160 years of Uljanik

Uljanik shipyard is celebrating 160 years of its existence and work. Uljanik, which nowadays unites shipyards from Pula and Rijeka, will meet this significant anniversary with business worth one billion euro. With 21 ships in the Order Book for delivery in 2018, over the past two years Uljanik shipyard has been one of the strongest shipyards in the world. This is Uljanik and the Group today.

The story of Pula’s shipyard is actually a story of innovation. Submarines were constructed in the Austro-Hungarian period. In the ‘70s the shipbuilders from Pula were engaged in a world scale undertaking. They had developed a technique of the construction of a hull in two separate parts which were then subsequently joined in the sea and the result of that was the tanker “Kanchenjunga”, the biggest ship ever constructed on the Croatian side of the Adriatic. “Kanchenjunga”, delivered by Uljanik in 1975, was 335 m long, 52 m wide, 28 m high and had a deadweight of 277,120 tonnes. Today, 40 years later, Uljanik is one of the few shipyards in the world that may be cited for the construction of complex and expensive dredgers. Long-term collaboration with one of the leading companies for underwater construction works, the Belgian company Jan De Nul, has resulted in one of the most powerful dredgers in the world, with an installed power of 40 megawatts, is currently being built in Uljanik.


Uljanik shipyard is inextricably linked with and dominates the contemporary history of Pula, as well as the entire Istrian peninsula. Before the plans of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, encouraged by the ambition of private capital, to turn Pula into the main naval port of the Empire as well as a significant military industrial centre, in the mid of 19th century Pula was a town battered by malaria with only a thousand souls and two hundred houses. Ten years after the cornerstone for the maritime Arsenal in Pula was laid, Pula was already inhabited by 17,000 people and in 1880 that number already reached 30,000 people. Information that at the beginning of the last century shipyard Uljanik employed nearly fifteen thousand people sounds unbelievable. This industrial driving-force in the early days of global industrialization enabled Pula to be included at that time among the most developed cities in the Mediterranean.


Uljanik was named after a small island in Pula’s bay on which olives used to grow. One tree from that time is still symbolically preserved within the shipyard. In 1850 the Austrian navy bought that small island, Scoglio Olivi, and in that same year began to construct a warehouse for boat equipment, access ways for berthing of ships as well as equipment for loading and unloading of cargo so that by 1853 Pula was practically the main naval port of the Empire. On 9th December 1856, in the presence of Empress Elisabeth, Emperor Franz Joseph I formally laid the foundation stone of the maritime Arsenal and that date is officially taken as the official date of commencement of K.K. Kriegs Marine See Arsenal and, as a result, that date is considered as official birthday of today’s Uljanik.

On 4th October 1858 the first ship was launched from Pula’s slipways. It was a battleship “Kaiser”, an old-style sailing ship with three masts which, in addition to the sails, was powered by a steam engine of 800 horsepower and with which a speed of 12.5 knots could be reached. After the battle of Vis in 1866, it became clear to the Austrian court that domination over the Adriatic could be reinforced with a strong naval fleet, therefore the following three decades were marked by intense building of ships entailing great investments in the shipyard and the Arsenal, around which a 1,795m long wall was built and which today still surrounds the shipyard.


The keels for the construction of two submarines by the American engineer Simon Lake were laid in Pula Arsenal in 1907. The construction of the submarines took two years and by 1911 both were fully operational. An additional 28 submarines were assembled and completed during the Austro-Hungarian rule in Pula, following their construction in Kiel, Bremen and Budapest and their three separate parts transported to Pula by train. In addition to that, a French submarine that was sunk at the entrance of the port of Pula was also reconstructed.


In early November 1918 Italian warships sailed into the port of Pula. As a result of a raging economic crisis workers were released en masse with the shipyard being mainly reduced to carrying out repair of war damaged ships. In 1920 the representatives of private capital and political oligarchs managed to divide the maritime Arsenal into the shipyard, Cantiere Navale which was established as a joint stock company with a capital investment of 5 million lira, while the commercially unattractive part was left to the navy. Cantiere Navale of Pula gradually reduced production so that by 1931 the shipyard employed only 150 workers.
During World War II Italian and German submarines as well as small naval vessels were repaired in Pula shipyard. In early 1947 Cantiere Navale was closed, with guards keeping watch to secure the shipyard. By order of the Military Administration of Istria and Primorje, after lengthy negotiations with the owners, the shipyard was purchased for 64 million lira and was re-opened in March 1947. In the autumn of the following year as the Anglo-American troops left Pula a great renovation of the shipyard took place on the island which had been significantly damaged during Allied air strikes. With the renovation of the shipyard work turned towards the repair of local merchant and naval fleets and, subsequently, the repair of foreign ships. The ship Plitvice was the first ship to enter the dry dock in 1947.


Unfinished and sunken submarines found in the shipyard were reconstructed for the needs of the former state navy. In March 1948 the wreck of the mine-laying ship “Rambo III” sank by Allied bombers in the port of Rijeka was towed to Pula. The reconstruction of this ship which later became world famous as Tito’s residential ship proved quite demanding due to the lack of spare parts and material which were often manufactured by hand in Uljanik’s workshops. The work on this ship was also the first major practical school for the training of Uljanik’s own staff. The famous “Galeb” was delivered to the Yugoslav army as a training ship.
In the period from 1952 to 1954 Uljanik constructed for Jadrolinija a series of six coastal passenger ships with a capacity of 800 passengers. In 1953 Uljanik already employed 2,513 workers and in that same year the Agreement for acquiring a licence for the production of diesel engines with the Danish company Burmeister & Wain was signed, which made Uljanik Strojogradnja the second manufacturer in the world of those type of engines under licence of B&W, later MAN. Within three years Strojogradnja was manufacturing low speed diesel engines, with less than two thirds of the components being imported. These engines developed 4,800 horse power and was first installed in the ship “Uljanik”, a large multi-purpose ship contracted by Pula’s shipyard with Jugolinija from Rijeka and which for the first time simultaneously applied the technology of riveting and welding.


