THE CLOSURE of Southampton's King George V dry dock has seen millions of pounds of business move down the coast to its regional rival.

An upturn in the market means Portsmouth ship repair firm Fleet Support Ltd is now reaping the benefits of being the only major dry-docking facility on the south coast.

The firm is reporting a bulging order book to the end of March and is upbeat about future prospects.

Isle of Wight ferry firms Wightlink and Red Funnel have brought their business back after years of using Southampton for routine maintenance.

Wightlink has just signed a multi-million-pound three-year dry docking deal with FSL for all eight of its ferries. Meanwhile, Red Funnel is entering its three Southampton-based ferries for work at the Portsmouth repairer between now and early February.

A spokesman for FSL said: "The closure of A&P's dock in Southampton did present FSL with an opportunity. It has had an increase in commercial activity. For the cross-Solent ferries this is on their doorsteps and I guess it's convenient for them to come to Portsmouth.

"The programme of commercial refits is very healthy. We have got eight Wightlink, three Red Funnel vessels, three Condor Ferries craft and another fast craft from Speed Ferries in Dover."

Repair firm A&P quit the dry dock in 2005 with the loss of 50 jobs, after work dried up.

The King George dry dock, built to service legendary transatlantic cruise liner Queen Mary in the 1930s, was closed by port owner ABP last year following A&P's departure from the site.

The gates that held the sea at bay were removed, flooding the dock permanently. The site is now used for bulk goods storage. It was a major blow for an industry that at one time saw more than 3,000 people working on ships in seven city dry docks.

But there are still Southampton success stories, such as Western Docks-based Testbank, which is helping FSL on the ferry contracts.

Other green shoots of recovery can also be seen over at Marchwood, where a small cluster of firms are using using Marchwood Slipways - the former Husband's Shipyard. Poole to Sandbanks Bramblebush Bay ferry was recently refitted there.

Five firms employing dozens of former A&P staff are teaming up to bid for marine refit work across the UK.