NOAA cancels contract, removes SWATH vessel from Halter Marine

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has removed a vessel under construction at VT Halter Marine and canceled its contract with the shipbuilder. NOAA maintains that Ferdinand R. Hassler, the small waterplane area twin hull (SWATH) boat designed for coastal seafloor charting, is overweight and will be unable to perform its mission.

NOAA has moved the nearly completed ship from Halter’s yard in Moss Point, Miss., to the Port of Pascagoula, a few miles away.

Removing vessels from a shipyard sometimes occurs when a yard gets into financial difficulty. If a shipyard is heading into bankruptcy, owners may want to remove their property so it won’t be caught up in the legal proceedings. But in this case VT Halter Marine has a $1 billion backlog, so there do not seem to be any fiscal problems.

The problem, according to NOAA, is the ship’s weight. “Halter built a ship that is too heavy to fit into its intended port, currently 17.8 tons overweight and unable to fulfill the coastal mapping mission for which it is being built,” said Mitchell J. Ross, director of NOAA’s Acquisitions and Grants office. “We have seized the vessel, transported it to the Port of Pascagoula, where we will conduct a detailed assessment of the vessel and plan to correct the ship’s deficiencies with another shipyard and commission the ship into service.”

Halter Marine sees it differently. “As of now we are now in the dispute resolution clause provided for in the contract,” Bill Skinner, Halter Marine’s chief executive, said in late July. “The key dispute is one of weight of the vessel over its 25-year life. We say that because of change orders and other factors, the weight problem is NOAA’s and they say the responsibility is ours.”

“This is a very unusual situation,” said Skinner, noting that the vessel is 98 percent complete. “We are only talking about a few inches of draft and are trying to resolve this issue.”

The vessel was launched Sept. 19, 2009. NOAA said it expected the vessel would be delivered in March 2010, but that date came and went without the ship being delivered. Then NOAA announced on July 16 its decision to pull the ship.

Hassler is 124 feet long with a width of 53.8 feet at the main deck and 60.7 feet at the pontoons. All of the propulsion equipment is located in the two long, slim pods. Each one holds a Caterpillar C32 engine rated at 1,450 hp and a Reintjes WGF 762 gearbox with a reduction of 7.838:1 driving a Rolls-Royce 90-inch diameter, five-blade propeller. Electric power is supplied by a Caterpillar C9 genset rated at 250 kW.

Dominating the 01 level is the charting laboratory and its five computer workstations, with mission data storage and an electronics working area. The multibeam side-scan sonars are the heart of the charting system and are located forward in the twin-propulsion pods.

Larry Pearson

By Professional Mariner Staff