THE owner of troubled shipbuilder Swan Hunter yesterday said he needs to know by the end of next year whether or not his yards will secure some of the work on the Navy aircraft carrier project.

The shipyard failed to land a major share of the multi-billion pound project to build the two aircraft for the Royal Navy on Wednesday, with rival shipbuilders VT and Babcock joining BAe Systems as prime contractors, sharing 60 per cent of the work.

Jaap Kroese said Swans would bid for the remaining 40 per cent of the work, but warned that he could not wait longer than a year to find out if the company had clinched a deal.

"We still want to be in the running for the remainder of the work, but we need to know by the end of next year, otherwise the future is so uncertain that we would have to go in another direction," he said.

"If it is going to go on until 2008 or 2009 then we have to start looking for other construction work. We can't wait that long."

Swans recently came under fire for budget overruns and design problems on the construction of two Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessels.

Despite Swans' Teesside yard at Port Clarence being mothballed in May, 67-year-old Mr Kroese remained positive about the future and pledged to continue fighting for more work.

"We will get other work," he said. "Our ship-breaking licenses should be with us by the end of the year and we are looking at other contracts."

Last month Swans missed out on a £200m contract with Allseas to work on the Swiss-owned Audacia pipe- laying vessel, dashing hopes of creating more than 1,000 jobs at its Wallsend yard.

The firm is hoping to set up a ship-breaking operation in partnership with Dutch company NV Ecodock.