A MASSIVE £16m Ministry of Defence contract to refurbish a Navy repair ship has been secured by Birkenhead-based Northwestern Ship-repairers.

The year-long overhaul for the 10,000 tonne Royal Fleet Auxiliary Diligence will sustain 100 jobs at the shipyard which operates from the Cammell Laird site.

Wirral Council leader Cllr Steve Foulkes said it was fantastic achievement. "It will be great to see military ships back in the docks," he said.

"Cammell Laird was founded on supplying the Ministry of Defence for many years.

"Now the long-term diagnosis by experts is that there is a sustainable industry there -not with the number of jobs we have seen in the past - but significant enough to make a contribution to our economy.

"Everyone has worked together and the result is a large contract to provide jobs on a sustainable basis. The prospects are that there will continue to be a sustainable maritime industry in the area - particularly in repair and refit work."

Work on Diligence will involve upgrading the vessel's accommodation and prop-ulsion system.

The vessel has seen service all over the world, including the Falklands, the Persian Gulf and, more recently, supporting the Iraqi Navy off West Africa. It first saw naval service on charter to the MoD as a battle-damage repair ship in the 1982 conflict in the south Atlantic.

The refit will enable the ship to remain in service for another 10 years.

NSL managing director John Syvret said: "This is fantastic news for the company and demonstrates again the capability and commitment from the workforce and management.

"It underpins the company's growing reputation for managing extremely complex projects to time and budget."

The refit will enable the ship to remain in service for another ten years.

NSL is currently undertaking refit work on Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels Fort George and Orangeleaf. The company completed refurbishment of RFA's Bayleaf in the Keppel Shipyard in Singapore earlier this year.

Northwestern has also completed an extremely technical offshore conversion for Liverpool-based ship owner Bibby Line Ltd. The Bibby Sapphire has been converted from an offshore construction vessel to a diving support vessel.

The last MoD craft constructed at Cammel Laird shipyard was the submarine HMS Unicorn in the early 1990s - the yard's 1,38lst launch. The vessel slipped into the Mersey accompanied by due pomp and ceremony. Thousands gathered in the spring sunshine of 1993 to watch Lady Gillian Grose, wife of the Royal Navy's submarine fleet commander break the traditional bottle of champagne over its streamlined black hull.

But later the same year VSEL, the then owners, finally closed the shipyard after 150 years of shipbuilding and there were fears that the Upholder class submarine would be the last vessel ever built at the historic shipyard.

The foundations for this week's historic deal were laid following the signing of a significant agreement earlier this year. Following months of negotiation agreement was reached between Cammel Laird site owners Reddington Developments and NSL and their subsidiaries for Northwestern to take a 15-year lease on the north yard at the former shipyard.

At the time, Reddington site director Mike Ryder said the deal with Northwestern had been designed to facilitate the long-term future of the maritime industry on the former Cammell Laird site and they looked forward to the integration of the ship-repair industry into their overall development plans.