Matching American Pride with South Korean know-howOct 26, 2009 12:00 AM
It was a perfect California evening when General Dynamics Nassco christened Golden State, the first of a new class of 49,000-dwt product carriers built for the Jones Act trade. Onstage was a diverse group of guests: shipyard VIPs, a BP Shipping executive, representatives of the South Korean shipbuilders who designed the vessel, and the smartly dressed CEO of the New York company that was taking delivery, U.S. Shipping Partners. But the fireworks that lit up the January sky over San Diego harbor were bittersweet for U.S. Shipping. In July, its lenders took control of Golden State and its sister ships still under construction.
|In a yard busy with work on new T-AKE construction and repair work for the U.S. Navy, Nassco still found room to dedicate a section to its line of product carriers.|
At 600 feet, Golden State is similar in many respects to the 46,000-dwt product carriers that Aker Philadelphia Shipyard is building for Overseas Shipholding Group; perhaps the chief difference is an increase in draft that allows it to carry more cargo. But whereas Aker took an existing South Korean design from Hyundai Mipo Dockyard, Nassco teamed up with Daewoo Shipbuilding Engineering Center (DSEC) to create a composite drawn from several existing vessels.
âThe engine room spaces are very much like a class of ships that Daewoo designed called the Vela class,â said Fred Harris, Nasscoâs president. âThe corrugated bulkheads were brought from another class. And then there are some hull differences we got from a third class. But each portion of the ship had been built previously by the Koreans for some other company.â
With a contract in place, Nassco was ready to deal with the complexities of the project. âWe knew the issues ahead of time,â said Kevin Mooney, Nasscoâs program manager for commercial contracts. âWe were using both design and materials from an external source.â Nassco threw resources into the project from the beginning: according to Mooney, it flew 50 production workers to Korea to see how Daewoo built ships, it assigned a production engineering team to the project full time, and it even hired two new employees from Korea, one in production and one in engineering. For the first year, Nasscoâs engineering manager visited Korea once a month.
Nassco took two early steps to minimize risk, creating a data pilot and a production pilot. âWe took two engine room blocks of the ship and built them in advance,â said Mooney.
Along the way, differences between U.S. and Korean shipbuilding quickly became apparent. âThe Koreans donât put as many details into their engineering drawings; their workforce is more specialized,â said Mooney. âBecause of the large volume and specialization, the Koreans are used to reaching for the right bolt without being told.â
|Golden Stateâs cargo arrangement resembles that of the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard product carriers, with six pairs of segregated cargo tanks with flush overheads.|
On a larger scale, Nassco was absorbing every lesson it could from its partners. âThis has been a very, very, very rewarding and satisfying arrangement,â said Harris, the companyâs president. âThe Koreans have been a major player in giving us advice to improve productivity, processes, and even facilities.â Nassco modeled its corrugated bulkhead construction facility on a similar Korean facility. It copied the practice of welding on the ladders for the bulk tanks during construction rather than afterwards. And new blocks for ships under construction now sit on giant transporters with a 320-ton capacity. âWeâre moving away from cranes,â said Mooney. âIt makes for more efficient building.
Nassco is also learning as it goes along. In January, a stern block for a future vessel was sitting on an adjustable jack stand. Such stands are a common practice in Asian yards, but the first hull was built without them.
Did using Korean know-how dent the Americansâ pride? âWe sent 14 designers to Daewoo,â said Parker Larson, Nasscoâs commercial engineering projects manager. âIâd be lying if I said we didnât have some personal pride in our designs, but in the end we learned a lot from them.â
Because of the collapse of U.S. Shipping Partners, Golden State and its sister vessels wound up under the control of Blackstone, a private equity group based in New York City with no expertise in vessel operations. Under an agreement hammered out in bankruptcy proceedings, Blackstone named Crowley Maritime Corp. of Jacksonville, Fla., to manage the existing vessels and oversee the construction of the remaining newbuilds under the name American Petroleum Tankers.
Golden State is on long-term charter to BP Shipping and Pelican State, which was delivered in June, is on long-term charter to Marathon Oil. Two of the remaining vessels will be chartered to the Military Sealift Command.
Crowley was already operating four older tankers as well as an array of articulated tug barges in the Jones Act petroleum trade. What it gets with the Nassco newbuilds is a class of modern but straightforward product carriers with very little of the sophistication of the 185,000-dwt Alaska-class tankers the yard built for BP Shipping in the early 2000s.
|Nassco Area Manager Neil Henry, opposite page, whose area is the cargo and ballast tanks, explains the pumping system for Golden State, which includes 12 submerged deepwell Framo cargo pumps. Framo equipment was also used for the ballast pumps and ballast control system.|
The propulsion is equally simple: a B&W 6S50 MC diesel rated at 10,480 bhp at 122.6 rpm, at recommended operating load. The engine is direct-coupled to the shaft, which turns a 19-foot Wärtsilä fixed-pitch, four-blade propeller. Service speed is 14.8 knots and the cruising range is 10,000 nautical miles. Three STX MAN B&W four-stroke, inline-type gensets rated at approximately 960 kW supply the shipâs power and there is a single GPC-Cummins GEC120 emergency generator.
On deck is an Oriental HHC-1022 hose-handling crane. The cargo monitoring system is by Kongsberg, but the bridge has a Hyundai control system and an extensive array of communications and navigation equipment. Schat-Harding supplied the two lifeboats.
On May 29, when Nassco started work on the fifth tanker, it faced the prospect of running out of commercial work towards the end of next year. That vessel, Evergreen State, is due for delivery in the third quarter of 2010.
|Final preparations for the new product carrierâs maiden voyage. The photos for this profile were taken two days after the christening ceremony; delivery was six months ahead of the original date.|
Balancing all types of work, three components have kept Nassco remarkably stable despite the economy. Its workforce has held steady at around 4,700 for several years, and the company benefits from strong military presence in San Diego; a local study put Nasscoâs share of military contracts in 2008 at $1.9 billion. Nassco is the cityâs largest manufacturer.
Nassco has made several recent improvements at its yard on Harbor Drive, leasing about 5 acres of an adjacent Navy property (âWe have a good steel line here, but we found we needed more capability on our fitting side,â said Harris). The company is also building a new blasting and painting facility that will meet strict environmental standards for volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.
Meanwhile, Nasscoâs line of underway replenishment vessels for the Military Sealift Command â the Lewis and Clark class, or T-AKE â is also winding down, although Nassco is hoping to adapt the hull to meet the Navyâs need for other types of vessels. How it will fill the void as its key naval and commercial contracts expire together is uncertain, but Nassco is looking hard for more work. And the partnership with Daewoo may pay off if shipowners start ordering ships again. After all, the purpose of Nasscoâs deal with the Koreans in the first place was to improve its chances of success. Edit Module