U.S. sues Bollinger over ‘unseaworthy’ cutters

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced yesterday that it filed suit against Bollinger Shipyards Inc., Bollinger Shipyards Lockport LLC and Halter Bollinger Joint Venture LLC, in U.S. District Court here. The lawsuit claims Bollinger “made material false statements to the Coast Guard under the Deepwater Program.”

At issue is Bollinger’s conversion of existing 110-foot Patrol Boats (WPBs) into 123-foot WPBs by extending the hulls 13 feet and making additional improvements. According to the DOJ, “As a result of Bollinger’s misrepresentations about the hull strength of the converted vessels, the Coast Guard awarded a contract to convert eight Coast Guard 110-foot cutters to 123-foot cutters. The first converted cutter, the Matagorda, suffered hull failure when put into service. An investigation by the Coast Guard and the prime contractor, Integrated Coast Guard Systems, concluded that the calculation of hull strength reported by Bollinger to the Coast Guard prior to the conversion was false. Efforts to repair the Matagorda and the other converted vessels were unsuccessful. The cutters are unseaworthy and have been taken out of service.”

In a statement supplied by a Bollinger spokesperson, the company expressed disappointment that the lawsuit was filed. The work was completed in 2006, Bollinger noted, and, “Throughout this process, Bollinger has been open and cooperative with the government, and we remain committed to providing the government all necessary information and assistance to bring this matter to a close. Bollinger has tried to find a way to resolve this matter short of litigation, but we are fully prepared to defend our good name aggressively in a court of law.”

Bollinger not only has built every patrol boat the Coast Guard has purchased since 1984, a total of at least 122 according to Bollinger, but the company in April just launched the Fast Response Cutter Bernard C. Webber, the first in the new Sentinel class of FRCs. Bollinger is currently contracted to build eight FRCs, and the contract has options for up to 34 cutters.

Despite this longstanding relationship, the government used strong words in announcing its litigation. “Companies which make false statements to win Coast Guard contracts do a disservice to the men and women securing our borders,” Tony West, assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, said in a prepared statement. “We will take action against those who undermine the integrity of the public contracting process by providing substandard equipment to our armed services personnel.”

In response, Bollinger said, “Three generations of the Bollinger family have earned a spotless record for honest and fair dealing with every customer, including the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, our largest client … As we have for the last 65 years, Bollinger will continue to deliver the highest quality and contract-compliant products to the United States Coast Guard and to each and every customer.”

The government’s suit seeks damages from Bollinger under the False Claims Act for the loss of the eight now unseaworthy WPBs. The investigation of the case was conducted by the Department of Justice Civil Division, the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, and the Coast Guard.

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