Now under new ownership, the Gibraltar shipyard finds itself in a good place, as favourable market conditions generate increased volumes of business.
Last year marked the start of a new era for Gibdock as it was taken over by the UK-based The Balaena Group in May 2022. Since then, the yard has gone from strength to strength, riding a wave of post-pandemic demand for its ship repair services while diversifying into new areas of fabrication, including the manufacture of Balaena’s Island Utility Platforms, which offer fresh water supply, sewage and renewable energy solutions for island communities.
Gibdock managing director, Richard Beards, says, ”Balaena was attracted by the yard’s strategic location and the ability to offer a wide range of services on the site, in addition to continuing with our traditional shiprepair and conversion work. Their aim is for Gibdock to continue to do what it has always done, but to do it better and in a more environment-friendly way, while simultaneously enabling the yard to capitalise on the growth potential that the group sees in the renewable energy sector especially.”
Over the course of 2022, Gibdock experienced significantly higher levels of demand across all sectors. While dock utilisation in 2021 was around 65%, last year utilisation averaged over 85%, rising to 100% at peak times, with a big increase in larger work scopes boosting per vessel revenue streams.
Beards adds, “We have been seeing many more vessels coming to Gibraltar to carry out relatively large programs of work than was the case until recently. Now we are broadly back to pre-March 2020 levels of work, which is encouraging.”
Gibdock has seen success across most vessel types, with recent business including offshore cable layers, dive support vessels, ferries and container ships, as well as naval and defence work. “We have been developing specialist skills in working on a number of different vessel types over the past few years and it is very positive too that our workload is being spread across many of these vessel types,” he says.
Notable projects undertaken at Gibdock in recent months include a series of three tankers for Navigator Gas. All these ships received extensive coating applications, including silicone antifouling systems which were applied to the underwater hulls.
The offshore vessel, Normand Sampson, operated by Solstad, recently returned to the yard for an extensive overhaul, while the cable layer Nexans Skagerrak proved to be a record-breaking operation, with the largest lift ever made at the yard.
John Taylor, operations director, says, “During the 2019 LNG engine conversion for the Balearia ferry Napoles, we carried out a 200tonne lift on the storage tank and this was our biggest lift at that time. For the Nexans cable layer we had to surpass even that, lifting ashore the vessel’s carousel, weighing 325tonnes for repairs and subsequent refitting while she was alongside in the yard, demonstrating once again our capability to carry out substantial lifts.”
To undertake the work the yard brought in a 700tonnes capacity crawler crane, which was assembled on site, having been transported into Gibdock in a complex logistics operation that required 28 lorry movements. Taylor adds, “It was not a straightforward lift by any means and once the carousel was in the air, we had to manoeuvre the vessel to create sufficient space for it to be lifted off and on the vessel. It was a challenging programme of work, but we were able to carry it out safely and efficiently.”
Gibdock also continues to see high levels of environmental retrofit work, with ballast water treatment system installations featuring on most jobs at present. The yard is also in the process of prefabricating two exhaust gas scrubbers for a Balearia ferry expected to dock later in the year.
One of the strategic aims of the Balaena group is to ensure that Gibdock’s impact on the local environment is minimised. As part of an ongoing programme of investment the yard is planning to invest in more UHP water blasting units, while also upgrading machine shop tools and equipment in line with current high levels of demand.
Beard adds, “For 2023 we are full steam ahead, with full occupancy of the dry docks until the early summer. There is a very positive outlook for Gibdock right now, maintaining the momentum that was built up in 2022.”
The yard is also starting to see an upturn in work outside the shiprepair and maintenance sector. It has recently, for example, been awarded a contract from World Fuel Services, which controls Gib Oil, to fabricate and install land-based oil storage units. These are currently being built in the yard at its PAD One fabrication area and will be installed on site in the summer of 2023.
One of the challenges that Gibdock faces is to recruit and retain technical staff for the yard. Beards concludes, “Our apprenticeship scheme is continuing and is being fully supported by the new owners. We have recently taken on two graduates, who have both completed four-year apprenticeships, into full time employment, demonstrating our commitment to growing our own workforce for the future.”