Austal to Seek UK Shipbuilding Work in Partnership with Harland & Wolff

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Austal Australia is partnering with Harland & Wolff Group to pursue shipbuilding opportunities in the United Kingdom. Well known for its aluminum hull shipbuilding and patrol boats, it looks to leverage its expertise and Harland & Wolff’s yards in Northern Ireland, England, and Scotland as the UK moves forward with its national shipbuilding efforts.

The companies report that they have identified opportunities in the UK market, including the Border Force vessel replacement program, and intend to work jointly in a non-exclusive partnership on such opportunities. A Memorandum of Understanding between the two builders includes the transfer of technology, skills, and shipyard capabilities required to build the next generation of patrol vessels for the United Kingdom for maritime security agencies. 

The UK government in 2021 announced plans to build a new fleet of vessels to be used by its Border Force. Then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and now Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak put forward the plan as part of a £700 million (US$870 million) overall effort to improve the safety of Britain’s borders in response to the inflow of migrants. The government said it would spend £74 million (US$92 million) for 11 vessels to replace the current fleet which on average was 20 years old. Two years after the initial announcement, the replacement project has been hit by delays while the UK continues to spend on life extensions and repairs for the existing fleet.

“Harland & Wolff is an ideal partner for Austal in the pursuit of defense opportunities in the United Kingdom with the facilities, expertise, and capabilities to effectively pursue and help deliver new vessels for organizations such as the UK Border Force,” said Paddy Gregg, Austal’s CEO. “We look forward to collaborating with Harland Wolff on new opportunities that leverage Austal’s proven leadership in aluminum patrol boat design and construction.”  

Austal is one of the leading builders of patrol boats and other aluminum-hull crafts with broad relations with navies and governments around the world. In the U.S. they specialize in building midsize aluminum-hulled vessels for the U.S. Navy, including the trimaran Independence-class littoral combat ship (LCS) and the catamaran Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport (EPF). The U.S. operation also recently introduced steel construction to expand its work with the U.S. Navy.

The agreement with Harland & Wolff is seen as the first step towards winning new business in the United Kingdom.

The Harland & Wolff Group continues to work to expand its construction business after being reorganized. The new management purchased the famed Northern Ireland from bankruptcy in 2019 and later acquired the Appledore yard in England and two smaller yards in Scotland which are being used for fabrication. The group was part of a successful consortium with Spain’s Navantia that won a UK government contract in 2022 to build three supply ships for the Royal Navy.

“As we embark on the next phase of the Company’s growth and development, we will be partnering with Austal not only for the transfer of technology to build aluminum vessels but to also join hands with them when bidding for contracts,” said John Wood, Group Chief Executive Officer of Harland & Wolff. “Austal’s skills and decades of experience in the aluminum build space and border security vessels are second to none. I look forward to working closely with them to build the next-generation shipyard capability for aluminum vessels in the UK.”

The Belfast shipyard completed its first newbuilds in 20 years in the spring of 2023. They are working on a contract to construct barges to be employed on the Thames. They have also added repair and overhaul work at yards including government and private contracts.

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