OIL giant BP has underlined its willingness to invest in ship-building projects that could provide a huge boost to the industry in Scotland, as it mounts a big push into the offshore windfarm business.

Senior executives from the group visited yards in Port Glasgow and Rosyth yesterday in connection with plans for a programme to build four windfarm support vessels, which BP reckons could support hundreds of jobs in Scotland.

The vessels could be used on a huge windfarm that BP hopes to build off eastern Scotland with Germany’s EnBW. The firms applied for the licence required in the hotly-contested ScotWind auction this summer.

Yesterday’s visits were exploratory and all yards in the country could be in consideration if BP decides to go ahead with pans to build the vessels in Scotland.

READ MORE: BP claims ScotWind bid could unlock £10bn investment

However, the decision to visit the Ferguson Marine yard in Port Glasgow provides an apparent vote of confidence for it. The yard was nationalised in 2019 after facing high profile challenges on a contract to build lifeline island ferries.

The visit was led by Felipe Arbelaez, senior vice president zero carbon energy at BP, who highlighted the scale of the projects the group is considering.

“You’re looking at activity that will probably bring in the vicinity of 500 jobs for a number of years,” he noted, adding: “We think it would be a very material opportunity for any of the shipyards in Scotland.”

Mr Arbelaez said he was confident that BP could find the capabilities required in Scotland and that yards in the country could compete against operations in countries that are seen as being lower cost players, such as Poland.

He noted: “With some of the investment and government support and capability that’s been built we would expect the ship-yards here to be competitive.”

BP may not make any decisions for some time. The result of the ScotWind auction is expected to be announced in the first quarter of next year.

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However, regarding the building of the planned support vessels, Mr Arbelaez said: “Our commitment is very much to look at doing so in Scotland.”

He said BP would also consider having turbines manufactured in the UK but has not selected the relevant technology yet.

Regarding the visit to the Ferguson Marine yard, Mr Arbelaez said: “It’s been a great opportunity for us to see how they’ve been improving their operations; they’ve been going through a very substantial turnaround programme.”

He added: “We were just reviewing at the yard their recent statistics on safety and operational productivity etcetera; they’ve really gone through a fantastic trend, so we’re encouraged by what we see.”

The man leading the turnaround effort at Ferguson Marine, Tim Hair, said work on the kind of vessels that BP plans to build could be very valuable to the firm. He noted that the turnaround team set out to create a yard that can compete in a range of markets.

Asked if he was confident that Ferguson Marine would have the capability required to build the kind of vessels BP has in mind, Mr Hair said: “We’ve built an excellent engineering capability in the yard in the last few years; we have the skills in house to do the construction.”

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Mr Hair said that while the company was unable to recruit enough people locally with the skills required to work on the CalMac ferries it has taken steps to boost the Scottish workforce. These include running an apprenticeship programme which has attracted lots of applications and a graduate trainee scheme.

BP was awarded windfarm acreage in the Irish Sea in February with EnBW, in the UK licensing round. Mr Arbelaez said vessels built in Scotland could support Irish Sea operations.

The director of BP’s Irish Sea project, Richard Haydock, visited the Babcock International yard at Rosyth yesterday.

He said: “If we can do something that benefits the yards in Scotland I think that would be a great outcome for all concerned.”

The outlook for the yard in Rosyth looks relatively bright.

In September work officially started at the yard on a £1.25 billion project to build five new Type 31 frigates for the Royal Navy.

READ MORE: Bidding for Scottish windfarm licences heats up as Italian oil giant enters fray

The ScotWind leasing round attracted interest from a wide range of international corporations including several oil majors. Royal Dutch Shell bid with Glasgow-based ScottishPower.

SSE applied with Japanese conglomerate Marubeni.

Crown Estate Scotland got over 70 applications covering 15 areas of seabed.