AN offshore contractor says it has created 300 new jobs to increase work on a major project.

Heerema Fabrication Group, in Hartlepool, says it need workers to build platforms for the North Sea's Cygnus gas field.

The company has worked on a 1,640-tonne wellhead topside for Cygnus Alpha, with an 80ft platform sailing out of Hartlepool yesterday.

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Bosses say they expect to employ up to 1,000 staff by the end of the year, with further work needed on 3,500-tonne and 4,400-tonne topsides, a 2,300-tonne compression unit, bridges and a flare stack.

Cygnus is the largest southern gas basin discovery for 25 years, with experts saying it will produce enough gas for 1.5 million homes at its peak.

Koos-Jan van Brouwershaven, Heerema chief executive, said: “The magnitude of the Cygnus project and the first topside shows how important it is to keep the offshore construction industry here.

“The sailaway of the first topside demonstrates we are committed to our promises for a high quality product and the skilled and talented workforce at Hartlepool were key to the success.”

Heerema's previous contracts include a North Sea oil module for BP.

The 750-tonne, 90ft high structure, which is based in the Andrew oil field, supported about 180 jobs in the yard and supply chain.