Famed Shipyard Harland and Wolff Enters Bankruptcy

The offshore construction ship Resolution at Harland and Wolff to load offshore wind tower jackets, 2007 (file image courtesy Geograph / Ross)

Published Aug 6, 2019 8:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

Harland and Wolff, the famed Belfast-based shipyard that built the Titanic, has entered into administration. The yard's owner, Dolphin Drilling, is bankrupt itself and has been attempting to sell H&W without success.

In its heyday, the yard was an important part of Great Britain's industrial base. It built most of the White Star Line's iconic ocean liners, including the Titanic, Olympic and Britannic, and it was a major contributor to the wartime shipbuilding effort in WWII. However, its fortunes have waned, and it has not built a new ship in more than a decade. With newbuilding orders increasingly going to yards overseas, H&W has focused instead on repairs, refits and offshore structure fabrication, notably for the offshore wind industry. 

Workers heading home from Harland and Wolff, 1911 (file image)

The storied 158-year-old firm is now expected to file for insolvency, and accounting company BDO Northern Ireland has taken over control as administrator effective Thesday. 

The UK labor union Unite, which represents H&W's workers, called on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to intervene to save the yard. “Standing back and allowing the shipyard to fall into administration to be picked over for scrap value by vultures looking to make a quick buck is in nobody’s interest," said Unite official Steve Turner. "As time runs out, Boris Johnson must step in, put Harland and Wolff into the hands of the official receiver and underwrite day-to-day running costs in the same way that successfully happened with British Steel."

Unite believes that with the security of government support, the yard would be able to provide confidence for potential customers and secure new contracts. The union noted the yard's strategic importance for drydock capacity for the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers, along with its contributions to the Dreadnought submarine program. A defense contract for block building for the Royal Navy's next generation of dry stores fleet auxiliary ships would also underwrite the yard's future, Unite added. (The previous administration of Prime Minister Theresa May opted for an international competition for building the Fleet Solid Support Ship series.)