18/06/2015 Feature
Tidal Change In Scotland's Maritime Industries
Signs of increased activity and presence in Scottish shipping world

Artists impression of revitalised Govan shipyard (BAE SYSTEMS)

There was a time when Scotland was synonymous with ships and shipbuilding. The country was covered in shipbuilders, shipping companies and all manner of maritime services , from suppliers to scrappers. It had them all. In abundance.

Sadly since the 1950s, Scotland has also been synonymous with the decline of maritime industries and in the past thrty years, no-one would have given much hope that they would survive past the millenium at all.

However, that seems to be changing. There have been some major 'modern day firsts' that have occured in the past year alone that would make anyone with even the least interest in Scotland's shipping scene sit up and take notice.

This year perhaps the most notable - and completely unexpected - news was that a Scottish shipyard was to expand. For decades it has went the other way. Jim McColl, a man who has sharp business sense as well as good old fashioned pride in what he does, saved the last complete-build commercial shipbuilder in the British isles, Ferguson's in Port Glasgow, by not only buying it, but pumping millions into its redevelopment. Shortly thereafter a headline appeared in the local press that the yards distinctive brick edifice was to be torn down. Normally this would set a Clydeside heart sinking all over again like a leaking freighter in stormy seas, but this time, it was good news: he needed to do so to make the yard floor bigger to allow the shipyard to go for larger build contracts. A situation unheard of since the good old days almost outwith modern memory.

Jim McColl is adamant that his shipyard will progress and expand and is promising that 'big things' will happen in the years ahead.

Meanwhile last month, the other shipbuilders on the Clyde, BAE Systems, announced that their yards on the river would be retained and invested in. It had been expected that their Govan yard (a place so bound up in popular affection it ranks as the heart of industrial Scotland) would lose out to its sister yard at Scotsoun further down the river - but no, once again the pendulum swings, and Govan is to be given a huge new building hall and other improvements which will cement its place in Scottish shipbuilding for years to come.

Indeed steel cutting began on the second of three Offshore Patrol Vessels at Govan this month, plus a new generation of frigate also soon to start production at the Glasgow shipyards as well. These type of whole-ship building programmes were thought to be history only a matter of a few years ago.

Other notable signs have been apparent too. Anglo Eastern Ship Management's European operation is now centred round their Glasgow HQ, large new offices in Glasgow's Broomielaw district with the company name proudly emblazoned high on its glittering walls. Further to this we learn that Denholm's (famous Glasgow shipowning firm and agents) have upped their stake in the company and are poised to return to shipowning activities too. Meanwhile the other major shipmanagement player globally, V.Ships is also centering its shipmanagement at their Glasgow HQ, acting as hub for all their shipmanagement activities.

And in other news, excitement is palpable about the possible return of QE2 to the Clyde. For the first time this is being taken seriously in councils and in businesses around the Clyde as a new spirit of 'can do' seems to generate not only ideas but also possibilities.

Yet another first occured for many many years when a disabled freight ship, the LYSBLINK SEAWAYS was towed to Rosneath, where it is to be scrapped. It has been many years since a large commercial vessel has been torn apart on the Gareloch!

Coupled with news reported on this site today that Forth Ports is extending its container handling facilities at Grangemouth then all in all it is encouraging that Scotland is seeing signs of re-positioning itself as a martime nation once again. With shipbuilding, ship management, crew training, cargoes, and even ship dismantling on the increase, perhaps the tide that went out is returning again.