Deep Historical Roots
The history of Saint-Nazaire’s shipyard is riddled with technological leaps, sometimes brought by difficult times or contexts. It was known as Chantiers de l’Atlantique following the merging of two shipyards – Chantiers de la Loire et Chantiers de Penhoët – in 1955, it was then called Aker Yards in 2006, STX France in 2008, before coming back to its original name, Chantiers de l’Atlantique in 2018.
With more than 160 years of industrial history, the company uses its expertise at the service of the different players involved in the marine world becaming expert in the field of project management of large and complex projects, from the design to the delivery, and also providing the necessary maintenance of the ships.
Beside the shipbuilding activity, Chantiers de l’Atlantique developed its activity towards the new offshore markets (Renewable Marine Energy and Oil & Gas), thus allowing to recreate values and reconnecting with a dynamic of growth beyond the sector of passenger ships only.
All these contribute to the longevity of our employees’ jobs, whether it is historical site of Saint-Nazaire or new ones (Brest, Toulon, La Réunion, La Martinique).Discover the activities of today Discover the activities of today
1835 – 1905
During the first half of the 19th century and with the support of the State, Saint-Nazaire, which then was only a small harbour with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, modernized its port equipment to become the leader of transatlantic postal traffic. At the same time and on the same site, the stockholders of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (Transatlantic General Company) tasked John Scott, owner of Greenock Shipyard and Scottish engineer, to build a shipyard in Saint-Nazaire. With his own team, he undertakes the training of Saint-Nazaire shipyard’s workforce. They would deliver in 1864 the first waterwheel cruise ship of exceptional size for the time, the Imprératrice Eugénie.
1914 – 1918
The shipyard plays its part in the war effort
The shipyard, involved in the war effort, sets up new modes of operation with the integration of Taylorism and the diversification of production (cannon tubes, manufacture of tanks…).
Crisis and prosperity
While the interwar period is riddled with times of crisis and prosperity alike, it was mostly the time of the quest for the Ruban Bleu (the Blue Riband, an award created by different sailing companies during the 19th century and awarded to the fastest ships to complete a transatlantic journey between England and North America). It represents a genuine challenge for Saint-Nazaire shipyard, which produces at the time ships of high technology and luxury. The jewel of this dynamic is the Normandie, launched in 1932, which earned the reward and allowed the shipyard to install a slipway. The innovation and modernization politics of the shipyard start to bear fruits with dry building processes inside the Jean Bart lock and the installation of a dry dock. This allowed for huge progress in terms of hydrodynamism.
1939 – 1945
Saint-Nazaire in the storm
During World War II, the Allies were intensively striking the German submarine base in Saint-Nazaire, destroying 45 % of the shipyard industrial infrastructure.
At the end of the war, the French State funded the majority of the rebuilding of the industrial facilities. The new lease of life allowed for the shipyard to further modernize its premises, now that it has to provide for the public authorities with both the military and the commercial fleet.
From the 50’s onward
A large program of reorganization and development is implemented
As soon as the early 50’s, government orders cease. Simultaneously, the market internationalization reshuffles the cards of the economy. The French shipyards appear as less competitive than new shipbuilding centers. Reorganizing the way shipbuilding is done becomes crucial. The watchwords of this new era are competitiveness, serial production – for cargo ships – and technical improvements, to reduce building time.
In 1955, the shipyard activity is flourishing again. Tankers, cruise ships, cargo ships and mixed ships (carrying both travelers and goods) are being built in Saint-Nazaire.
From 1956, the building of France is pushing Saint-Nazaire in the spotlight of the industry. This exceptional ship, built in the Normandie’s dock, cumulated 62 months of work time. She would be inaugurated in 1960 by General de Gaulle.
At the time, shipbuilding is facing a new kind of situation. There are no more orders for cruise or navy ships, while gigantic new ships, crude oil and LNG tankers, appear on the market. Simultaneously, international competition is growing stronger, notably from Japan which is taking a considerable importance in the market.
In Saint-Nazaire, significant investment plans allow building several ships at the same time, thanks to better space management. This marks the beginning of the prefabrication era. Furthermore, the mounting dock is equipped with a new deep dock. The automation of services is also underway with the first numerically controlled machines, tracing tables and the implementation of scheduling.
The Suez Canal closing makes the building of giant oil tankers mandatory. The outfitting dock is able to fit oil tankers of one million tons, thus allowing Saint-Nazaire shipyard to deliver the four world’s largest tankers (Batillus, Prairial, Bellamya, Pierre Guillaumat) to the company Shell between 1976 and 1979.
