When a sports team strings several victories together, it’s called a winning streak. That description could also refer to Gulf Island Shipyards, which has boatyards in Houma, La., Jennings, La., and Lake Charles, La. Between the three yards, the company’s orderbook has benefitted from a diverse collection of impressive newbuild contracts. To put it another way, the company is on a winning streak.

First up is a project in Houma that is not a newbuild from scratch, but a transformation project involving the former 257'x78'x14' casino boat Kanesville Queen adding a 60' midbody and a paddlewheel to become American Queen Steamboat Co.’s 362', 245-passenger American Countess.

John Waggoner, American Queen Steamboat’s chairman, went looking for a shipyard to do the conversion. When he got to Gulf Island Shipyards, his search was over.

Halves of the former casino boat sit side-by-side in the 300' shed in Houma, La. Ken Hocke photo

Halves of the former casino boat sit side-by-side in the 300' shed in Houma, La. Ken Hocke photo

“When I showed him our 300-foot sheds in Houma, he knew nobody else could compete with that,” said Chris Vaccari, the shipyards’ senior vice president, business development. “Basically, the whole project can be done out of the weather. You’re looking at no lost days because of rain.”

Gulf Island cut the Kanesville Queen in half, leaving one half of the boat in one side of the shed and moving the other half to the other side of the shed.

“We’re also adding a couple of bowthrusters and a crew’s quarters down below,” said Jeffrey Larke, the conversion’s project manager. “We’re preparing it to become a passenger vessel.”

In 2013, Viking River Cruises had plans to enter the U.S. market. By 2017 Viking terminated the plans because the economics did not meet the company’s goals.  Vaccari and Gulf Island worked with Viking officials on vessel designs during those years. “It didn’t work out, but we established some very important and valuable working relationships with passenger vessel vendors that are helping us with the American Queen project,” Vaccari said. “The outfitting on this project is maybe 8 to 10 times more than the steel work. That’s where our management and supervision expertise is so important.”

“You have a schedule and you have to keep to that schedule,” said Larke. “You’ve got a number of subcontractors working on the vessel at any one time. You have to manage that, keeping everything on schedule.”

Vaccari said he thinks there will be more passenger vessel projects in the future. “All the attention is on the rivers. Not everybody wants to get on those 5,000 passenger cruise ships,” he said. “We think there will be projects behind this. I think [passenger vessel construction] is still in its infancy.”

In May, Gulf Island was awarded a $63.5 million contract from the Navy for the design and construction of a steel hulled towing, salvage and rescue ship (T-ATS). The new boat, which will be built in Houma, will feature an ABS-classed DP-2 system, a bollard pull of 160 metric tons and a working deck area of almost 6,000 sq. ft. The contract includes options for seven additional vessels which could bring the value of the contract to $522.7 million. The new boat, which will have a 20.99' draft, will begin construction early next year and is scheduled for delivery by 2021.

Designated as T-ATS(X) by the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the new class of vessels will be based on existing commercial towing offshore vessel designs . Gulf Island Shipyards rendering

Designated as T-ATS(X) by the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the new class of vessels will be based on existing commercial towing offshore vessel designs. Gulf Island Shipyards rendering

Designated as T-ATS(X) by the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the new class of vessels will be based on existing commercial towing offshore vessel designs and will replace the current T-ATF and T-ARS 50 class ships in service with the U.S. Military Sealift Command.

“These boats have to be built to a parent craft design, meaning a boat that has been built before, something proven and in service,” said Cliff Long, Gulf Island’s general manager. “It’s very similar to the setup of an anchor handler, so we’re very familiar with that type of construction.”

Gulf Island teamed up with Wartsila in pitching the design to the Navy. “We teamed with Wartsila and our design had more deck area and our bollard pull was significantly higher,” said Long.

Vaccari said these boats will be used in areas where commercial boats fear to tread — war zones. “You better have something that can go out there and get your ship if its disabled,” he said.

