Since taking over The Islander a year and a half ago, I have come to learn a little about the history of Astilleros de Mallorca, one of the earliest shipyards in Mallorca, and was fascinated to find out more.
So a visit was arranged and I was fortunate enough to meet up with Don Diego Colon, the current Managing Director of Astilleros, a man with an incredibly interesting background, and their Marketing Manager Jennifer Maul, who herself holds the record as being the youngest female Captain in Spain.
The origins of the company go back to 1942 when it was known as Astilleros de Palma, and was located in the “La Pedrera” area of the Paseo Maritimo, closer to the middle of the harbour.
In those days the main activity of the business was commercial shipbuilding, mainly from wood and later in steel, as well as general repair work. The typical boats found on their slips in those days were the Mallorquin Pailebotes as well as a fleet of boats for the Spanish Navy who at that time had a base in Porto Pi.
Soon, the local shipping lines started to order new ships from the Mallorcan yards, and by the 1950’s the largest local shipping line, “ Naviera Mallorquina”, ordered a fleet of vessels with a load capacity of 1850 tons.
During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the traffic on the Paseo Maritimo was increasing dramatically in line with the increase in tourism, and the shipyard’s activity was limited as there was a swing bridge at the time giving access to the sea from the shipyard. This meant frequent hold ups for the traffic each time a boat was launched ! This was one of the factors which led to the relocation to the current site.
This move allowed the business to modernise its business methods, and the President of the business at that time, Javier de la Rosa, chose a young naval architect from a modern shipyard in Seville, Rafael Garcia Rosello to join the company. His first major task was to amalgamate Astilleros de Palma with two other yards who already occupied the new location, Naviera Mallorquina and Astilleros Ballester, and become Astilleros de Mallorca.
This heralded the start of the shipyards big involvement in ships up to 113 mtrs in length, and included the building of fishing boats, container ships, ferries, LPG tankers, in addition to the normal business from the building of Snipe dinghies upwards ! Orders for many different types of vessels were received from Mexico, Cuba, Phillipines, Argentina, Algeria, Tunisia, Portugal and of course Spain.
The original owners of Astilleros de Mallorca were a group of mainly Catalan partners and led by Javier de la Rosa who was an enthusiastic Naval Architect from the Navy as well as being an entrepreneur . He had been able to recognise Palma’s need of having proper construction and repair facilities and was instrumental in the creation of the Club de Mar Marina, which was modelled on the fashionable Cote D’Azur.
In 1974, Naviera Sevilla ordered the construction of four container ships. Three were delivered successfully, Suecia, Noruega and Dinamarca, but the fourth one ran into financial difficulties as the buyer ran out of money. This presented a big problem to the shipyard and through Royal intervention the fourth ship was saved as well as the future of the yard. The government decided to make the ship into a hospital ship for Spanish fishermen in the Canary Islands where many Spanish boats were based and was named “ Esperanza del Mar”.
She became the first hospital ship ever built for the Spanish Social Institute and sailed for over 20 years. She experienced 74,950 calls to assistance, saved 3414 boats and rescued 1720 people from the water whilst covering an astonishing 1, 467,225 miles in her 24 years of service.
The late 1970’s saw the first order for a leisure Motor Yacht, a 40 mtr Camper and Nicholson project. This was a very large custom yacht at the time, and based on the success of this project and the global growth of the large yacht market, the yard won the contract to build a 60 mtr 3 masted topsail schooner sailing yacht for a famous Argentinian broker, Carlos Perdomo. She was intended to be christened by the name “Argentina” upon launch and sail under a British flag, but due to the Falklands War she was finally named “Jessica” after Carlos’
Jessica was one of the largest sailing yachts built at the time and was world renowned for her beauty and luxury. Subsequent owners include Sir Alan Bond, the famous Austalian businessman who wrestled the America’s Cup in 1983. She is now called “Adix” and can be seen in our local waters from time to time.
The final tally of new built boats at Astilleros de Mallorca from 1942 onwards reached 241 by the time the final craft was launched in 1994. The final vessel was “Aldonza” a 32 mtr De Vries Motor Yacht which was on show at the 2014 Palma Superyacht Show !
The Mid 80’s saw a huge crisis in the shipyard industry all over Europe, with a fall from 50% of the world’s naval construction to just 20%, with much of the work moving to S E Asia.
Astilleros needed a re think on its future direction, and this coincided with the appointment of Diego Colon as production director in 1981. He had previously worked for 6 years in a shipyard in the north of Spain, but was no stranger to Mallorca. His father, a second commander of a Spanish Naval destroyer was stationed in Porto Pi in the 1960’s, so for four years, Mallorca was a part of Diego’s childhood.
1984 was the year when many big changes were made, and a decision to concentrate on repair and refit rather than building. At this time, there were just two boats on the order book, Jessica and Aldonza. Diego had decided that this was the way to improve the business and the long process of recovery began.
urrent owners of Astilleros are Jesus Freire and Fernando Santodomingo who are related to a Spanish shipyard founded in 1895 in Vigo. Their main activity is the construction, transformation and repair of steel vessels of up to 155 mtrs. Apart from their long standing history, Freire shipyard is well known for being the constructors of the famous MY Pegaso, a 74 metre exploration and oceanographic research Motor Yacht, recently renamed Naia .
Back in 1985 Freire and Santodomingo discovered the potential of Astilleros de Mallorca and bought the shipyard.
In 1989, Diego was appointed as technical director to the Spanish America’s Cup team “Desafio”. When the campaign ended in 1992, he returned to Astilleros to become General Director, with one goal in mind, the final conversion of the shipyard towards the Superyacht Industry
By then the staff numbers had been reduced by 50%, but the shipyard could survive according to the management, and they initiated the new era of repair and refit, especially to the up and coming Superyacht and classic yacht Industry. The restoration of classics started with the complete refit of Creole, the largest wooden sailing yacht ever built, now owned by the Gucci family. The success of this project was just a glimpse of what lay ahead for the business.
Hispania was another major milestone in the company’s history, with a complete restoration in 2004. This historical yacht was originally built for King Alfonso Xlll in 1909, to a William Fife 15 mtr Class design. This precious yacht carries the sail number ESP 1, and is a treasured part of Spain’s maritime history. The yacht now regularly competes in many Mediterranean Classic regattas with several other 15mtr’s including her sister ship “Tuiga”, which is owned by the Yacht Club de Monaco.
A good deal of Astilleros’ success past and present can be put down to the personnel involved in the business and their adaptation of working practices, most recently studying and adapting to Japonese working practices.
Astilleros’ in house facilities are comprehensive and can haul up to 1700 tons on their slip and up to 70 mtrs in length , as well as having an exterior berthing quay for 110 mtrs. Despite this, they decided to open a second office in neighbouring STP, close to the upgraded travel lift, with two fully equipped mechanical and metal workshops, with state of the art machinery. As a result, the project managers can provide their clients with a more rapid response inside STP’s yard.
Astilleros de Mallorca is now one of the most respected businesses in the Superyacht industry and Diego Colon one of its most revered men. They somehow seem to represent all that is good both for the industry and for Mallorca. I feel sure that their success will be carried for many more years to come, and look forward to seeing them blossom.