The headlines are certainly confusing Island Boats in the Louisiana Bayou has closed its shipyard, so has Superior Boat Works on the mighty Mississippi River, but other companies are saying, “What recession?”
For U.S. shipyards located in the Gulf region, it is a matter of backlog. If they have enough work to keep them busy for the next year or so, they will probably survive the downturn. If they don’t, like Island Boats and Superior, they may have a problem. Island Boats is a case in point. They kept busy for a number of years building small aluminum tenders, ferries and other such vessels for a wide variety of customers both domestic and foreign.
Their original shipyard was landlocked and their small boats were trucked to the Port of Iberia at New Iberia, Louisiana, U.S.A., for launch. But when the call came to build 53.34 m crew/supply boats, they acquired a spot of ground with water access on Bayou Teche, which dramatically increased the size of the shipyard’s facilities, as well as the size of their work staff.
Island Boats delivered 53.34 m vessels for Bourbon Offshore and Gulfmark Offshore, a 51.2 m vessel for Southern States Offshore and a sister ship in the fabrication area (before business
slowed and the order activity stopped). But the employees at Island Boats may be lucky although it may be awhile, they have a new facility and a well-respected young boss odds are
in their favor that they will eventually be back at work. And in the meantime, there are several shipyards in the New Iberia, Louisiana, area that may offer temporary or permanent employment.
“Diversity has kept us busy,” said Joe Badeaux, general manager of Quality Shipyards LLC in Houma, Louisiana. “We are finishing up building a series of push boats, but we have a couple of supply boats in the yard and our repair division usually stays busy,” Badeaux added.
Diversity is also the story at C & C Boat Works. A surprising amount of vessel building is under way at two nearly adjacent shipyards near the city of New Orleans, in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. The construction of tank barges, supply boats, repair projects and more is being managed by owner Tony Cibilich.
Starting a shipyard as a division of a much larger and financially stable parent company is crucial. Gulf Island Fabrication is a well-known, Houma, Louisiana-based builder of platforms
and rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. When they decided to build towboats, the company hired a well-known manager of a competing shipyard. Along with major resources, behind a large effort
came the first order for nine towboats for American Electric Power.
Bobby Barthell is president of Gulf Island Marine. The two-year-old com-pany has delivered two towboats, with seven more in backlog. “With our initial success, we are building a dry dock
with 42.67 m wing walls that can be used to launch vessels and will also serve as a base for starting a repair division,” Barthell said.
There is a lot of pressure today to finish work quickly. This can present its own set of problems, especially if the yard has over-promised on delivery and possibly underbid the work in order to win the contract. Bender Shipbuilding & Repair, located for 90 years in downtown Mobile, Alabama, U.S.A., got behind on deliveries and even found itself unable to make deliveries
at all a situation that put them into bankruptcy. A competitor, the parent company of V.T. Halter Marine, bid US$21 million for the company’s core assets. If accepted, these two shipyards will emerge under one owner.
Other shipyards present a mixed bag. Bollinger continues with its eightvessel contract of 64 m and 71.32 m PSVs to be sold to BeeMar Marine LLC, Houston, Texas, U.S.A., as they are completed. Bollinger also has a mix of military and commercial contracts, although the Coast Guard may be about to end its purchase of 26.52 m Marine Protector Class patrol boats.
Over the past decade, Bollinger has built 75 of these vessels, starting with a contract for just six. Bollinger is now building two of these vessels for foreign buyers, but it is too soon for Bollinger to close the production lines on this very successful vessel, especially in these very unsettled times. Additionally, the company has just received a US$141 million contract for
three Sentinel Class 47.55 m patrol boats. With options, this order could turn into a US$1.5 billion contract for 36 patrol boats. But based on the Marine Protector Class of six vessels that turned into 77 boats, there may be more than 36 of the Sentinel Class built.
Among other major companies, Edison Chouest keeps turning out its 85.34 m supply boat with almost monotonous regularity, and now a new series of 91.44 m supply boats is being built. The company is also building a second shipyard in Houma, Louisiana, and expanding its Port Fourchon, Louisiana, assets.
Bottom line is that the shipyards with modest backlogs or no repair capabilities will have the most trouble staying afloat during 2010, but the others will survive. Repair capability is a major element in the financial success of any shipyard, yet it gets little or no visibility there is little general knowledge about its importance outside of the shipyard boardrooms.
It is interesting to note that in the US$100 million portion of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) for small shipyards, a disproportionate amount of the money went
to shipyards wanting to upgrade their repair capabilities.
Expect a lot more consolidation in the U.S. shipyard industry. Additional shipyards may be “gobbled up” during the next 18 months, decreasing competition as the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” widens.