Eastern protests award of OPC contract to Austal

(WASHINGTON) — Eastern Shipbuilding Group, initially tapped to build the U.S. Coast Guard’s new offshore patrol cutters (OPCs), is contesting the service’s decision to change shipyards with a formal protest to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), USNI News reported.

Eastern filed the protest following the $208.26 million award to Austal USA in late June to build future Heritage-class OPCs. The Coast Guard decided to recompete the program in 2019 after Eastern failed to meet production schedules due in part to damage the yard suffered during Hurricane Michael in 2018. Eastern, based in Panama City, Fla., is under contract to build the first four cutters.

A Heritage-class offshore patrol cutter under construction at Eastern Shipbuilding Group in Florida. Eastern Shipbuilding Group photo

Austal USA of Mobile, Ala., best known for aluminum ship construction, is building the Navy’s Independence-class littoral combat ships and Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transports. The OPCs would be some of the first vessels built on Austal’s new steel ship line. The company said it has already cut steel for the Navy’s T-ATS Navajo-class towing, salvage and rescue ships.

In its protest, Eastern said Austal overstated its ability to produce the OPCs and that the Coast Guard did not follow its own criteria in awarding the Mobile yard the potential $3.3 billion contract for 11 of the vessels – the fifth through the 11th in the class. The complaint also alleged Austal had an unfair competitive advantage due to leaked pricing information and that the Mobile yard employed a former Coast Guard officer who would have non-public information on the OPC program.

“Our decision to protest does not come lightly. Our community is left reeling from the decision to abandon our workforce and move the Coast Guard’s largest acquisition program from our successful production line to a high-risk situation,” Eastern President Joey D’Isernia said in a prepared statement provided to USNI News. “While this process plays out, we remain committed to our USCG partners and delivering shipbuilding excellence on the first four hulls.”

The Coast Guard is slated to purchase 25 of the OPCs as a replacement to its fleet of 29 Famous and Reliance medium endurance cutters. The 4,250-ton Heritage-class cutters will be the backbone of the Coast Guard’s fleet, former Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said earlier this year.

In a statement to USNI News, Austal said “we are confident in the integrity of the solicitation process and that the United States Coast Guard’s selection of Austal USA as the Stage II OPC shipbuilder will be upheld. We will remain focused on delivering world-class ships to our customers.”

The Coast Guard acknowledged a request for comment from USNI News but did not immediately provide a response.


By Rich Miller