About 900 jobs are to be created in what has been described as an “historic moment for shipbuilding in Belfast”.
The city’s Harland & Wolff shipyard is part of the Team Resolute consortium which is to deliver three fleet solid support ships for the UK’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
The consortium was selected as the preferred bidder last November.
It comprises BMT, Harland & Wolff and Navantia UK.
UK defence secretary Ben Wallace and Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris visited the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday as the contract was confirmed.
The £1.6 billion (1.8 billion) contract is expected to create 1,200 UK shipyard jobs – including 900 in Belfast – and 800 further jobs across the supply chain.
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The deal releases £100 million of investment from Team Resolute into UK shipyards, including £77 million of infrastructure, the bulk of which will go into Harland & Wolff’s Belfast and Appledore shipyards, and a further £21 million in skills and technology transfer from Navantia UK.
The trio will be the first ships built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast since MV Anvil Point was launched in 2002.
Production is due to start in 2025 with recapitalisation and yard improvements starting immediately.
All three support ships are expected to be operational by 2032.
The historic Belfast shipyard, which built the Titanic, appeared to be facing an uncertain future in 2019 when it was placed into administration.
Its future was secured when InfraStrata, now Harland & Wolff, acquired it for £6 million.
Mr Wallace described the contract as a “significant boost” to the UK’s shipbuilding industry.
“Creating jobs and prosperity, Team Resolute is bringing shipbuilding back to Belfast, developing a modern, resilient and thriving shipbuilding industry that will support naval and commercial shipbuilding into the future,” he said.
Harland and Wolff chief executive, John Wood, said: “This is the last chance to capture the excellent shipbuilding skills that remain in Belfast and Appledore before they are lost, and pass them on to the next generation of UK shipbuilders.
“UK government has seized this opportunity and, in doing so, ensured the long-term survival of our shipyards and significantly bolstered sovereign shipbuilding capability.”
Union representative Joe Passmore, of Unite, hailed an “historic moment for shipbuilding in Belfast”.
He said: “We campaigned for Harland & Wolff with a view to bringing new infrastructure and knowledge into our shipyards, and FSS will create jobs, skills and opportunities for young people in Northern Ireland.”