Eastern Shipbuilding expands operations


Eastern Shipbuilding Group Inc. is expanding to handle a robust order book. The shipyard’s growth will also provide an economic boost to an ailing region.

The yard is leasing 20 acres of the St. Joe Company’s former paper mill site in Port St. Joe, Fla., about 36 miles southeast of Eastern’s Panama City headquarters. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

 Eastern will use the vacant site to finish delivery of boats after launch, said Michael Pinkham, the yard’s vice president of sales and marketing. Eastern has delivered four of 29 vessels on its order book. “We will need the extra space to handle what we currently have” on the books, he said.

The backlog includes eight 302′ platform supply vessels for Hornbeck Offshore Services Inc., Covington, La. This represents half of a $720 million order that was split with VTHalter Marine. It includes options for more PSVs depending on market conditions. 

The PSVs, to be delivered about every two months through the fall of 2014, will be DP-2 classed and included four vessels based on the STX Marine SV 300 design and four based on the STX Marine SV 310 design. Features include more than 20,000 bbls. of liquid mud carrying capacity and a firefighting class notation.

Eastern also is building three Tiger Shark-class OSVs, one of which has been delivered, and a 310′ multipurpose light construction vessel for Harvey Gulf International Marine, New Orleans. The vessels are scheduled for delivery through May 2013. The yard is also building five 280′ PSVs for Boldini S.A. in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a project backed by a $241 million U.S. Maritime Administration loan guarantee. In addition, the yard has delivered three of 10 90’×32’×10′ towboats for Florida Marine Transporters Inc., Mandeville, La. 

The St. Joe paper mill site is about 180 acres and has about 2,000 linear feet of bulkhead. Pinkham said the pier space is ready to go and Eastern will likely station a mobile crane on the property.

St. Joe also owns 4,700 acres of undeveloped land adjacent to the site with frontage along the Gulf County Canal, which connects the Intracoastal Waterway with the Gulf of Mexico. The company, which just reported a $330 million loss for 2011, is a significant landowner and real estate developer in north Florida — a state devastated by the housing meltdown.  

Eastern’s contracts with Hornbeck and Boldini require about 500 more workers, who will be spread over the three yards. Pinkham expects the hiring to be completed by the end of the year, bringing the total workforce to between 1,200 and 1,300 at Eastern.

Gulf County Commission Chairman Warren Yeager said he expects the Port St. Joe yard to provide more than 100 jobs and described the impact as “tremendous.” — Dale K. DuPont 

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