Austal USA expands repair and maintenance capabilities
In a significant development for the US ship repair sector, Austal USA has confirmed it is establishing a new shipyard on the West Coast with the purchase of a long-term lease of the former Marine Group Boat Works facilities in the Port of San Diego. The focus of the yard will be conducting drydocking and top side repairs on US Navy, Military Sealift Command (MSC) and US Coast Guard ships, although it will also target commercial vessel opportunities.
Larry Ryder, vice president of business development and external affairs, says: “Our intent in acquiring the facility is to address the shortage of drydock capacity in the San Diego homeport area. With the large concentration of Austal USA-built littoral combat ships in San Diego we saw an opportunity to address a significant shortfall.”
Vessel types expected to be handled here include small surface combatants, unmanned and autonomous vessels, and other ships operated by the Navy and governmental organisations. “Our primary focus is the littoral combat ship,” says Ryder, “but we are also focused on the Expeditionary Fast Transports, USCG cutters and similar sized ships.”
Austal has signed a 27-year lease on the site and estimates the purchase of the yard and building a new floating dock will cost a total of around US$80m, to be funded from the company’s cash reserves.
Austal was recently included on the US Navy’s Sustainment Execution Contract West (SEC West), so the long-term presence in San Diego is viewed as a “critical enabler” to winning new maintenance contracts from the Navy, Coast Guard and Military Sealift Command.
“Now we will have Austal employees in an Austal yard supporting Austal ships and other vessels, so we can fully capitalise on our SEC West inclusion,” comments Austal chief executive officer Paddy Gregg. “The strategic purchase of a West Coast yard capability will grow our revenue, grow our margin and enhance our operational flexibility. It will also complement the maintenance work that our Mobile [Alabama] shipyard is performing.”
The newly leased yard occupies five acres and includes a pier capable of accommodating ships up to 80m long and a travel lift with lifting capacity up to 300tons as well as machine shops and warehouse space. Austal plans to establish a full-service ship repair capability, providing maintenance and modernisation for a wide variety of ship types.
Immediately after finalising the lease deal, Austal USA placed an order for a floating drydock which will form the centrepiece of the new repair facility. The installation will have a 9000ton lifting capacity, 162m long, 47m wide, with a maximum draft 11m. Construction on the drydock is now underway and is scheduled to be fully operational by August 2023.
Ryder adds: “As well as building the new dock and taking steps to accommodate its placement within the yard, we are currently upgrading the facility to better accommodate Navy and MSC repair work. In particular, we are modernising the floating pier to facilitate the support of top side availabilities.”
With the delivery of the floating dock next year, Austal USA will have drydock capability in both San Diego and Mobile. Ryder says: “We will be able to offer similar ship service capabilities on both the West and Gulf Coasts. Both will offer technical and material support, topside work and drydocking availabilities plus access to Austal USA’s incredibly talented production, supply chain management, and engineering workforce.”
In September 2020, the company expanded its Mobile service centre to support both government and commercial customers by purchasing 15 acres of waterfront property along the Mobile River and establishing its Austal USA West Campus Ship Repair facility. The purchase included covered repair facilities, a 20,000ton Panamax-class floating drydock, outside fabrication space and a berth capable of mooring vessels up to 304m.