The Appledore yard with its signature covered building hall.(credit: Babcock International).The Appledore yard with its signature covered building hall.(credit: Babcock International).

A dormant shipyard in the west of England is set to re-open following purchase by London-based energy group InfraStrata, which also saved Harland & Wolff (H&W) from closure last year, writes David Tinsley.

InfraStrata has paid £7m (US$9.3m) for the assets of the Appledore shipyard, which was closed by Babcock International in March 2019 after the final order had been completed.

Appledore was one of the pioneers of undercover ship construction worldwide when the yard was rebuilt in 1970 with a 119-metre fully-enclosed building dock and adjoining fabrication halls. InfraStrata regards the undercover build and repair capability as a major strength, especially so in a UK context, given anticipated demand for what it describes as sovereign vessels in the smaller size category over the next 10 years.

Located at the confluence of the rivers Torridge and Taw in north Devon, the yard is to be renamed H&W (Appledore) and will be chasing contracts across the ferry, defence, steel fabrication, and offshore energy markets. It is also considered well-placed to take on spill-over work from H&W (Belfast), where business has been ramping-up, mainly in shiprepair, since the InfraStrata takeover.

The last entire newbuild from Appledore was a fourth, 90-metre offshore patrol vessel for the Irish Naval Service commissioned in 2018. The yard showed its mettle as a subcontractor through the production of sections for the Royal Navy’s latest aircraft carriers, completed at Babcock’s Rosyth complex in Scotland. Appledore has a long track record in commercial ship construction, including niche fields such as suction dredgers, survey vessels and coastal tankers.

Through the acquisition, InfraStrata is well-placed to serve both ends of the market, for vessels within the 119-metre building dock length available at Appledore, and for projects requiring dock lengths of 300-metre plus at Belfast.

Although the new owner is not looking to be reliant on UK Ministry of Defence contracts to sustain its business in the long-term, it considers that Appledore “offers the MoD and other government departments such as the Home Office and Department for Transport an exciting and cost-effective domestic option for a number of smaller vessel builds that are in the pipeline in the months to come.”

“In addition,” states the company, “a number of wind farm projects in the surrounding areas are planned in the near future, and they will require UK fabrication with load-out capacity. While Government policy stipulates the requirement for a substantial proportion of locally fabricated content, the availability of such capability across the UK is highly limited.”

The purchase of the inactive Appledore yard came with a single employee, the site manager. There is confidence that the workforce could be very quickly built up again if contracts are won before too long.

The yard has its origins in the mid 19th century and has occupied the present site since one-time owner Court Line established the covered ‘ship factory’ 50 years ago. Under the ownership of Langham Industries, Appledore Shipbuilders went into receivership in October 2003, subsequently being taken over by DML, the then operator of Devonport Dockyard.

In 2007, Babcock International acquired DML, including its operations at Appledore. Babcock announced in November 2018 that it saw no long-term future for the yard, despite the UK MoD offering to bring forward contracts to avert closure and the pay-off of skilled personnel, which took place the following March.

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