Tuesday, March 11, 2014

West Coast Shipyards

By Jim Shaw

Shipyards along the West Coast are looking forward with cautious optimism as several trends point toward additional work and more employment this year and next. Increasingly stringent environmental regulations are forcing vessel owners to examine new construction or retrofits to meet mounting environmental requirements. At the same time, the availability of new technologies capable of cutting operational expenses, particularly in regards to fuel cost, is persuading some owners to look at new construction or re-engining even before the normal service lives of their existing vessels or powerplants are over.

The availability of relatively low cost liquid natural gas (LNG) as a fuel has already spurred several projects, with more in the wings, as such operators as Washington State Ferries and BC Ferries examine potentially large retrofit projects. While the expansion of petroleum exploration off Alaska has been blunted somewhat following a recent decision by Shell, the sudden shale oil boom has increased demand for tanker and tank barge capacity.

In Canada, a new policy toward government work for shipyards, the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS), is expected to provide decades of work for British Columbia's Seaspan group and its various subcontractors but continual delays in the program are hurting some smaller yards. In the meantime, private Canadian owners are free to go overseas for their work and many are electing to build tugs and barges in Asia, with only a 25 percent duty faced when the vessels are imported to Canada.

NASSCO's Bulging Orderbook
The biggest news of this past year has been the ordering of a large number of ships for the Jones Act trade that will either be LNG-conversion-ready or propelled from the start by dual-fuel engines capable of burning LNG. San Diego's NASSCO yard will build nine of these ships, and possibly ten if an option held by Seabulk Tankers, a subsidiary of SEACOR Holdings, is taken up.

Currently in NASSCO’s order book are two 3,200-TEU container ships for TOTE, Inc., a subsidiary of Seattle’s Saltchuk Resources and a series of seven product tankers; four for American Petroleum Tankers, a company now coming under the ownership of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, and three for Seabulk, plus the one option. All of the tankers will be of about the same general size, 50,000-dwt with a cargo capacity of around 330,000 barrels, and they will use an ECO-type design furnished by DSEC, a subsidiary of South Korea's Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering. This will see a highly optimized hull form employed in combination with a G-series MAN ME slow-speed main engine.

Construction of the first tanker is scheduled to begin later this year, with deliveries of the vessels beginning in mid-2016. NASSCO has also started construction of the future USNS Lewis B. Puller, the third ship in the US Navy's Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) series. This vessel, to be configured as an Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), is scheduled for delivery next year. Besides new construction, NASSCO has also been working on a number of maintenance and repair contracts for the Navy while preparing to convert two of TOTE's trailerships on the Alaska run, the 840-ft twins Midnight Sun and North Star, over to LNG propulsion.

BAE Systems
Next door to the NASSCO yard, the BAE Systems' facility at San Diego has also been busy and by the end of last year had increased its employment to 1,450 workers, the highest the yard has seen in more than a decade. Although last year's "sequestration" forced a number of cutbacks at the BAE facility, with the Navy canceling or postponing a large number of overhauls, government business has since picked up to the extent that 300 temporary workers have been employed in addition to the yard's normal workforce.

Much of the new work centers around the modernization of naval units, including the destroyers Benford and Russell, the cruisers Mobile Bay and Princeton, the minesweeper Pioneer and the amphibious transport ship Green Bay. The company has also been collaborating with another San Diego yard, Continental Maritime, now a subsidiary of Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), on the modernization of the destroyer Higgins.

While all the activity has been a boon for employment it has not been entirely welcomed by surrounding communities. Last year, the neighborhood of Barrio Logan, which fronts much of the shipyard property at San Diego, adopted new zoning regulations seeking to separate industrial and residential land uses by establishing a "buffer" zone between it and the shipyards. Shipyard officials fear the new regulations could drive industrial suppliers out of the area and raise their production costs. San Diego residents will vote on the matter this coming June.

Columbia Construction
To the north, the Columbia/Willamette River has become a strong center for tug and barge construction on the West Coast, and Portland-based Gunderson Marine, one of the Greenbrier Companies, was selected in January to build a new 578-foot articulated oceangoing oil and chemical tank barge for Houston-based Kirby Offshore Marine. The contract, which contains an option for a second unit, is expected to see work begin in June, with completion of the first barge within 2015. The hull will have a capacity of 185,000-bbls, making it the biggest ATB barge unit to be built on the coast to date. Gunderson, which has the largest side-launch platform on the coast, can build up to four such vessels per year.

The 10,000-HP ATB tug to be mated to the barge will be constructed by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders at Freeland, Washington and its delivery is also scheduled for mid-to-late 2015. According to Joe Pyne, Kirby chairman and chief executive officer, the new ATB set will cost between $75 million and $80 million to build and upon completion will be chartered out to a major customer.

