Shipyard expansion is always a gamble, but in a down economy you are certainly rolling the dice. We recently witnessed this with the demise of the Derecktor yard in Bridgeport, Conn., just months after they christened an upgraded drydock.
Derecktor Shipyards got all kinds of government money and assistance but still could not make it, leaving contractors and customers holding the bag. The day the yard filed for Chapter 11 reorganization, McAllister Towing sued for unpaid towing bills and disputed repairs, joining several others who are now in line to get paid.
Derecktor officials blamed the yard’s failure on the economy. So I decided to check in with another shipyard that underwent a major expansion recently. This time the news was much better. Last April, Colonna’s Shipyard Inc., a full-service ship repair facility in Norfolk, Va., opened its West Yard that features a 300’x60’ 1,000-metric ton Marine Travelift.
Robert Sobocinski, contracts vice president at the yard, said that the lift is busy. In fact, recently the 125th vessel was hauled on the lift. He says that vessel owners take advantage of the immediacy that the new boat hoist offers.
“Instead of getting in line for a spot on the drydocks, I can tell them to come on over and we can haul them right away,” Sobocinski said. He added that the expansion has brought business to the yard from sectors that Colonna’s has serviced regularly, like tugs, fishing boats and barges. The workstations in the West Yard free up the drydocks for bigger projects like the $17 million Army LCV-6 project and a $10 million modernization and hull plate replacement on the Navy’s USS Squall.
Colonna’s is also looking for more ferries operated by Staten Island Ferry to make their way down the Chesapeake for maintenance and repairs since Derecktor has abandoned its five-year service and repair contract on two 1,100-passenger Austen-class ferries awarded in 2010. The contract had included regular drydockings, inspections, and scheduled maintenance on the two 207’x41’10” ferries, the Alice Austen and John A. Noble, which began service in 1986.
Colonna’s already has a $71.5 million five-year contract to service six of Staten Island Ferry’s larger boats. The contract was awarded in 2009.