EVERY job has its ups and downs but the eight-man abseiling team working at A&P Tyne are on a permanent high.Renovating the dockside cranes at the Hebburn ship repair yard is a tall order as two of the three currently being refurbished are just under 89 metres (292 feet) high.
A&P is investing hundreds of thousands of pounds in restoring the cranes alongside the yard’s number one dock, the largest on England’s east coast.
The abseilers from Sunderland-based ABFAD climb to the top and hang from ropes to reach all areas of the cranes and clear away all the dirt and corrosion.
After the steel repairs are completed by welders taken up on cherrypickers, the abseilers swing back into action to prepare surfaces and apply three coats of paint.
Alison Murray, A&P Tyne Operations Director, said: “It’s a complex job restoring the cranes to tip-top condition because parts of them, especially the jib, you can’t access unless you are an abseiler.
“We’ve had steel workers, crane engineers, painters, look over every part of them to make sure they’re put back to their original condition.
“Personally I’m terrified of heights – when they’re up on the jib I can’t even look at them, especially if it’s windy.”
Sean Bell, rope technician manager in charge of the operation, admitted: “It’s not the job for everyone, some people just can’t handle heights, but it’s like any trade, you build your confidence up as you progress. And it has its bonuses – you get amazing views while you work!
“Working on the A&P cranes, I can see directly across the river to the old Swan Hunter yard at Wallsend, where I did my first ever job 14 years ago.
“I worked on the big, red cranes, which were 100 metres high and I remember being a bit wary with so little experience, but it was a good training ground.
“There’s nothing left since the yard closed, the cranes were sold and shipped off to India, which is a shame. But it’s good that A&P are busy and renovating their cranes for the future. It’s good for the region and the local community.”
Sean, 36, has scaled great heights in his career, having worked on the 134 metre (440 feet) high Wembley Arch at the new Wembley Stadium and the iconic yellow gantry cranes at Harland & Wolff shipyard, dubbed Samson and Goliath, which dominate the Belfast skyline at 106 metres (348 feet) and 96 metres (315 feet) respectively.
A&P is refurbishing three of its six cranes at Hebburn, two of which can carry up to 100 tonne and a 70 metre high crane which bears up to 50 tonne. They are being repainted in the new company colour of dark blue, with yellow jibs.
Alison Murray added: “I think A&P is the only ship repair yard with cranes left on the River Tyne. We use them for everything we do, not just ship repair but for all the fabrication work we do for the offshore sectors, such as subsea arches.
“Hopefully the A&P cranes will become a local landmark on the river, like Swan Hunters’ cranes used to be. They’re being restored to their full glory so they can give many more years service as we plan to be here well into the future.”