Plan B

Trinity Marine Products
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The decline in the price of oil is having an effect on many aspects of the workboat industry. Along the Gulf Coast, shipyards are definitely feeling the pinch. - See more at:

Backlogs to build record numbers of offshore service vessels just two years ago are little more than a memory now, as OSV operators stack boats in canals, bayous and tributaries all around southeast Louisiana. There are still some OSVs being built from earlier contracts, but new construction contracts for energy industry vessels are rare.

Trinity Marine Products, which built a record number of tank barges in 2014, announced recently that it was closing its Allen/Brusly, La., shipyard, laying off 283 people beginning in October. No reason was given. However, Trinity’s senior vice president and group president for inland barges, William A. McWhirter II, said during an earnings call in July that “demand for larger tank barges that transport oil is currently soft.”

It’s a tough time to be a shipyard owner in the Gulf. Some get out of the business while others “improvise, adapt and overcome,” said Joseph Rodriguez, president, Rodriguez Shipbuilding, Bayou La Batre, Ala.


The repair side of the industry got particularly slow this summer.

Sean C. Torgrimson Sr., general manager, A&B Industries, Amelia, La., said it’s been feast or famine for the repair side of the business.

“We didn’t see anything in July,” he said. “Then when it rains, it pours. We had to turn away business in August.”

A&B has always built towboats for the barge industry. That is what has sustained it through the down cycle in the oil and gas industry.

In August, the yard delivered the 64'×27'×10' towboat Aidan Devall to Devall Towing & Boat Services Inc. Designed by Parfait Maritime Designs, Daphne, Ala., the new steel-hulled vessel and a sistership, Finli Ryanne, feature a draft of 7'6" (see page 34). “Devall is very easy to work with,” said Torgrimson. “We’re trying to build up some trust with our customers. It comes down to the personal care you give them.”

A&B is also building a new 172'×44'×12' dive support vessel for C-Dive LLC, Houma, La. With a draft of 10', the new steel-hulled dive vessel has a deadweight tonnage of less than 100 tons (see page 36). “It’s the first dive support vessel we’ve built,” Torgrimson said. “We’re having a good time with it. Hopefully, it will lead to more work.”

Conrad Industries reported a financial dip and decrease in its backlog in the second quarter compared to 2014’s second quarter. The Morgan City, La., shipbuilder had net income of $5.2 million and earnings per diluted share of 89 cents for the six months ended June 30. That compares to net income of $13.2 million and earnings per diluted share of $2.21 for the six months ended June 30, 2014. Conrad’s backlog was $131.7 million on June 30, down from $180.2 million on Dec. 31, 2014, and $173 million on June 30, 2014.

Conrad said that the company has seen a softer repair market, “which we believe is due primarily to the decline in crude oil prices.”

That said, Conrad is working on some interesting newbuild projects. Its Orange, Texas, yard is building a 232'×48'8"×15'8" dedicated bunker barge — the first in North America — for WesPac Midstream and its affiliate, Clean Marine Energy. The barge will be based in Tacoma, Wash., and feature GTT’s LNG cryogenic membrane containment technology. “It’s a big deal to get the first one on the books and get cranking on it,” Robert Sampey, a Conrad spokesman, told WorkBoat after the project was announced.

Orders for vessels for the oil and gas industry haven’t completely dried up.

Another Conrad project involvesthe construction of a new articulated tug/barge unit. It will be made up of a 399'×74'×30', 80,000-bbl. tank barge and a 120'×40'×18'6" ocean service tug for John W. Stone Oil Distributor. Both vessels are currently being built under ABS survey at Conrad’s yard in Amelia, La., with delivery late this year or early 2016.

The new ATB will be used to support continually expanding shore bases as well as offshore operations. The ATB will be capable of transit and delivery of various marine fuels and associated products.

Matthew Paxton, president, Shipbuilders Council of America, said he is very interested in a potential change in the industry that would help move the cycle in a more positive direction.

“If the crude oil export ban is lifted that would push production,” he said.

Some experts predict that the U.S. will be exporting oil in the near future, maybe as soon as 2017. If that proves correct, those same experts say that infrastructure at U.S. ports and other facilities is inadequate to handle it.

“Are we going to be building for sectors that we haven’t been building for in the past?” Paxton asked.

At present, Paxton said offshore service vessel operators are assessing their fleets during this down period, separating the wheat from the chaff.

“I think they’re looking at some of their boats, identifying those that are more energy efficient,” he said. “We’ve seen this before.”

Shipyards face new rule for building ferries with grant money

Ferry operators are facing a new requirement from the federal government: If they want construction grants, some of their contractors must be Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE).

