PASCAGOULA, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi shipyard won a $746 million contract Tuesday to design and build the first of what could be three heavy polar icebreakers for the U.S. Coast Guard.
The U.S. Navy's Naval Sea Systems Command awarded the contract to VT Halter Marine of Pascagoula, choosing Halter's bid over two other finalists. Halter Senior Vice President Robert Socha said the award means the shipyard will hire up to 450 more employees, on top of the 400 it's already adding to build four barracks barges for the U.S. Navy. The hiring would push Halter's total employment above 1,300.
The Navy and the Coast Guard will jointly oversee design of the ship for expected delivery in 2024. The contract includes options for two more heavy icebreakers, which would bring its overall value to $1.94 billion, with work continuing through 2027.
Socha said VT Halter CEO Ronald Baczkowski was among those celebrating late Tuesday when the contract was announced.
"Ron started screaming and hollering, 'We won! We won!'" Socha said.
The Coast Guard is calling the class of ships polar security cutters, an echo of the national security cutters that nearby Ingalls Shipbuilding has been constructing. The unit of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said it would like to have up to six icebreakers, including three medium ones, saying it needs to compete with Russian and Chinese icebreakers.
The ships would replace the two icebreakers currently operated by the Coast Guard, the heavy icebreaker USCGC Polar Star and medium icebreaker USCGC Healy. The Polar Star entered service in 1976, while the Healy was commissioned in 1999.
"This contract award marks an important step towards building the nation's full complement of six polar icebreakers to meet the unique mission demands that have emerged from increased commerce, tourism, research, and international activities in the Arctic and Antarctic," Adm. Karl Schultz, the Coast Guard commandant, said in a Tuesday statement .
The announcement says most work will be done by Halter in Pascagoula. Socha said about a quarter of the estimated value of the work would be performed by naval architect Technology Associates in New Orleans. Design development will be jointly overseen by the U.S. Navy's Naval Sea Systems Command and the Coast Guard.
"Winning the contract to build the polar security cutter is a great achievement for the talented shipbuilders at VT Halter," U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who oversees the Coast Guard as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement . "The ships we build in Mississippi will help close the gap in our polar defense and ensure American mariners cannot be denied access to the Arctic region by our adversaries."
The government of Singapore, through its Temasek Holdings investment firm, owns 51 percent of Singapore Technologies Engineering. That company owns Halter.
Socha said the other finalists were Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, Louisiana, and a partnership between Philly Shipyard of Philadelphia and Fincantieri Marinette Marine, the Wisconsin-based subsidiary of an Italian shipbuilder.
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