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Troubled SLP sold to Dutch firm

PUBLISHED: 16:09 09 August 2010 | UPDATED: 11:55 16 September 2010

A SEARCH for new work has begun at offshore engineering firm SLP after the business was bought out of administration after months of talks.

Lowestoft-based SLP called in administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in November 2009 after becoming embroiled in a £60m legal dispute with Danish conglomerate Maersk, leaving about 800 jobs at risk.

A SEARCH for new work has begun at offshore engineering firm SLP after the business was bought out of administration after months of talks.

Lowestoft-based SLP called in administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in November 2009 after becoming embroiled in a £60m legal dispute with Danish conglomerate Maersk, leaving about 800 jobs at risk.

But after several waves of redundancies the business was last week sold to Zefier UK III, a subsidiary of Holland-based renewable energy firm Smulders.

The move is seen as a much-needed boost to the area's economy, which has been hit by the closure of windows and doors maker Jeld Wen's factory and a blaze at Wessex Foods, leaving 150 jobs at risk.

But only a small core of 44 jobs have been transferred to Smulders from a peak of about 1,000.

About 100 redundancies were announced in March and 60 followed in May after work at SLP began to dry up.

Hundreds more workers' contracts came to an end as major projects came to an end, including an accommodation module for BP's Valhall oilfield, which sailed in July.

Smulders, which acquired SLP energy subsidiary Sea and Land Power and Energy in May, said the aim now was to build on SLP's international reputation to win new work, including in the burgeoning offshore wind sector.

Albert Smulders, group chief executive, said: “Following our acquisition of Sea and Land Power and Energy in May, we wanted to take a second, much larger step in the UK by purchasing SLP Engineering.

“Our investment in these two businesses shows our commitment to the renewable and oil and gas energy businesses in the UK which links into our existing business in these sectors in Europe.

“We know SLP has an empty order book and our primary focus now is to build that back up.

“This will take several months as large contracts take time to win but with SLP's strong reputation enhanced under Smulders' new ownership, we are optimistic of building the business back up.”

Stephen Oldfield, joint administrator and advisory partner at PwC in East Anglia, said the sale was a “tremendous result” for Lowestoft.

Despite being in administration, the company turned over £130m over nine months, making it one of East Anglia's biggest businesses.

Of that, £60m was spent on staff and agency workers and £70m went to suppliers, including £25m to businesses in the Waveney district.

In addition to the design, engineering and fabrication of structures for off and onshore oil and gas installations, Mr Oldfield said the operation had great potential in the offshore renewables sector.

He said: “From the outset of our appointment we knew just how important the SLP business was to Lowestoft and the wider East Anglian economy.

“It could also become a major player in the emerging renewables industry which is such a great future opportunity for our region. We simply had to find a buyer.”

He said talks with Smulders had taken longer than planned because of the complexity of the SLP business and a number of “environmental and contractual issues”, adding: “The most important thing is that a deal has now been concluded.”

Mark Robinson, regional officer for union Unite, welcomed the sale as “excellent news”.

He said: “I hope the new owners can bring work into the yard so the company can start building rigs again and creating jobs.”

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