Artist chronicles dismantling of Navy ship – watch his time-lapse video

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A NEW exhibition gives an insight into the painstaking process of demolishing a North East-built ship which went on to become part of the Royal Navy fleet.

Weighing in at 5,000 tonnes, Royal Fleet Auxiliary Grey Rover - which was built in Newcastle’s Swan Hunter yard with an engine made at Doxford’s yard in Sunderland - spent thirty years refuelling war ships before being shipped to Liverpool for destruction.

Photographer Tim Mitchell, who currently has an exhibition of some of his latest work at the National Glass Centre.

Photographer Tim Mitchell, who currently has an exhibition of some of his latest work at the National Glass Centre.

Photographer Tim Mitchell spent two years photographing her demolition to create a time-lapse video and still photos display called A Fish Out of Water, which has opened at National Glass Centre.

The artist, who is London-based, says the project has given him a new-found respect for the passion of the people of the North East and their proud industrial heritage.

“I think it’s great that the show should have its debut here on the site where ships were built,” he said. “Prior to the installation of the exhibition, I visited Sunderland to research the shipyards and speak to lads who worked on the yards as I wanted their first hand testimonials. I’ve met some great characters.”

These stories feature in a specially-produced newspaper which visitors to the exhibition can pick up for free.

The artist added: “I think Sunderland has some great arts facilities, even better than in London. There’s a real sense that arts and culture belongs to the people here. It’s tied in with their local, social heritage, which is how it should be.”

Speaking about how A Fish Out of Water came about, Tim said: “The project came about when I was collaborating with an anthropologist and I saw her research into ships being broken in this country.

“I thought it was something that really needed a time-lapse video as it’s an amazingly long and complicated process.

“Initially the guys at the yard, which was in Bootle, thought it would take six months to take apart but it ended up taking two years because of all the asbestos and hydro-carbons.

“It’s a really different process here because we have high standards of health and safety. In Bangladesh, where most of our ships are broken, they break a ship in a week, but it’s one of the most dangerous jobs to have. Last year there was one death a week and that’s just instant deaths, not to mention the ones who die from exposure to chemicals.”

Tim’s camera took a picture every hour for nearly two years and, on maintenance trips to the site, he would document the process with stills of the ship and the workers.

“The time-lapse film is interesting as it makes a process that would be invisible to most people, visible. The guys at the yard loved the fact that is was being photographed and they all have a copy of the film,” he said.

“It’s an amazing thing to watch and as a photographer it’s something I wanted to capture for people to see.”

As part of his exhibition, Tim is looking to speak to anyone from the area who may have worked on the construction of the ship which was built at Swan Hunter from 1968-1969.

Tim can be contact at

l A Fish Out of Water runs at National Glass Centre until February 23.