Steel ships first began to be built in the shipyards of the Nervion estuary in Biscay at the end of the nineteenth century.
The industry has lasted down to the present, specialising in
the construction of large merchant vessels.
At the end of the second decade of the twentieth century,
some Gipuzkoan shipyards began to build steel hulls at
Zumaia and Pasaia, especially for the fishing fleet.
The experience acquired by many small workshops in the
repair and installation of steam engines was decisive in
facing up to the challenge of building steel ships.
Up to the Civil War, the construction of timber ships continued
alongside the new steel ones; however, a scarcity of
raw materials in the post-war period led to a return to traditional
timber shipbuilding for fishing vessels.
In Gipuzkoa, the shipyards at Pasaia and Zumaia continue
to build and repair steel ships to this day, although business
has been hit by uncertainty in the industry.
The same cod boat as a gunboat, the Gipuzkoa. © José Lopez
Mistral, a cod boat owned by the Pysbe company from Pasaia,
built in 1929. The same cod boat, used as a trawler was gunned up
and used in the Basque auxiliary navy during the Civil War, when
she was renamed the Gipuzkoa. © José Lopez
Merchant vessel “Lolita Artaza”, built at the end of the nineteenth
century in England and acquired by the Artaza shipping
company from Pasaia. © José Lopez
Welding.This process consists of smelting two metal pieces
together. Welding was practiced in Basques shipyards as early as
the 1920s, although it took some time to be more widely used; the
technical difficulties of the procedure were overcome in the
following decades. By the mid twentieth century welding had
completely replaced riveting; as well as being quieter, the technique
is faster, cheaper and gives lighter joins. © José Lopez
Initially, steel ships were built using overlapping steel plates
secured to each other by means of rivets. A rivet is a metal pin
which is inserted into holes previously made in the two parts to be
joined. While one operator presses down on the head of the rivet,
his companion on the opposite side opens out the other end. The
rivet, when it cools, contracts, pressing the plates even tighter together.
Initially, rivets were made by hand, using a mallet. Later
hydraulic percussion, pneumatic and steam hammers were used.
Riveting is a particularly noisy process and caused hearing problems
among workers and inconvenience for neighbouring areas. © José Lopez
Dredger Jaizkibel. The first steel ships were built using the
technique of riveting, already widely employed in the manufacture
of steam engines. The dredger Jaizkibel, built at the Euskalduna
shipyard in Bilbao in 1933, was listed as a Monument of Cultural
Interest by the Basque Government's Heritage Council in 1992. It
is the only Basque-built ship using rivets still extant in Gipuzkoa.
It was used for dredging the port of Pasaia until 1984. © José Lopez
The steamship Rezola, a cargo ship owned by the cement
manufacturer, Añorga. In the 1950s, it could be seen moored in the
port at San Sebastian. © José Lopez