A Newry firm, which was badly hit by the worldwide slump in the cruise liner industry during the Covid pandemic, has bounced back announcing its intention to create 50 new jobs.
MJM Marine specialises in fitting out the interiors of luxury vessels, and has refurbished ships belonging to many operators, including the world’s biggest cruise liner, Royal Caribbean’s “Wonder of the Seas” which made its maiden voyage in March.
When the pandemic struck in February 2020 TV viewers watched images of liners like the “Diamond Princess” being held in quarantine on the high seas. Around the world, ports began closing to passing cruise liners and the entire tourism sector slumped.
MJM Marine’s Chief Executive Officer Gary Annett recalls one extraordinarily difficult afternoon on 12th March 2020, when the firm’s order book dwindled as clients paused their plans moving onto cancelling in a short period. “We were approaching £120 million in orders, and that one afternoon cut nearly 95% of that away very quickly. It was difficult, but I think our team realised the enormity of the task we faced to resize the business. I think at a personal level the possibility of going into a lockdown was something many thought could be a few weeks at that stage, but it was clear the impact on our core industry would be significant. Weeks soon became months.”
MJM Marine had to arrange for several hundred of its project staff on international projects to fly home during a period when demand for flights was high, and as people looked to return home before any borders were closed. It also needed to divert materials stored and in transit around the world back to its headquarters. The firm made a significant number of redundancies, whilst availing of the furlough scheme to help retain and protect as many jobs as possible.
But now business is picking up, enabling the Newry firm to start hiring again. The new roles it wants to fill include jobs as Designers, Technical Engineers, Contracts Managers, Assistant Contracts Managers, Project Planners, and other support roles. Many of these roles will be based at the company headquarters in Carnbane Business Park, Newry.
Gary Annett describes the last two years as “challenging for the whole cruise industry” but says that “as things continue to recover with vaccinations and new technological advances, the industry is adapting and moving forward, and we are delighted to be a part of that journey.”
Earlier this month Gary attended the Seatrade Cruise Global conference in Miami which brings together hundreds of firms involved in the industry. He reports an upbeat mood there, adding that “it has been great to watch our orderbook refilling again and we are in the position to begin recruiting for many key roles within the organisation as we line up significant new projects for the company to undertake.”
During the pandemic, MJM struck up new partnerships, developing innovative products to expand their offering in the marketplace. One of those was a partnership with Vyv, a company which makes antimicrobial lighting. This partnership led to MJM winning the Collaboration Award at the Cruise Ship Interiors Expo in London. Just last week the company was named as the Manufacturer of the Year (over £25m) at the Made in Northern Ireland Awards. MJM’s Apprentice Joiner Shea Rooney took the prize for Apprentice of the Year at the same even.
Despite the current concentration on the controversial trade protocol, the main Brexit issue for MJM has been its inability to hire staff from across Europe, an area in which it traditionally competed for skilled employees with other marine suppliers in countries like Italy, Germany Spain. As part of its international expansion, MJM has now opened up an office in the Polish shipbuilding city of Gdansk. But it is also keen to add to its local workforce in Newry. MJM’s Human Resources Director, Elizabeth O’Connor, says the company is “looking forward to seeing ambitious and talented people joining our team over the next few months as we continue to grow and expand at an exponential rate.”