Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Southern Yards Winning New Orders

By Jim Shaw

The hull of Crowley Maritime’s first Ocean-class tug, Ocean Wave, was recently moved out of its building bay while its house with navigation bridge waits in the background. Photo courtesy of Crowley.

The shipbuilding and shiprepair industry along the Gulf Coast has seen the loss of some big and small names over the past few years, including Island Boats and Superior Boat Works on the smaller side and such large enterprises as Atlantic Marine and Bender Shipbuilding & Repair. However, one of the biggest names to go this year was Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, which was spun off from parent company Northrop Grumman Corporation at the end of March as Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII).

HII has operations in Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana and California but its primary business divisions are the recently renamed Newport News Shipbuilding and Ingalls Shipbuilding divisions, the former located at Newport News, Virginia and the latter with yards at Pascagoula, Mississippi and Avondale, Louisiana. The troubled Avondale yard has already been marked for sale or closure when its final vessel is completed in 2013.

The consolidation trend is expected to continue as a decade-long building boom for Jones Act commercial ships nears an end and government work for the US Navy, Coast Guard and Corps of Engineers declines due to budget cuts. Nevertheless, several yards, such as Austal, Edison Chouest and Swiftships, are expanding facilities, while others, including Eastern and VT Halter, are building for export. Although last year’s moratorium on oil drilling, and this year’s heavy flooding along the Mississippi, have interrupted some forward momentum, most yards remain optimistic for the future.

Conrad Industries
One builder hard hit by this year’s flood waters has been Conrad Industries, which was forced to temporarily discontinue operations at its Morgan City facility due to high water in May. Vessels under construction at the yard, as well as key pieces of equipment, were moved to higher ground. The interruption came as Conrad’s business has been growing, with its order book standing at $112.3 million by April 1 compared to only $48.9 million for the same period last year.

Johnny Conrad, company President and CEO, said new construction was on the rise but that repair work had been hit by last year’s moratorium. “Our vessel construction segment continued the improvements that began during the third and fourth quarters of 2010 with the increases in our backlog,” Conrad reported, but went on to say that the company’s repair segment had been “negatively affected” by the slowdown in activity in the Gulf of Mexico related to the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Looking to the future, Conrad remarked that he was “optimistic” about long-term prospects, with market conditions “much improved compared to last year.” but that there still remains some uncertainty about shorter-term demand, particularly in the repair segment.

Another yard under water for several weeks this past spring was the Swiftships facility at Morgan City, Louisiana. Employees at the yard worked through May, and into early June, to protect vessels and equipment from flooding due to the opening of the Morganza Spillway, but the sandbagging effort was largely unsuccessful. Swiftships president Calvin Leleux said about $15 million worth of equipment and under-construction hulls had to be moved to other locations until the water receded.

Just before the high water hit the company had received a $42 million modification to a previously awarded contract for the construction of three more 35-meter patrol boats for the Iraqi navy, with options for an additional three. Fortunately, there has been little disruption to this ongoing contract, with the lead unit of the series, P-301, delivered at the end of last year and the second and third boats, P-302 and P-303, departing before the high water arrived.

Even in the middle of the flooding the fourth and fifth craft, P-304 and P-305, managed to make their get-away and are expected to be operational in Iraq later this summer were they are due to take over patrol duties currently being performed by units of the US Navy.

Ingleside Yard
While Swiftships has been expanding its facilities at Morgan City to handle the on-going patrol boat order it has also been looking at the possibility of building a much larger yard at Ingleside, Texas. This would be on former military land now controlled by the Port of Corpus Christi and would allow the company to significantly add to its capacity to construct both small and large vessels.

The demand for more space has been increased by the winning of several additional military contracts, including a US Army order awarded in March for three prototypes of “bridge ships”, a new type of small craft that can be off loaded from a truck and used to push pontoon bridge sections into place for vehicle crossings. The Army wants to build more than 400 of these small boats and Swiftships has already built previous craft that exceed all the vessel’s requirements. As a part of this contact it is working with Cummins Diesel and a German firm to develop an engine that uses the same type of fuel as used in most other Army equipment. This would help minimize fuel types needed in the field.

Swiftships has also won a $20.2 million modification to a previously awarded contract covering the design and construction of four 28-meter coastal patrol craft (CPC) for the Egyptian Navy. Under the award, the company will provide two co-assembly kits and two co-production kits to support the building of at least four CPCs, with 75 percent of the work to take place at Morgan City and the other 25 percent in Alexandria, Egypt.

VT Halter
Another yard building for Middle East export is VT Halter’s Pensacola, Mississippi facility where the keel was laid in April for the first of four Fast Missile Craft (FMC) for the Egyptian Navy. The FMCs have been designed to perform a variety of patrol and strike functions and will allow Egypt to maintain the security of its coastal regions. Each of the high-speed vessels will be 62 meters in length and will feature state-of-the-art control technology plus high maneuverability.

The total Egyptian Navy FMC project is valued at approximately $807 million and the first boat is expected to be delivered by the middle of next year.

Halter is also building two units for the US Navy, with the keel for the future USNS Maury (T-AGS 66 ), an oceanographic survey ship, laid in February. Although already completed, the future USNS Howard O. Lorenzen (T-AGM-25), a missile range instrumentation ship, is currently receiving additional work because of several faults found by the Navy during pre-delivery inspections.

More ATBs
In the commercial sector Halter’s yard at Escatawpa, Mississippi has been contracted to build an ATB push tug for Bouchard Transportation’s new ATB tank barge being finished by Bollinger. The 4,000-HP tug will be similar to others Halter has built for the New York-based company and will measure 112 feet by 35 feet. An Intercon Coupler System will be used to connect the boat to the barge, with both units due for delivery by the latter part of next year.