In this troubled economic context, the manager’s team of Saint-Nazaire shipyard is getting ready its stock market launch (in June 1974) and works to create new industrial partnerships based on the Japanese model. In October 1976, two months after the negotiations began, the merging of Chantiers de l’Atlantique and Alsthom becomes effective, giving birth to the Alsthom Atlantique group.
In the 80’s
Cruise ships are back
The return of cruise ships building in Saint-Nazaire begins in 1980 with an order from Holland America Line for two small ships of 600 cabins each, the Noordam and the Nieuw Amsterdam.
A great shift in direction starts in 1985. An order for the Sovereign of the Seas is signed between the shipyard and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. This contract represents a tough challenge for the shipyard, the ship having to be delivered within a very short timeframe for the time, 29 months. The delivery having been handled perfectly, the message from the company is crystal clear: Saint-Nazaire is back on the cruise ships market.
In addition, the shipyard of Saint-Nazaire signs in 1991 an outstanding order for five liquefied natural gas carriers for the Malaysian group Petronas. The deliveries are to be spread from July 1994 to July 1997.
Years of diversification
Saint-Nazaire shipyard keeps pushing on the cruise ship market, signing orders with the most important shipowners of the world. On November 6, 2000, the shipyard is back under the spotlight after the order for the mythical Queen Mary 2, for Cunard Line. Back to its roots of transatlantic liners building, where the shipyard started, the Queen Mary 2 is successfully delivered in December 2003.
In 2006, the Finnish of New Aker Finyard and Alstom decide to join forces and create Aker Yards, the new world giant of shipbuilding. In 2008, it is STX business Group, a Korean company, to become the main shareholder, thus giving birth to STX Europe.
On its side, the French shipyard of Saint-Nazaire continues its activities on the complex ships market (passenger and navy ships) while starting to operate on the offshore installation market. It also provides technical solutions for specialized ships.
It is at this exact time that an economic crisis hits the world and plunges the shipyard in a difficult position, caused by several cancellations of important orders. The market’s size is divided by two, with six potential orders of cruise ships a year, against the usual twelve. A genuine commercial war begins between the Saint-Nazaire shipyard and its competitors, and soon a competitiveness issue is spotted in Saint-Nazaire.
A successful diversification policy and a changing stockholder scheme
Started in 2010, the Project Horizon 2015 aims to improve the shipyard’s competitiveness by modernizing its designing, management and manufacturing tools (more than 30 million euros are invested in a new information system and just as much in a new gantry crane). The shipyard also introduces a new method of work management (the Lean method), intensifies the innovation processes and tends to diversify the markets it operates on. Soon enough, encouraging results follow and the project is a success: the offers of the shipyard are back at market price, while being way more innovative and additional sales are brought by new business units, namely Services and Marine Energy.
By the end of 2012, the announcement of the order for the Harmony of the Seas brings a significant boost to the shipyard’s activity. Having been entrusted with the construction of the world’s largest cruise ship, the shipyard returns to the forefront with an exceptional challenge. This is the beginning of a new dynamic that does not exclude the search for performance. Thanks to a Social Pact signed by two trade unions, testifying in particular to the modernity of social dialogue within the company, major new orders will be signed in 2014.
In 2017, the head house of STX enter in receivership and has to let go STX Europe, its only profitable activity, of which STX France is part. At first, the Italian group Ficantieri is selected to take over Chantiers de l’Atlantique after STX. A Franco-Italian agreement is finalized. This agreement stated that Fincantieri would hold 50% of the shipyard’s part owned previously by STX, with one additional percent lent by the French government for 12 years. The 18th of July 2018, while waiting for the European Commission to green light the agreement, STX France temporarily becomes a state-owned company and is officially renamed Chantiers de l’Atlantique. France owns 84.34% of the capital through the APE (Agence de Participation de l’État – State participation agency) while Naval Group owns 11.67%. The rest of the shares is divided between the employees (2.4%) and various local companies (grouped under the name COFIPME) (1.59%). Eventually, on the 27th of January 2021, Ficantieri declared, though a common communiqué by the French and Italian governments giving up on Chantiers de l’Atlantique acquisition.
Meanwhile, Chantiers de l’Atlantique is receiving orders in all of its markets while continuing its research and development activities, enabling it to reduce the environmental footprint of its ships and processes, thus anticipating changes in international regulations and the demands of its clients.