Over the past year the Gunderson facility has been kept busy turning out the 380-foot by 96-foot deck barge Polar Trader for Seattle-based Northland Services and the 362-foot by 105-foot deck barge Columbia for Coos Bay, Oregon's Sause Bros. In addition, two 216-foot by 52-foot wood chip barges have been finished for Washington's Dunlap Towing and two 200-foot by 54-foot deck barges for Seattle's General Construction.

Vigor's New Drydock
Down river from the Gunderson facility the Vigor Industrial yard at Portland expects to have its new drydock in operation this summer following its completion by China's Daoda Marine Heavy Industry Company. The 960-foot by 186-foot dock will have a lifting capacity of 80,000 long tons and is expected to bring heavy drydocking business back to the river that was lost when an earlier 87,000-long-ton-capacity drydock was sold to the Grand Bahama Shipyard in 2001.

Once the new dock is fully operational it is expected to be used to prepare Vigor's largest existing drydock at Portland, a 330-foot by 140-foot unit with a lifting capacity of 30,000 long tons, for use at Vigor's Seattle yard. This will provide the Seattle facility with expanded capacity to service larger vessels in Puget Sound while the Chinese-made dock at Portland will allow Vigor to lift the US Navy's newest generation of Military Sealift Command dry cargo/ammunition ships as well as post-Panamax cargo and cruise vessels.

Late last year Vigor Fab, Vigor's Portland-based barge building division, delivered the 250-foot by 70-foot deck barge Iliuliuk Bay to Harley Marine Services for Alaska employment. This year, Vigor will deliver a 242-foot by 54.5-foot split-hull hopper barge with a capacity of 4,050 cubic yards to American Construction of Tacoma, Washington. Next up will be the construction of three 102-foot by 38-foot pushtugs for Vancouver, Washington-based Tidewater, with the first of the boats to be completed by December.

In the repair sector, Vigor has won a $6,655,679 firm-fixed-price contract for a 55-calendar day regular overhaul and drydocking availability of the Navy's fleet replenishment oiler USNS Yukon (T-AO 202). The contract includes options, which, if exercised, will bring its total value to $8,092,975.

Smaller Columbia Yards
Among smaller yards along the Columbia, the Diversified Marine yard at Portland delivered the 78-foot by 31-foot ship-assist tug Simone Brusco to Longview, Washington-based Brusco Tug & Barge late last year and expects to deliver a sister, Peter J. Brix, later this year. Both boats are Robert Allan designs and each makes use of a pair of Caterpillar 3512 Tier III engines powering Aquamaster 205 azimuthing stern drives. Across the river, at Vancouver, Washington, the JT Marine Shipyard has completed two ocean-going tugboats, the 120-foot by 35-foot Hawaii and Washington, for newly-formed Hyak Maritime, with both vessels now operating under charter to Crowley Marine Services. Hyak has announced a third boat in the series, Montana, also to be built at JT Marine, for delivery by the end of the year. These tugs make use of a pair of medium-speed General Electric 8L250 EPA Tier II diesels driving Schottel FP1515 azimuthing stern drives. The combination gives the twin boats a free running speed of 14.5 knots and a bollard pull of about 82 tons.

At Rainier, Oregon the Foss yard delivered the 116-foot by 45-foot aluminum ferry Sanpoil to the Washington State Department of Transportation in sections last year so that it could be moved overland by truck for assembly in Eastern Washington where it is now employed on the upper Columbia River. The Foss facility, which has recently been expanded, is currently working on the first of three 132-foot Arctic class tugs designed by Glosten Associates that will have ice-strengthened hulls and Caterpillar C280-8 main engines. Designed to achieve in excess of 100 metric tons of bollard pull, the first of the new boats will be delivered this December.

Puget Sound
In Puget Sound the West Coast's only other builder of large vessels, Vigor Shipyards at Seattle, is preparing to deliver the 144-car ferry Tokitae to Washington State Ferries (WSF) for employment starting this summer. A joint effort among several contractors, the 1,100-ton superstructure of the Olympic-class ferry was fabricated by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders on Whidbey Island while the hull ends were built by Jesse Engineering in Tacoma. Other involved parties included Greer Tanks of Lakewood, Washington and Performance Contracting and Eltech, both of Seattle. To mate the massive superstructure to its hull, heavylift contractor Omega Morgan was employed to lay 600 feet of track spanning the distance between the hull in one drydock and the house on another, both lined up end-to-end so that the two structures, by adjusting buoyancy, could be successfully joined. A sister ferry, Samish, to be delivered next year, has just completed the same process. According to Washington State Ferries,Tokitae is costing $137.9 million to build while Samish is a bit cheaper, at $126.45 million, when both shipyard and other costs are figured in.

