Tour reveals yard to be a far cry from glory days

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LARGE structures are again gracing the skyline at the historic Swan Hunter yard on the banks of the Tyne, but these ones are a far cry from the proud ships once built there.

The Wallsend site is much changed since its shipbuilding days, but the former yard is proving it is more than a one-trick pony.

Its landmark cranes might be long gone, but the site, now run by Veolia Environmental Services, has been reinvented as a recycling facility for old North Sea gas rigs.

The firm’s contract for the decommissioning of eight so-called jackets – or rig legs – and top sections from the Shell Inde gas field is currently employing 70 people, as well as contractors.

On Friday, members of the public were given the opportunity to look around the site and learn more about what it is used for now.

The otherwise almost-empty yard is currently playing host to an imposing 43m jacket being prepared for a controlled collapse and a top section undergoing asbestos removal.

Visitors were told that Veolia works closely with the Environment Agency after the rigs are shipped in on barges and aims for a 98 per cent recycling target.

Not surprisingly, the majority of those who turned up for the two tours held last week were former Swan Hunter employees.

David Brown worked at Swan Hunter all his life, bar a brief spell with the Merchant Navy, until he was made redundant in 1993 when the yard closed.

The 77-year-old, of Tynemouth, worked as a marine fitter for the firm.

An emotional Mr Brown said he was heartbroken to see the yard in its current state.

He said: “I can’t believe how they have just cleared it. It upsets me a bit when I think of the wonderful ships we used to build here. They were the best in the world really.”

Mr Brown said the most memorable ships he worked on were RFA Fort George, which he also sailed on, and HMS Northumberland, on board which he completed two sea trials.

He said: “All the memories come flooding back. So many relatives and friends worked here.

“My brother Edwin Brown also served his time here, and he worked his way up to be general manager.

“We also had another brother, who is no longer with us, who was a shipbuilder.”

The new era at Swan Hunter began with preparations in January along with Veolia’s decommissioning partner Peterson SBS.

Work then began in earnest in May to dismantle the eight rigs, with a combined weight of 10,500 tonnes. The contract is due to be completed in the next month.