In the second half of the XIXe century, Saint-Nazaire, small city counting less than 1,000 inhabitants, decided to upgrade its harbor facilities to become the starting point of the postal transatlantic service.
John Scott, Managing Director of the Scottish shipyard in Greenock has been appointed in 1861 to settle a new shipyard. Together with his team, he organized the French staff training and supervised the construction of Impératrice Eugénie delivered in 1864.
After this 1st delivery, Saint-Nazaire yard history is paved with technological milestones, sometimes initiated by a harsh world context.
1914 – 1918: The yard at the service of the war effort
As the yard is involved in the war effort, new operating modes are settled with the integration of Taylorism and diversification in production (cannon barrels, tanks…)
Interwar years: Crisis and prosperity
During the interwar years, crisis and prosperous times followed one another. These years distinguished also by the quest of the Blue Riband award. This one, created in the XIXth century by shipping companies was offered to the fastest ships on the routes between Great Britain and North America. This award was a real challenge for the shipbuilding industry which had to manage to offer not only luxurious ships but also highly technological one, built in modern shipyards implementing innovative technologies.
1939 – 1945: Saint-Nazaire trapped in turmoil
During the Second World War, Saint-Nazaire has been mostly destroyed as well as 45% of the yard industrial facilities. At the end of the war, the French Government decided to support financially the rebuilt of Saint-Nazaire industry. This was the occasion to modernize the yard which is appointed to build the French civilian and commercial fleets.
From the 50’s onward: a large program of reorganization and development is implemented
As soon as the early 50’s, the government stopped ordering new ships. At the same time, the world economic organization is coming up with internationalization of the market. French shipyards as not competitive compared to new emerging yards. A reorganization of the industry is essential, the main goals being: competitiveness, production in series for cargo ships and integration of new technologies to reduce construction times. From 1956, building of MS France started. This outstanding ship, built on the same dock as Normandie took 62 months to be built before being named in 1960.
At the beginning of 60’s
The shipbuilding industry faced a new change. The orders for cruise and navy ships stopped, while very large crude oil tankers and LNG carriers appeared. At the same time, the world competition grew stronger especially facing Japan which is taking the leadership. In Saint-Nazaire, large structural investments have been decided to create a “new yard”. Thanks to an improved space planning, it became possible to build several ships at the same time, marking the start of the pre-fabrication process. The mounting dock has been lengthened by addition of another dock, deepest than the previous one while automation appeared with the 1st digit controlled machines, plotting tables and the settlement of a scheduling department.
Between 1976 and 1979
Saint-Nazaire yard delivered to Shell Company the world largest crude oil carriers (150 000UMS) necessary to deal with the question of optimizing shipping routes further to the closure of the Suez Canal in the 70’s.
While the world economic context is still harsher, the yard is preparing its listing at the stock exchange (June 1974) and initiating industrial partnerships, organized as per the Japanese pattern. In October 1976, merger between Chantiers de l’Atlantique and Alsthom Atlantique was completed, giving birth to a wide industrial group.
In the 80’s: Cruise ships are back
In 1980, two-600 cabins cruise ships have been order by Holland America Line (Noordam and Nieuw Amsterdam). The yard coming back has been effective with the order of Sovereign of the Seas for Royal Caribbean Cruise line in 1985. This contract featured a challenge with really tight building schedule for that time (29 months). But, thanks to a perfectly mastered delivery, Saint-Nazaire demonstrated its ability to play a decisive part on the world chess board.
During this period of time, Saint-Nazaire yard has signed also an order for 5 LNG carriers for Petronas, with delivery scheduled between July 1994 and July 1997.
2000’s: Years of diversification
After having joined their forces with the Finnish group New Aker Finnyards to create Aker Yards (2006) the group entered the South Korean STX Business Group to settled STX Europe in 2008. Throughout this period of time, the French yard has remained offensive on its core markets.
At the same time, the world economic crisis had a strong impact on the yard further the cancellation of several orders. With a world market level divided by 2, the main issue was how to enhance the yard productivity.
Since 2012: A successful diversification policy and revival
Since the launching of its two last company plans (Horizon 2015 in 2010 and Smart Yard 2020 in 2015) the yard situation came back to be flourishing on all its markets. It gained its reputation on its offshore markets and stands at the forefront with its Service Business Unit. Its ship markets has reached historical levels with deliveries scheduled up to 2026 with the registering of the last LOI signed with MSC Cruises for the World Class ship in May 2017.