In order to rationalize production, in the 1960s Uljanik adopted a business policy orientated towards the construction of larger series of ships. In addition to the Soviet Union for whom line-cargo ships had already been constructed, Uljanik began its great collaboration with Scandinavian countries in terms of car carriers and bulk cargo. In 1962 the passenger-cargo ship “Anna Nery” was delivered to a Brazilian shipowner. This was the largest vessel of this kind built in the country on the basis of the shipyard’s own project. At the end of Sixties and the beginning of Seventies Pula shipyard had become mostly engaged in the construction of tankers.


With the 1967 conflict in the Middle East leading to the closure of the Suez Canal, in order to reduce the cost of transportation, shipowners begin to turn to the construction of mammoth ships. Uljanik took up the challenge. They started to introduce technology that was not widely used in the world where ships were constructed in two parts and then joining them while they were floating in the sea. At the connection point through the entire cross section a tunnel section was created to the outside of the ship from which water was drained. Welding was performed simultaneously through the entire cross section, on the inside and outside at night when the sea and air temperature were about the same. By 1977 an overall number of 14 mammoth ships had been constructed in Uljanik.

At the end of the Seventies, Uljanik began with the construction of ships for the transportation of wagons on the Caspian Sea, and that specific market niche is still present among Pula’s ship constructors even today.

Pula’s slipways in the Eighties were marked by the construction of multi-purpose ships which became the trademark of local ship construction as well as product tankers based on which chemical tankers were subsequently developed. This also marked the beginning of Uljanik’s engagement in the off-shore business sector together with the shipyards in Spilt, Rijeka and the shipyard “Viktor Lenac”. This includes the first INA platform named “Labin” whose frame was constructed by Uljanik shipyard’s workers. Today, Uljanik Group has in its Book of Orders a contract for the construction of a jack up platform with an 800 tonne crane for the Belgian company GeoSea.

The Eighties were marked by great investments and as a result of that a factory of container and metalworking equipment was built in Vodnjan which remains a very important component in the construction system of Uljanik Group to this day. On the island one slipway was demolished and at this position a hall for the manufacturing of sections was erected, while on the second slipway a 150 tonne crane was mounted and a 120 tonne floating crane was acquired.


What makes Uljanik recognizable among others is the construction of car carriers, with the first ship delivered as far back as 1987, as well as for the number of those type of ships built today. The first delivered car carrier was built for the German company Volkswagen and could transport 3,500 cars. In the following years and decades as many as 26 car carriers were built in Pula’s shipyard, with capacities between 4,500-7,000 cars with five of them, signed with the company Siem Car Carriers, present today in the Book of Orders of Uljanik Group. Most of the constructed car carriers were a result of the business cooperation between Uljanik and the Grimaldi Group from Naples. Uljanik has constructed for this shipping company as many as 19 ships among which there were eleven car carriers and eight ships for the transportation of cars and containers, thus making Grimaldi one of the most important customers of Uljanik.

Uljanik welcomed the transition to the Nineties with a breakthrough into a new niche – ships for the transport of refrigerated cargo. However, the war affecting Croatia at that time brought everything to a halt. Due to being a risky investment no new contracts were signed so that in that period mainly previously contracted chemical tankers were being completed. Nevertheless, even in that war period, Uljanik managed to deliver 14 ships in total. This marks a crucial period for many reasons. During that war period Uljanik underwent a process of restructuring and became a joint stock company which led to it conducting business on a completely new market foundation. The end of the Nineties was marked by great technological renovation of the shipyard – with a new hall for cutting with all the required equipment and machines being built including plasma cutters and a robotic line for cutting profiles, rail lines leading to the warehouse were laid, new panel line mounted….


In the new millennium Pula’s shipbuilders returned to their tried and tested product – car carriers, but also became involved with a new niche of ships for the transportation of livestock. The biggest such ship for the transportation of livestock constructed in the world was newbuilding, Becrux, and was delivered to an Italian shipowner in 2002. For comparison, the usual practice with this type of vessel is for it to be reconstructed from old commercial ships. Becrux was able to transport 14,000 cows and 75,000 sheep on four closed and one open deck. Four installations for the desalinization of sea water having a capacity of 600,000 liters per day were mounted on board with an automated equipment system of loading and distribution of food for livestock from the silos to each pen by vertical and horizontal transporters. As part of the series “Mighty Ships” on the Discovery Channel a segment was recorded about Becrux. Two years ago Uljanik Group has contracted with a company from Kuwait two new livestock carriers which will be slightly bigger than the previously mentioned Becrux.

However, with the construction of extremely complex newbuildings, dredgers, Uljanik made the biggest step forward. Uljanik shipyard has so far constructed for the company Jan De Nul four “cutter suction dredgers” for sea bottom dredging at depths of up to 36 meters, each with a power of 24 megawatts, as well as two sea suction dredgers having a capacity of 14,000 cubic meters.

Always paying attention to global trends and trying to adapt to same, shipbuilders from Pula entered the world of polar cruises which on the tourist market are considered more and more important. Like many times before, Uljanik shipyard decided to jump into it with style so they have contracted with the Australian company Scenic the construction of an ultra luxury cruise ship for polar cruising – and which will be one of the most expensive ships in the history of Croatian shipbuilding.