Main propulsion will come from twin Wartsila 8L32 diesel engines, producing 6,217 hp at 750 rpm each. The mains will connect to Wartsila 3700 mm (145"), controllable pitch, 4-bladed props through Wartsila marine gears. The propulsion package will give the Navy vessel a running speed of 13 knots.

Capacities will include 400 cu. meters of fuel, 270 cu. meters fresh water; 825 cu. meters salvage storage space, and 375 cu. meters of mission storage space. In addition, the towing vessel will have accommodations for a crew of 65.

Important ancillary equipment includes a towing winch, traction winch, knuckle boom crane, shark jaws, and tow pins.

The new T-ATS boats will be classed Maltese Cross A1, Maltese Cross ACCU, Towing Vessel, E, Maltese Cross AMS, Maltese Cross DPS-2, CRC (OC-SUBSEA), UWILD. The boats will also be USCG Certified. “If you’re going to go into government work,” Long said, “this is the kind of contract you want.”

Last year, the National Science Foundation awarded Oregon State University a grant of $121.88 million to launch the construction of the first of three first-of-a-kind regional class research vessels, representing the largest grant in the university’s history. This past summer, the grant was supplemented with an additional $88 million, allowing Gulf Island to proceed with the contract for the second vessel which will go to the University of Rhode Island. (A third vessel is expected to be awarded in 2019.)

“The construction of the Oregon State boat is being managed by Oregon State,” said George Hull, the shipyard’s senior project manager. “They’ve been here pretty much since the Notice to Proceed was issued.”

Research vessel for Oregon State University is scheduled for delivery in 2021. Glosten Associates rendering

The first vessel, Taani, which is also being built in Houma, will have a 12'6" draft and is scheduled for delivery in March 2021. It will measure 199'6"x41'x19' and be equipped to conduct detailed seafloor mapping, to reveal geologic structures important to understanding processes such as subduction zone earthquakes that may trigger tsunamis. The research vessel will have a range of greater than 5,000 nautical miles, with berths for 16 scientists and 13 crewmembers, a cruising speed of 11.5 knots, and a maximum speed of 13 knots.

Taani will be able to stay out at sea for about 21 days before returning to port and will routinely send streams of sensor data to shore via satellite.

Gulf Island was the boat’s designer, but the shipyard’s engineering department used a team of other engineering firms as subcontractors, bringing to the project people who specialized in certain design aspects.

“We probably used as many as 50 engineers on this project,” said Hull. “It made sense. If you hire that many, then you don’t need them past this project. Using outside engineering firms just made more sense.”

Taani will feature a steel hull and an aluminum wheelhouse for stability reasons. “There’s a lot of equipment up top including a big deck crane, hydrographic winch, main deck crane, portable A frame, main A frame. It’s a lot,” said Hull. “This boat has a lot of equipment.”

Main propulsion will come from a diesel-electric power package featuring three Caterpillar C32 diesel engines and Siemens generators, sparking 871 kW each. The power package will operate twin Schottel STP1012 Z-drives. In addition, the Taani will feature two Schottel thrusters — one SRP170 and one SPJ82. “Everything runs through Siemens. That’s really the power plant,” said Hull.

The electronics suite will be the responsibility of a Beier/Furuno Integrated Bride System (IBS). Important ancillary equipment includes a Rapp Marine overboard handling system (OHS) and a Kongsberg Underwater Technologies integrated acoustic system.

“I do like working on first-of-a-kind vessels, and this is a very interesting project,” said Hull.

One of 10 tugs for G&H in Houston being built in Jennings, La. Ken Hocke photo

One of 10 tugs for customer in Houston being built in Jennings, La. Ken Hocke photo

Other projects at Gulf Island include an order for 10 Robert Allan-designed 98'6"x42'8"x19' Z-Tech tugs, a ferry for North Carolina, two towboats for an unnamed owner and a St. Lawrence Seaway tug. You can read more about those projects in the January 2019 issue of WorkBoat.




Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.