Halter is also completing the last of a large number of ATB tugs and barges it has been building for Crowley Maritime. In 2010, the tug Innovation and barge 650-9 of this series were delivered as the ninth of ten 185,000-barrel capacity ATBs ordered, with the tenth unit to be handed over shortly. All have been certified by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) to comply with the International Maritime Organization’s Green Passport program. This ensures that all potentially hazardous materials that are part of the original construction have been identified and will be properly disposed of when the units cease trading. The passport also applies to three larger 330,000-barrel capacity ATB barges that are being finished for mating with pushtugs being built by Washington State’s Dakota Creek Industries. The first of these units is scheduled to enter service later this year.

Eastern Shipbuilding
Another southern yard building up experience in the construction of “green” vessels is Eastern Shipbuilding at Panama City, Florida. During the recent launching of the offshore supply vessel (OSV) Harvey Supporter, which is due to be handed over to Harvey Gulf International in November, Harvey Gulf announced that it had reached agreement with Eastern covering the construction of a 310-foot multipurpose light construction vessel to be built to high environmental standards. The LCV300-type vessel Harvey Deep-Sea will be ENVIRO+, Green Passport (GP) certified, as will the Harvey Supporter, with both boats having been designed by STX Marine.

Harvey Deep-Sea is scheduled to be delivered by April 2013 and will feature accommodation for 71 persons along with a 165 ton AHC deck crane, moonpool, helideck and ROV hangar. In addition to these two boats Harvey Gulf also plans to have two dual-fuel platform supply vessels built, both capable of operating on either LNG or diesel.

All of these “green” ships are to be constructed with environmentally friendly materials that can either be completely recycled, or broken down without harm to the environment at the end of their service lives. Eastern has also obtained a $241 million loan guarantee from the Maritime Administration covering the construction of five OSVs for Boldini S.A. of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a project that is expected to take place over the next thirty months.

Edison Chouest Offshore
Another southern firm expanding its fleet, and its yards, is Galliano, Louisiana-based Edison Chouest Offshore. After several years of negotiations, construction is expected to start shortly on a $29.5 million 320-foot drydock that will be based at the company’s LaShip facility being built at Terrebonne, Louisiana.

Most of the yard is finished but construction of the drydock has held up progress, with the only bidder for the structure, Gulf Island Fabrication, coming in at more than $5 million over budget. LaShip has since agreed to add $6 million to the $24 million in public and private economic-development incentives being provided for the project, with completion of the structure now expected in about 15 months.

When placed in service the dock may be used to launch Edison Chouest’s largest ship built to date, a 361-foot Arctic-class supply and anchor-handling vessel being completed for Shell. In addition, Edison Chouest has announced plans to build eight more deepwater platform supply vessels for its own account, three of which are already in the early stages of construction. These units are in addition to a 25-ship construction program now in progress at the company’s other US and overseas yards.

“Our goal is to maintain our position as the preeminent solutions provider in the market, both domestic and international,” said Edison Chouest Offshore’s Vice President of Operations, Dino Chouest, of the newbuildings.

At Lockport, Louisiana the Bollinger shipyard placed the first of the new Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters it is building for the US Coast Guard in the water during April. The 154-foot Sentinel class, based on the Damen Stan Patrol 4708 design, is capable of speeds in excess of 28 knots and will be armed with one stabilized remotely operated 25mm chain gun and four crew-served .50-caliber machine guns. In addition, they will carry a 40-knot rigid inflatable boat (RIB), which can be rapidly deployed using a stern launching system that is already in service on Bollinger-built 87-foot Marine Protector class cutters.

In the commercial sector Bollinger is continuing construction of four new Ocean class tugs for Crowley Maritime (see Pacific Maritime Magazine, June 2011) as well as a new ATB tank barge for Bouchard Transportation. The 146-foot by 46-foot Ocean class, to be christened Ocean Wave, Ocean Wind, Ocean Sun and Ocean Sky, will be powered by twin Caterpillar C-280-12 Tier II engines developing 10,880 HP while the Bouchard barge will be a 55,000 barrel OPA’90 compliant product carrier configured for ATB use.

To measure 317.5-feet by 70-feet the twelve compartment Bouchard barge will be fitted with an Intercon coupling ladder and will be mated to a pushtug to be built by the VT Halter group.

Austal USA
Yet another Gulf Coast yard building new facilities is Austal USA, of Mobile, Alabama, where the company is doubling its module manufacturing facility by adding 740,000 square feet of space while also adding a 426ft x 134ft x 108ft final assembly bay and 110,00 square feet of office space. The new construction is being forced by the winning of major construction contracts, one within the US Navy’s Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program and the other covering the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) project, now under Navy control.

In June, the names for the first two Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) of the 10-ship series were announced as USS Jackson (LCS 6) and USS Montgomery (LCS 8). The future USS Coronado (LCS 4) is already under construction at Mobile while the lead ship of the trimaran program, USS Independence (LCS 2), was commissioned last year.

Also under various phases of construction at the yard are the 103-meter JHSVs Spearhead (JHSV 1) and HSV Vigilant (JHSV 2). These catamaran-hulled vessels are similar to the Austal-built WestPac Express, which has been operated by the US Marines for the past ten years, and will be capable of carrying 700 short tons of cargo at an average speed of 35 knots.

The Navy has apparently rejected the two Hawaii SuperFerries that Austal built for commercial service, as both of these vessels are now up for sale by MARAD.