Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Southern Yards Face Oil Spill Fallout

By Jim Shaw

Southern shipyards had been looking at a slow but steady recovery from the recession just before the Deepwater Horizon disaster hit but the future is now in doubt. Although there will be considerable maintenance and repair work to tackle once the skimming and salvage fleet comes in, the long-term outlook for Gulf yards has been dimmed by the drilling moratorium. Although revisions to this legislation are expected to soften the blow, some drilling equipment has already been removed or detoured away from the Gulf and several yards are now looking at a substantial decline in customer base.

Nevertheless, government work in the shape of US Navy, Coast Guard, NOAA and Corps of Engineers contracts is providing a good backlog for some established builders while the commercial tug and barge sector, serving the inter-coastal waterway and inland rivers systems, remains healthy. There are also a few export orders being won for small specialist vessels, especially in the military sector, and several owners, including McAllister and Seabulk, are considering further orders for ship-assist and escort tugs.

Changes at Mobile
Among well known Gulf Coast yards the former Bender yard at Mobile, Alabama is now operating as Signal Ship Repair following its purchase by Signal International while Atlantic Marine’s operation at Mobile, as well as its yard at Mosspoint, Mississippi, has been acquired by BAE Systems. BAE is a large defense contractor but Signal, which also has yards in Mississippi and Texas, specializes in commercial offshore work and thus may be substantially impacted by the Deepwater Horizon development. BAE reported sales of $36.2 billion last year and has indicated it will use the former Atlantic Marine facilities to “enhance its ability to serve customers in the naval support and upgrade sector.”

The British company already operates a number of other domestic yards, including facilities at San Diego and San Francisco, after it purchased United States Marine Repair in 2005. Besides changes being made to the former Bender and Atlantic yards at Mobile, Austal USA, an Australian firm, has been expanding its Mobile facility, which now features a state-of-the-art 396,000 square foot module manufacturing facility, a 106,000 square foot assembly bay and a 21,000 square foot administration center. The company started at Mobile less than ten years ago with a 33,500 square foot bay and a doublewide trailer used for office space.

Military Work
In the military sector Austal has perhaps one of the brighter futures among Gulf Coast yards as it has entered into a $1.6 billion agreement with the Defense Department to build up to 10 Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSVs), with the lead craft already under construction and funding for two further vessels recently awarded. Austal was selected as prime contractor to design and build the first JHSV in late 2008 with options for nine additional vessels. The 103-meter-long, 43-knot shallow draft transports will be used to provide rapid intra-theater movement of personnel, equipment and supplies while also being capable of carrying out humanitarian relief operations.

Austal, which has built several commercial high-speed ferries, is currently working with partner General Dynamics to complete the Littoral Combat Ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) after commissioning of the first vessel in its trimaran series, USS Independence (LCS-2), earlier this year. However, the Alabama company has since decided to part ways with General Dynamics for remaining bids in this program and will instead bid as lead contractor for what could be as many as 10 of the craft over the next four years.

The break with General Dynamics is expected to give Austal a lower cost structure, although it will still contract with an arm of General Dynamics to design and test specific JHSV systems, such as computers and weapons, for future vessels.

Bollinger Cutters
Another Gulf Coast builder with a sizable military contract is Bollinger, which has been awarded a contract option for approximately $141 million to begin production on three 154-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters (FRC) for the Coast Guard as a follow-on to an earlier contact of $88 million for the lead boat of the series. The first of the high-technology vessels is expected to be delivered in the third quarter of fiscal year 2011 for home porting in Miami, Florida.

The Sentinel contract could be worth up to $1.5 billion for Bollinger if all options for 34 cutters are exercised, and even more if the Coast Guard goes forward with its long-range plans to eventually have 58 Sentinels built. The new cutters will have a flank speed of 28 knots and the capability to perform independently for a minimum of five days at sea. They will be used to replace the Coast Guard’s aging 110-foot Island-class patrol boats.

Crowley Tugs
In the commercial sector, Bollinger is working with Seattle’s Jensen Maritime on final design work for two 10,880-horsepower ocean-going tugs it will be building for Jensen’s parent company Crowley Maritime Corporation.

