Shipbuilder Swan Hunter has sold its Teesside yard to a small engineering company in a move which it is hoped will breathe fresh life into the area's marine industry.
Swan's, which has been cutting jobs at its other yard in Wallsend on the Tyne as work dries up, is selling the 41-acre site at Port Clarence near Stockton for about £1m.
Its new owner is Wilton Marine Services - a company which employs around 70 workers in Hartlepool making and working on parts for ships, sea platforms and other marine structures. Wilton's director Bill Scott said he could not comment on the deal before it was signed off, which is expected to happen by August.
Swan's owner Jaap Kroese had grand plans for the Teesside yard when he bought it from engineering giant Kvaerner in 2001, including spending more than £10m creating a much larger shipbuilding yard. More recently, he had considered it as a centre for breaking up ships as Swan's focused more on deconstructing vessels after missing out on large contracts including a slice of the £3bn aircraft carriers contract expected to begin in five or more years time.
He had hoped to bring some of the carriers work to Teesside and estimated that 1,500 jobs would be created there and more than that on Tyneside had Swan's won one of the large contracts for the work. However, the Government awarded the key contracts to VT Group, BAE Systems and Babcock Rosyth. This meant not enough work could be found for the Teesside yard, which at its peak employed 450 staff, and Mr Kroese decided to sell it on.
Although neither he nor the new owners would disclose a price, Mr Kroese said he had not made a profit on the deal. "I had hoped to do a lot with it but I just could not find the work. The shipbuilding industry in this country is not doing well, whereas elsewhere the yards are full. We just do not have the skills," said Mr Kroese.
The Wallsend yard is near the end of work to build the Largs Bay and Lyme Bay Royal Auxiliary Fleet ships for the Royal Navy and Mr Kroese said it still has no work lined up after they are completed this year. After seeing the number of workers fall from more than 1,000 to around 200 in the last two years, Mr Kroese had targeted the shipbreaking business for the yard's future, but has so far had little luck with that.
The Wallsend yard has applied for a licence to start breaking ships on the Tyne in a bid to recycle up to 12 vessels a year and the Government said this year it is looking to the North-East to carry out more work in the field.
The Environment Agency is still considering Mr Kroese's application for a licence to break up ships at the Swan Hunter yard - intended to be in partnership with Dutch firm Idea Ecoline.
"I am getting sick of it. I don't seem to be getting anywhere with the Environment Agency. I don't know whether I should carry on with it or not," he said. But he said he still believed there was a future for his Tyneside yard with engineering contracts on smaller vessels of up to 80 metres and that it could carry on for "years and years".