A COMPANY that has pioneered offshore wind turbine installation is investing about £200m in two ships to meet the expected boom in the North Sea expansion of the farms.

The ships are being built at the Cosco Nantong shipyard, in China, for MPI Offshore, based in Stokesley, North Yorkshire.

The news comes a week after Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks said up to 30,000 jobs and £3bn in investment could result from an expansion in offshore wind farms in the North-East.

At the same time, a consortium of three North-East organisations have unveiled plans to bid for licences to develop wind farms in the North Sea.

MPI chief executive Paul Gibson said: “Now that offshore wind energy, in particular in the North Sea, is taking off on a much larger scale, we are there again in the forefront with our new enhanced vessels.

“We feel confident of securing employment for our new vessels and expect to make further investments in the offshore wind installation and maintenance sector in the time to come.”

The design will be based on MPI’s current vessel, MV Resolution, although they will be slightly bigger.

The MV Resolution has been used to install Centrica’s Lynn and Inner Dowsing wind farms off the Lincolnshire coast.

Mr Gibson said: “We have had four years of operating experience with MV Resolution and our new vessels will incorporate many smaller and bigger improvements.

“We have been pioneers in the offshore wind turbine installation industry and we have proved that we have the most reliable operating vessel.”

The deal for the ships has been approved by MPI’s Dutch parent company Vroon Group.

The ships will have a larger crane than the MV Resolution, as well as accommodation for 112 crew members, a helicopter landing deck and enhanced jacking and positioning capability.

The ships, 137 metres in length, are being designed by Dutch company Gusto MSC, in co-operation with MPI.

They will be capable of operating in depths of up to 40 metres.

The first ship is expected to be delivered in the winter of 2010 and the second, six months later.