Harland & Wolff owners promise to boost shipyard job numbers

Energy contruction group Infrastrata has paid £6m to buy assets out of administration

InfraStrata, the new owners of Belfast’s Harland & Wolff, plan to boost the size of the workforce at the shipyard by “several hundred over the next five years”.

The London AIM-listed group has agreed to buy the assets of Harland & Wolff Heavy Industries Limited and Harland & Wolff Group Plc from administrators BDO NI for £6 million.

InfraStrata says the price agreed is “a substantial discount on the valuation of the assets of around £11 million”. These assets include the shipyard’s giant yellow gantry cranes, known locally as Samson and Goliath.

The London group has also confirmed that “100 per cent” of the 79 former Harland and Wolff employees, who had been protesting for the last nine weeks outside the gates of the historic east Belfast shipyard, will be re-employed once the acquisition is completed at the end of this month.

Trade union Unite, which had supported the former shipyard workers, said InfraStrata’s purchase of Harland & Wolff assets represented a “dramatic turnaround in the iconic shipyard’s fortunes and was due solely to the determination of the workforce who refused to accept the loss of their jobs and skills”.

InfraStrata has indicated that it will take possession of the yard by November and that a new management team will be employed at Harland & Wolff by the end of 2019. It is also hoping to “bring on board” other former shipyard employees.

According to InfraStrata, Harland & Wolff will be “run independently” from any of its other projects.

Gas storage facility

InfraStrata, which specialises in global energy infrastructure projects, said one of the key reasons it acquired Harland & Wolff is because one of its subsidiaries, Islandmagee Energy Limited, is planning to develop a new £400 million natural gas storage facility in the North.

The natural gas storage facility would be developed in Permian salt beds almost a mile beneath Larne Lough.

It is currently the only proposed gas storage project in northwest Europe that has been awarded Project of Common Interest status by the European Union and it also has the support of the British and Irish governments. It is estimated the facility could provide more than 25 per cent of the UK’s natural gas storage.

Planning approval has already been granted for the storage facility in Co Antrim to proceed with the project, Infrastrata's subsidiary must also receive a marine construction licence from the North's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

No final marine licence has yet been issued and the department has been urged by campaigners hostile to the project to conduct its own independent study on the impact the gas storage facility could have on both the environment and marine life.

Benthic dead zone

Campaigners like the “Stop InfraStrata Islandmagee gas cavern project” claim it would result in a highly staturated brine solution being disposed of in the sea where it could potentially cause a “benthic dead zone”.

InfraStrata has vigorously rejected these claims and has said the proposed project is “environmentally-friendly”. The London group believes its acquistion of the Harland & Wolff assets will reduce both the gas storage facility’s overall project costs and construction timelines.

According to InfraStrata, the acquisition will enable it to able to bring “in-house a large part of the fabrication requirements” for the Islandmagee gas storage project.

John Wood, chief executive of InfraStrata, believes that, aside from the Islandmagee gas storage project, the shipyard and its workforce could help it win other new energy-related projects.

Under the terms of the acquistion, the London-listed company has signed heads of terms to purchase the Harland & Wolff assets and pay a non-refundable deposit of £500,000 in cash by Thursday. It is then scheduled to pay £3.3 million on October 31st and £2.2 million by April 30th, 2020.

InfraStrata confirmed that it is using a new short-term bridging facility to pay the deposit and is in “advanced negotiations with a number of lenders to provide a long-term debt facility” for the remaining £5.5 million.

The North’s regional business development agency, Invest NI, has, according to the company, also advised it of “numerous forms of support by way of loans and grants that are available” after the acquisition is complete.