On a windy afternoon at Gdansk Shipyard – the rallying point for the 1980s Solidarity movement which spelled the end of the communist regime – an 85-metre oil platform supply vessel slides off the slipway into the Baltic Sea. It is one of six specialist ships the yard builds every year, along with wind turbine towers.
Traditional shipbuilding has been history in Gdansk ever since the shipyard went bust in the 1990s, resulting in huge job losses. In the 1980s, when numerous tankers and trawlers were built in Gdansk, mainly for the Russian market, 40,000 people were employed in the shipbuilding industry. Today, that number has fallen to 10,000. Instead of big container ships, the shipyard is now building specialist vessels for oil rigs alongside luxury yachts for multimillionaires.
"We do not believe that we can compete with China or Korea on cargo vessels," said Arkadiusz Aszyk, a board member of Gdansk Shipyard, which is over 200 years old and built the fleet for Kaiser Wilhelm II. He adds: "We build more sophisticated vessels, and our clients in the offshore market are here in Europe or the US. We can see that in this niche market we can be competitive."