Vigor Seattle has also won a $33 million contract covering repairs and alterations to the Navy's USS Moomsen (DDG 92), an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer based at Everett, Washington. Over the past year the yard has accomplished work on the Navy frigate USS Rodney M. Davis and the US Coast Guard's two icebreakers Healy and Polar Star.

Dakota Creek
North of Seattle the Dakota Creek Industries yard at Anacortes has been busy with the construction of a new Alaska longliner for Blue North LLC as well as two Auxiliary General Oceanographic Research (AGOR) vessels for the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The first of the AGOR vessels, Neil Armstrong (AGOR-27), is due to be delivered later this year while the second, Sally Ride (AGOR-28), will be delivered in early 2015. Both ships will support scientists with ongoing research projects, the first under the management of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on the East Coast and the second by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at La Jolla, California.

The Blue North longliner, developed specifically for the Alaskan cod fishery using a base design furnished by Skipsteknisk AS of Norway, has been running late because of steel supply problems but is now due to be completed by the first quarter of 2015. Its design features a moon pool on the center line which will allow crews to retrieve fishing lines without being exposed to weather conditions on deck. The boat is also being equipped with a diesel-electric twin propeller dual-azimuth propulsion system, which will place it among the first domestically-built fishing vessels to meet new Tier III emissions standards.

Nichols Brothers
On Whidbey Island the Nichols Brothers Boat Builders yard at Freeland has a full plate following the award of a contract to build the new 10,000-hp ATB pushtug wanted by Kirby Offshore Marine. The entire ATB set has been designed by Guarino & Cox of Covington, Louisiana, with Nichols to build the 136-foot by 44-foot tug while Portland's Gunderson will complete the 185,000-bbl capacity tank barge, with both units due out in 2015.

The tug, to be capable of pushing as well as towing in open ocean conditions, will be powered by two EMD 20-710G7C-T3 diesels with a continuous rating of 5,000 bhp @ 900 rpm each. These will be coupled to Reintjes WAF 5666 reduction gears feeding power to two fixed-pitched propellers. Construction is expected to start this summer, just about the time a smaller 100-foot by 40-foot ship-assist tug is completed for San Francisco's Baydelta Maritime.

The Baydelta boat is being powered by twin 3,400 HP Caterpillar 3516C diesels coupled to a Rolls Royce Z-Drive system, which will give the vessel a bollard pull of better than 90 tons. Another summer delivery will be a 150-foot by 50-foot Landing Craft being completed for Alaska's Bowhead Transport. Designed by Columbia Sentinel Engineering, the vessel is being powered by three Caterpillar C-18 DITA commercial EPA Tier 3 diesels, each rated 600 hp at 1,800 rpm, and driving through Twin Disc MGX5170 reduction gears.

Also under construction at Freeland is a 115-foot by 47.5-foot ferry for Washington's Wahkiakum County that is due out in early 2015. Designed by Seattle's Elliott Bay Design Group, the 8-knot ferry will operate across the Columbia River between Cathlamet, Washington and Westport, Oregon using twin Cummins QLS 9,285-hp engines driving two fixed-pitched propellers through ZF Marine reversing reduction gears.

British Columbia
Although British Columbia has lost a good amount of its commercial shipbuilding market, with even barges now being built overseas, Canada's National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) is expected to preserve some capacity for government work on Canada's east and west coastlines. Developed in 2010 to rebuild the fleets of the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard, the NSPS was originally expected to see some 165 vessels built over a 30-year period at a cost of more than C$50 billion. Under the plan, the East Coast's Irving Shipbuilding would build all combatant vessels while Vancouver's Seaspan Group would build the non-combat Navy supply ships as well as a new polar icebreaker and several fisheries and research vessels.

In October, the Canadian government announced that Seaspan would be gaining an additional C$3.3 billion in contracts to build 10 more non-combat vessels beyond the C$8 billion for seven ships contained in the original plan. Unfortunately, within weeks of this announcement Canada's Auditor-General, Michael Ferguson, said the federal government had "underestimated" how much the NSPS will cost overall, leaving some aspects of the program in doubt.

To date, under a preliminary contract of C$15.7 million awarded last year, Seaspan's Vancouver Shipyards has been doing engineering work on the first three Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels (OFSVs) it will build for the Canadian Coast Guard. However, these craft have already required some redesign work, which has set back their completion date by approximately one year. In the meantime, Seaspan has launched a C$200 million shipyard modernization and expansion program, which includes the installation of a new 300-ton capacity heavylift crane, to allow it to fulfill its various NSPS contracts.