To be christened Ocean Wave and Ocean Wind, the twin 144-foot by 46-foot vessels will employ dual controllable pitch propellers (CPP) fitted in nozzles to give a minimum bollard pull of 150 metric tons and a range of approximately 12,600 nautical miles. Jensen’s design work includes vessel arrangements, hull and deckhouse lines, structural design, equipment foundations design and stability while Bollinger is handling systems design and the production lofting effort. The boats are to be built at Bollinger’s Marine Fabricators yard at Amelia, Louisiana, with the first vessel scheduled for delivery late next year.

Scheduled a little further out are three 290-foot, 140,000-cubic foot sludge carriers wanted by New York’s Department of Environmental Protection for delivery in June 2012, October 2012 and February 2013 under an $84 million contract signed in January.

ATB Construction
Earlier this year Bollinger’s Algiers and Amelia facilities worked together to redeliver the double hull asphalt Barge B. No. 235 and 6,140-horsepower tug J. George Betz to New York’s Bouchard Transportation as an Articulated Tug/Barge (ATB) set. The Amelia facility was employed to install an Intercon connection system to the 483-foot by 80-foot, 133,000 barrel (BBL) capacity barge and upgrade its ballast system while the Algiers yard installed an Intercon connection system to the 127-foot by 37-foot tug and upgraded its electronics systems.

Prior to this project Bollinger Marine Fabricators had delivered the 55,000-bbl tank barge M-6000 to Midstream Fuel Service, a wholly owned subsidiary of Martin Resource Management Corporation. The 350-foot by 70-foot barge was built with ten cargo compartments served by two separate pumping systems and was fitted with a Bludworth Cook Marine ATB Flexible Connection System. This allows it to be teamed with Martin’s tug La Force, which Bollinger fitted with a Bludworth/Cook system and raised pilot house at its Texas City operation.

The new ATB is being employed in the clean products trade in the Gulf of Mexico.

VT Halter
Also building ATBs on the Gulf is VT Halter Marine which delivered the 10,728-horsepower tug Achievement and barge 650-8 to Crowley Maritime Corporation in March for employment by Marathon Oil Corporation. This is the eighth of ten 185,000-bbl ATBs being built for Crowley, with the final units to be delivered before the end of next year. They will be joined by three larger 330,000-bbl ATBs, the barge units of which are being built by Halter, before the end of 2012.

Halter has also been completing two 350,000-barrel ATB barges for New York-based Overseas Shipholding Group (OSG) that had been started by the failed Bender yard. OSG has since awarded Halter contracts covering the construction of two 8,000 horsepower ATB tugs, with delivery scheduled for the second and third quarters of next year. The tugs will measure 42.8 meters by 11.6 meters and will have all the necessary capabilities to operate in full ocean service.

New Research Ships
VT Halter’s Moss Point, Mississippi yard, which completed the tug Achievement, also finished up the 208.6-foot by 42.9-foot fisheries survey vessel Bell M. Shimada (FSV-6) for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) earlier this year. The 2,479-metric-ton displacement ship, now stationed on the West Coast, has a range of 12,000 nautical miles at 12 knots and an endurance of 40 days. Its delivery cleared the ways for the construction of an enhanced version of a T-AGS 60 Class oceanographic survey vessel for the US Navy.

This ship, to be designated T-AGS 66, will measure 107.6 meters by 17.68 meters and will have accommodation for 67 persons. For research purposes it will be fitted with an 18-foot by 18-foot moon pool for the launch and retrieval of scientific underwater craft. To be built under an $87 million contract awarded last year, the oceanographic ship is due for delivery in 2013.

Missile Tracker
In June, Halter’s Pascagoula yard saw the christening of USNS Howard O. Lorenzen (T-AGM-25), a 534-foot (163m) by 88-foot (27m) Missile Range Instrumentation Ship due for completion by December. The 13,696-full-displacement-ton vessel will replace the aging USNS Observation Island (T-AGM-23) and is being fitted with a Cobra Judy Replacement radar system.

USNS Observation Island, one of the Navy’s oldest vessels, was built in 1953 as a Mariner class merchant ship and was converted into a fleet ballistic missile test ship in 1956. It has most recently been operated as a missile range instrumentation vessel for the Navy by the Military Sealift Command. Its replacement will be operated by a crew of 88 and will host embarked military and civilian technicians as well as mariners from other US government agencies involved in the monitoring of missile launches.