The DBE program will affect shipyards, which are now considered transit vehicle manufacturers under rule revisions adopted late last year. Previously, the rule applied to makers of buses, rail cars and trolleys but not ferries.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has $30 million in grants available for passenger ferry projects in urban areas.

Ferry and yard operators will have to survey the people they do business with to determine the percentage of DBEs, which are defined as small minority and women-owned businesses. Then that’s the amount the government requires they use in the project, said Ed Welch, legislative director of the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA).

“It’s a complicated process,” he said. The shipyard has to have its own DBE program and goal, “and a grant recipient hiring a shipyard has to be sure the yard is on an approved FTA list. Right now there are no shipyards on the FTA list.”

“That is worrisome to a couple of our people getting ready to go out for [newbuild proposals],” Welch said. “So there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

FTA said it has not received “any shipyard DBE goal submissions, although a few FTA recipients have established project goals for upcoming ferry purchases, which are now under review.”

Contractors can range from major component manufacturers to professional services in a yard’s geographic market. Goal percentages differ, and the agency said it will “only concur with goals that satisfy the regulatory requirements and are submitted in good faith.”

As for concerns the pool of DBEs may be small in a specialized field, FTA said it “rejected a similar assertion from land use vehicle manufacturers,” and as a result has seen greater DBE participation in the industry.

As part of its bid on an FTA-funded ferry contract, a yard must commit to actively seeking DBE participation during the project and provide documentation outlining its efforts. Once a goal is submitted, FTA said, the approval process takes about 30 days.

— Dale K. DuPont

Navy likes what it sees in new RIB design

Last December Ribcraft USA, Marblehead, Mass., won a five-year Navy contract to produce 7-meter (24'x8'8") rigid hull inflatable boats used for everything from lifesaving to ship escort and force security. (California’s Willard Marine also has a five-year contract to build the same sized RIBs.)

The latest iteration by Ribcraft has pumped up the Navy’s high-speed launch. The Cummins diesels of earlier models are replaced by smaller, lighter Steyr multifuel engines that can burn diesel or JP-4 or JP-8 aircraft fuel.

“For the Navy, it’s all about weight,” explained Matthew Velluto, director of business development with Ribcraft, who put the late-model Navy version through its paces for a WorkBoat photo shoot earlier this year.

The boats have a 254-hp inboard Steyr engine linked to a Bravo Two stern drive. The RIBs float in 15" of water with the drive raised and run a draft around 24" with the drive down. There’s a waterjet option for special purpose boats.

At the stern stands a spiked antenna, the transmit/receiving end of a Briartek ORCA man overboard indicator system that’s triggered when someone falls over the side and a personal radio transponder goes off.

To protect the crew and other vessels, there’s a mount forward for the standard M-60/M-240 medium 7.62-mm machine guns.

But it’s a speedboat, not a gunboat. Designed to carry up to 18 people crammed along the gunwales and holding on to the lifeline, the RIB will approach 30 mph, and easily exceed that with just a security team on board.

Velluto said the Navy is a valued client, but certainly not Ribcraft’s only customer. “We’re pretty diversified with the products we build,” he said. “We’ve built lots of boats for first responders.”

— Kirk Moore

Tug market is where it’s at for Maine boatbuilder

Washburn & Doughty has been building tugs for decades and expects to build more of them in the years to come.

The East Boothbay, Maine-based shipyard began building fishing boats in 1977 and gradually got into building commercial workboats, delivering a range of vessels including ferries, barges, passenger vessels, research boats, and, of course, tugs.

For years now, the yard has been putting together 92' and 93' tugs for a variety of customers, particularly Moran Towing Corp., New Canaan, Conn., and Washburn & Doughty’s reputation for building some of the finest tugs in the world has grown along with its order book.

“We’ve always looked at the [whole workboat] market,” said the yard’s Bruce Washburn. “Right now the tug market is still very good. We’re booked.”

Literally rising from the ashes of a major fire that virtually destroyed the shipyard in 2008, Washburn & Doughty, with help from its employees and the East Boothbay community, came back to life in 2009 and opened a new 70'x120' fabrication building last year to help handle the workload.

For many shipyards training and retaining employees is an every day chore, but not for Washburn & Doughty.

“No, we have a pretty good retention rate,” said Bruce Doughty, another of the yard’s founders. “Most of these people are like family. They like living in this area and they like working here. We like having them.”

Doughty said of far more concern to him are the mounting regulations coming from Washington, D.C. including EPA regulations for operating diesel engines. “Tier 4 engines, for example, require more space, which leads to other problems when you’re trying to build a boat efficiently.”

Plan B