Monstrous Dolphin not leaving Ulster just yet

A giant oil rig from Brazil docked in Belfast for a refit at the city's dockyard
A giant oil rig from Brazil docked in Belfast for a refit at the city's dockyard

A vast industrial behemoth is set to remain part of the skyline of Belfast for a number of weeks to come.

The enormous Blackford Dolphin drilling rig is currently in dry dock at Harland and Wolff as part of a re-fit project involving more than 1,000 workers.

The original contract to complete the work began last year and had run its course by around mid-February.

However, she is still in the yard, and likely to stay put for at least another month.

During the course of the initial maintenance contract a survey by staff had uncovered further work which needed to be done, and Harland and Wolff said that it will now be April by the time she is ready to leave.

The hulking structure can be spotted from miles around, and dominates the view in parts of the Titanic Quarter and east Belfast.

David McVeigh, sales manager for Harland and Wolff, said she is in fact so big that Samson and Goliath – the firm’s iconic yellow cranes – have been kept locked in place at the Sydenham end of the shipyard since the project began because they are not tall enough to pass over its central tower.

“She’s the biggest rig we’ve had in for probably about 15 years,” said Mr McVeigh.

“She’s one of the best out there.”

Around 1,200 workers have been engaged on the project and numbers are now set to begin decreasing as it draws to a close.

Of those 1,200, about 30 to 40 per cent are from outside the British Isles.

Some sections of the rig were originally Belfast-built.

About five years ago, accommodation blocks for roughly 130 men were constructed in the city before being fitted in Rotterdam, Holland.

Prior to her arrival in Belfast harbour, the Blackford Dolphin had been stationed off the coast of Brazil.

But once the current work is completed she will be going to the altogether less balmy North Sea, where she will be based in a rough sea region to the west of the Shetland Islands.

Mr McVeigh would not disclose the value of the work, except to say that it is worth “millions and millions of pounds”.

He said they had not built a ship from scratch for about a decade and that their “core business” nowadays is in the energy industry.

“The latest new build (ship) was in 2003,” he said.

“And since then it has all been offshore renewables, or offshore oil and gas.”

Asked if he would ever see a time when shipbuilding would be a big part of their work again, he said: “If you wait long enough, the whole world turns a circle.

“There will be an opportunity at some point.”