Eastern Shipbuilding
At Panama City, Florida the Eastern Shipbuilding Group is finishing up the second of two Robert Allan-designed 140-foot by 36-foot fireboats it has been building for the City of New York. The first, Three Forty Three, named in honor of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, was turned over at the start of this year while the second will be delivered within the next few weeks.

Both are state-of-the-art vessels that are capable of pumping 50,000 gallons of water per minute, which gives them the greatest pumping capacity of any fireboat in the world. A speed of 18 knots is provided by four MTU main engines per vessel, each producing 2,000 horsepower. The boat’s pilot houses offer a 360 degree field of view and provide a command and control area where chief officers can monitor and direct firefighting operations with the aid of remote cameras and high-technology communications gear.

Ferry for Fundy
Another government contract being handled by Eastern, but destined for export, is an 85.5-meter by 18.5-meter auto/passenger ferry being built for Canada’s province of New Brunswick. Upon completion in May of next year the 82-vehicle capacity ferry will replace an existing 44-year-old ferry to provide service to Canada’s Grand Manan, White Head and Deer Islands in the Bay of Fundy.

Eastern has also won a contract to build six 292-foot by 64-foot Offshore Support Vessels (OSVs) for New Orleans-based Harvey Gulf International. Each of the diesel/electric newbuildings will be propelled by four Cummins QSK60M diesel generators rated at 1825KW providing power to Schottel Z-drive units. The new boats will have 11,000 square feet of clear deck space aft and will be capable of carrying 19,500 bbls of liquid mud, 14,350 cubic feet of dry bulk and 1,700 bbls of methanol.

Delivery of the first boat is scheduled for the third quarter of next year with the remaining units to follow at five-month intervals. They will follow a 260-foot by 60-foot DP2 OSV, the 8,000 horsepower Harvey Carrier, which was turned over to Harvey by Eastern in June as part of an earlier three-boat order.

Colle Maritime Escort Tugs
At Gulfport, Mississippi Trinity Yachts’ subsidiary Trinity Offshore has been contracted to build two of Robert Allen’s RAstar 3100 terminal support/escort tugs for Colle Maritime Company, a joint venture between Signet Maritime Corporation and Colle Towing Company. Allen’s RAstar class has demonstrated vastly improved escort performance and sea-keeping capability in comparison to more conventional tug hull shapes, with tests indicating that the RAstar hull will give roll motion reductions of at least 50 percent and roll acceleration reductions of at least 60 percent.

The new Colle tugs will measure 30.5 meters by 12.2 meters and will be powered by Caterpillar Model C175-16 diesels, each rated at 2,550 kW (3,417 BHP) at 1,800 rpm. The dual mains will drive a pair of Rolls-Royce model US 255 Z-drives turning 2,800 mm OD controllable pitch propellers for 80 tons bollard pull ahead and more than 75 tons astern. Upon delivery they will be used to provide marine support services to Angola LNG Supply Services (ALSS) facility at Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Consolidation Ahead?
Among the Gulf coast’s two biggest yards, Northrop Grumman’s Ingalls and Avondale facilities, there may some consolidation ahead as the Navy cuts back on its ship ordering. The Ingalls yard, despite quality and infrastructure problems, has considerable work on its books for both the US Navy and Coast Guard, but Avondale, which has specialized in LPD 17-class amphibious ships, has only four more of these vessels to complete. Although both yards are looking at the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) program for possible future work, there is growing speculation that the Avondale yard could be sold or closed if Navy building requirements continue to shrink.

Now 72-years-old, the Avondale site suffers from being situated on the banks of Mississippi River where it is split by a flood control levee. The levee separates the yard’s fabrication shops from the river, meaning that large ship blocks must be moved up a narrow ramp or hoisted over the height of the dike before they can be placed on a hull. Once larger blocks become the norm in ship construction the levee is expected to constrict production.

In June, the sixth Avondale-built LPD 17 class ship, San Diego (LPD 22), was christened, and is due to be delivered to the Navy next year, while the Pascagoula yard expects to deliver the Aegis guided missile destroyer Gravely (DDG 107), its latest newbuilding, to the Navy within the next few weeks.