A Canadian order and oil companies keep British Shipbuilders humming

Britain's nationanlized shipbuilding corporation is being kept busy these days. The Austin & Pickersgill yard of British Shipbuilders at Sunderland, northeast England, recently won a $:45 million ($75.6 million) order to build four 30,000-ton bulk carriers for a Greek shipping company.

Goven Shipbuilders, the Glasgow-based company which went into liquidation a number of years ago before its takeover by British Shipbuilders, has obtained a region. The Glasgow firm will build three bulk carriers, two for Misener Transportation of Ontario and one for Pioneer Shipbuilding of Manitoba.

These recent orders in northeast England and Clydeside (the shipbuilding district along the Clyde estuary in Scotland), bring British Shipbuilders' total order book in the first eight months of 1981 to $:350 million -- $:50 million beyond the 1980 figures.

Although the indications are that 1981 will see British yards significantly busier than in recent years, the United Kingdom is still substantially trailing countries like Japan, South Korea, and Sweden in building merchant vessels. Yet there appears to have been a dramatic improvement in management-labor relations within Britain's shipbuilding industry, notably on what used to be called "Red" Clydeside.

It is this easing of employer-worker tensions and the unions' more relaxed attitude toward management insistence on labor flexibility which has helped the Glasgow shipyard obtain the first major Canadian contract placed in Britain in many years.

Goven Shipbuilders beat off tough overseas competition for the Canadian contract by commiting itself to speedy delivery, the careful design of the grain-carrying ships, and low prices. A spokesman for the Misener Transportation shipping concern appears to have been particularly impressed with the "strong work ethic" at Goven Shipbuilders during a recent visit to the Glasgow yard.

Apart from the new Canadian contract for Clydeside -- and part of a large Polish merchant marine order -- yards in northeast England are gaining many overhaul jobs for Russia's large fleet of cruise vessels. Tyne Shiprepair Group has lately outfitted 18 Soviet vessels, and Smith Shiprepair has modernized 10 USSR passenger ships since 1978. These groups also belong to British Shipbuilders.

Yet a significant part of British shipbuilding activity is not in constructing merchant ships or naval boats but in massive oil rigs for the international petroleum companies. At least two jack-up rigs are expected to be ordered from British yards before the end of 1981, and the latest exploration within Britain is in the Clyde estuary between Greenock seaport and the Isle of Arran.

The huge British Petroleum's $:60 million ($100 million) firefighting vessel Iolair (Gaelic for Eagle), which is being completed at Greenock, incorporates the skills in British engineering that made Clydeside among the finest yards in the world. Work will finish on the Iolair around October, and the mighty Gaelic eagle will be shepherded by tugs around the west coast of Scotland to join the armada of oil ships operating in the North Sea.

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