Harland and Wolff, the Belfast shipyard that built the Titanic, will be put into administration, a form of bankruptcy protection, on Monday after its bankrupt Norwegian owner failed to find a buyer, as a union supporting its workers called for the yard to be renationalized.
The shipyard, whose towering yellow cranes dominate the Northern Irish city’s skyline, has been occupied by workers fearful for their jobs since last week. They said on Monday they would block administrators from entering the site.
“There has been a series of board meetings, the result of which is that administrators will be appointed over the course of the day,” a Harland and Wolff spokesman said.
The business was put up for sale last year by Norwegian parent Dolphin Drilling, which filed for bankruptcy in June. The Norwegian administrator of Dolphin Drilling did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Opened in 1861, Harland and Wolff employed more than 30,000 people in its Second World War heyday and remains a potent symbol of Belfast’s past as an industrial engine of the British Empire.
It has been in decline for more than half a century, however, and now employs just 130 full-time workers, specializing in energy and marine-engineering projects.
The workers locked themselves into the yard last week and are taking turns occupying key buildings in a bid to take control of a process they fear will deprive them of their jobs.
Susan Fitzgerald, a official at trade union Unite, called on Monday for the British government to take the yard back into public ownership, echoing a letter given by members to new Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week.
“In the absence of politicians and other people creating a space for a solution to be found – we have already advanced what we think it is, that’s renationalization,” she said.
Ms. Fitzgerald said she was concerned by news media reports that the yard might be sold by administrators without liabilities such as pensions and workers’ contracts, adding: “This would be a cynical move designed to jettison jobs and workers.”
Harland and Wolff was state-owned from 1975 to 1989.
A British government spokesman said the yard’s fate was a commercial issue.
The drilling rig business of Dolphin Drilling was restructured in late June, allowing those operations to continue under a new holding company incorporated in Jersey.
While administration would put jobs at risk, it would not necessarily lead to the closing of the shipyard, much of whose land is on a long lease from the Belfast Harbour Commissioners.
Part of the site has been sold and hosts a museum dedicated to Titanic, the largest floating vessel of its time which sank on its maiden voyage in 1912 with the loss of 1,500 lives.
A four-star hotel recently opened in the building in which the ship was designed.
Lawmaker Gavin Robinson, who represents the East Belfast constituency where the plant is situated, said his Democratic Unionist Party had “pulled all the political levers that we can” but had failed to avert the appointment of administrators.
Many in Belfast see the yard, whose work force for much of its history was almost exclusively Protestant, as an emblem of Northern Ireland’s bitter sectarian divide.
The city is still recovering from three decades of violence between Catholic Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland and pro-British unionists seeking to maintain Northern Ireland’s British status, in which more than 3,600 people died.