SUPERSIZED ships that will one day support the Royal Navy’s two giant aircraft carriers could be built in the shipyard responsible for constructing the Titanic.
Troubled Belfast shipyard Harland and Wolff – which constructed the doomed passenger liner in 1909 – could be the focal point of a £1.5bn deal to build the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s three fleet solid support (FSS) ships.
It comes after an agreement was reached between energy firm InfraStrata, which is buying the shipyard, and Spanish-owned Navantia, which is battling a UK conglomerate to build the vessels, was struck.
The two companies signed a ‘memorandum of understanding’, which Navantia said would ‘allow…for the future development of FSS vessels’ in Belfast.
However, industry insiders have told The News this would be unlikely, as it would millions of pounds to modernise the ageing yard, creating a facility capable of building the ships.
‘They would have to do a massive investment just to be able to assemble large ships,’ one source said. ‘It’s possible they could do a block. But that would be for purely political reasons.’
The revelation came just weeks after the Ministry of Defence put the £1.5bn programme on hold.
Royal Navy top brass feared the two remaining bidders ‘were not compliant’ with terms or giving value for money.
Sources within the British defence industry have insisted the project would not be scrapped, saying the vessels were vital in the Royal Navy’s plans to operate a carrier strike task group.
The scheme is not expected to resume until at least some point later next year, depending on the result of next month’s election.
Navantia has acknowledged the programme’s hiatus, reports NavalTechnology.com, with the company adding: ‘During this transition period, and waiting for the new requirements for the FSS project to be published, Navantia continues working to better position itself in the reopening of the contest, where the English industry participation is predicted crucial.’
Team UK was the only other bidder left in the race against the Spanish group, after others from Japan, Italy and Korea pulled out.
The British shipbuilding consortium, if successful, plans to split the work between companies including BAE Systems, Babcock, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce.
This work will then be split across the UK, potentially involving maritime firms in Hampshire.