers have occupied the site round the clock for almost two weeks as part of a high-profile campaign to save the yard.

They have vowed to remain there until a solution is found, pressing government in particular with calls to step in and nationalise the business.

On a visit to Northern Ireland on Friday, Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the situation at Harland and Wolff was “heartbreaking”.

A spokesman for BDO NI said: “In light of insufficient funds to cover the current running costs of the business and in the absence of any other funds being available at this point, in conjunction with unions the administrators have agreed to facilitate an unpaid temporary lay-off until Friday August 16.

“This provides a limited additional time for all parties to pursue any potential opportunity to find a commercial basis to continue the business as a going concern.

“For a small number of workers, the option of redundancy has been provided and taken up.

“A limited core team of workers has also been retained to maintain the site and facilitate the administrators in carrying out their duties.

“A number of interested parties/potential bidders have come forward since our appointment and we are expediently following up on these inquiries in an effort to seek a viable commercial solution.

“This is our focus and we are working closely with interested parties and stakeholders with the aim of securing a positive outcome.”

Harland and Wolff
Harland and Wolff workers have occupied the site round the clock for almost two weeks as they campaign to secure its future (Liam McBurney/PA)

The shipbuilder, whose famous yellow cranes, Samson and Goliath, dominate the Belfast skyline, employed more than 30,000 people during the city’s industrial heyday, but the current workforce only numbers around 125.

It has diversified away from shipbuilding in the last two decades and until recently had primarily worked on wind energy and marine engineering projects.

Known around the world for building the doomed White Star liner Titanic, which sank on its maiden transatlantic voyage in 1912 after striking an iceberg, Harland and Wolff was one of the UK’s key industrial producers during the Second World War, supplying almost 150 warships.

Workers have called on the Government to step in to rescue the operation, potentially through nationalisation.

But the Government has declined to intervene, insisting the issue is a commercial one.

Officials insist that EU state aid rules limit the scope to offer financial support through public funds.

Visiting Warrenpoint Port in Co Down, Mr Gove commented on the troubles being experienced at the shipyard.

“On a personal level, I am very, very sorry what’s happened to Harland and Wolff,” he said.

“It’s an iconic business that has a place in Northern Ireland’s history and a place in all our hearts and it’s a great, great shame – particularly when the team who work there have been so energetic and determined in trying to make sure that the business remains alive and viable for the future.

“So on a personal level I find it heartbreaking what’s happened to Harland and Wolff.”

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