New contract to sustain 600 jobs at NASSCO

The containerships to be built by NASSCO for TOTE will be the largest of their kind powered by liquid natural gas. NASSCO

Written b Gary Robbins
11:22 a.m., Dec. 4, 2012
Updated 3:55 p.m.

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Rebounding from a long slump in commercial shipbuilding, General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego has been awarded a $350 million contract to build a pair of 764-foot containerships for TOTE Shipbuilding of Seattle, and there are options for three additional vessels.

NASSCO spokesman James Gill said Tuesday the contracts "willl sustain 600 jobs" at the last major shipbuilder on the West Coast. And the two vessels will become the largest containerships in the world primarily powered by liquid natural gas.
NASSCO built two Orca-class containerships for Tote about a decade ago.

The two TOTE containerships will carry such things as corn syrup, cars, pharmaceuticals and produce between Jacksonville, Fla., and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

"This investment demonstrates our commitment to the people of Puerto Rico and our environment," TOTE Chief Executive Anthony Chiarello said in a statement.

"These vessels mark a new age of shipping using the best technology in the world."

NASSCO recently launched the 765-foot USNS Montford Point. NASSCO

In mid-November, NASSCO President Fred Harris told U-T San Diego that he was "cautiously optimistic" that his company would land a major new commercial building contract by the end of this year. The TOTE deal represents that contract.

Harris couldn't be reached on Tuesday. But Gill said, "These vessels will be built in San Diego, they will sustain about 600 jobs and the additional commercial work will really help with our workforce," which numbers about 3,100.

American shipbuilders have struggled to obtain contracts from overseas firms, largely because of the competitive strength of foreign builders.

Tim Colton, who writes the blog Maritime Memos, called the NASSCO-TOTE agreement the "most stunning maritime news this year (this decade?)," adding that, "This is excellent news, not just for NASSCO, which needs the work, but for U.S. domestic trade in general, and for the Puerto Rican trade in particular, which is where TOTE plans to put them."

The deal was announced on the same day that NASSCO laid the keel of the John Glenn, a Mobile Landing Platform ship that the Navy will use as a staging area for troops and equipment. NASSCO has a contract to build three MLPs for $1.3 billion, and a fourth might be funded by the Obama administration.