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Wednesday May 10, 11:31 am Eastern Time
Titanic Builders Saved From Closure
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) -- The shipyard that built the Titanic staved off closure Wednesday by winning a $480 million contract to build four vessels.

The Harland and Wolff shipyard said it signed a deal with Seamasters International of the Bahamas to design and build four passenger ships, with an option for two more.

The deal was made one day after the company's 1,800 workers agreed to a three-year wage freeze and a no strike policy.

The Belfast company was facing closure after it lost a bid in March to build Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 cruise ship. With an empty order book and no new contracts in sight, the shipyard warned employees that work might be wound up after the completion of two oil drilling ships.

Under the new contract, design work begins immediately and construction is expected to start before the end of the year. The ships are to be delivered between 2002 and the end of 2004.

Founded in 1861, Harland and Wolff produced 1,700 ships, including nearly 300 naval and merchant vessels during World War II.

Its two giant cranes, Samson and Goliath, are landmarks in east Belfast. But employment at the shipyard has dwindled from a peak of 35,000 a half-century ago.

The most famous product of the yard was the Titanic, launched in 1912. It sank on its maiden voyage after striking an iceberg.

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