U.S. Coast Guard officials and Eastern Shipbuilding Group are still assessing the damage caused by deadly category 4 Hurricane Michael to the Panama City, Fla.-based yard contracted to build the new class of Offshore Patrol Cutters.
On September 28, the Coast Guard awarded Eastern Shipbuilding a contract to build the future USCGC Argus (WMSM-915), the first offshore patrol cutter (OPC). The yard was also set to build a second OPC, the future USCGC Chase (WMSM-916). Eastern Shipbuilding’s contract is for nine OPCs, with options for two additional cutters. Ultimately, the Coast Guard plans to buy 25 OPCs.
However, just as the yard was preparing to build Argus, Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle near Panama City on October 10. Workers from the shipyard and Coast Guard project managers evacuated and are just now returning to assess damage to the yard facilities, Brian Olexy, communications manager for the Coast Guard’s Acquisitions Directorate, told USNI News.
“Right now we haven’t made any decisions yet on shifts in schedule,” Olexy said.
For the Argus, the Coast Guard awarded Eastern Shipbuilding a $110-million contract to design and build the cutter. Eastern beat General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and Bollinger Shipyards for the design and construction of the OPC, a deal potentially worth $2.38 billion. The OPC will replace the Coast Guard’s Medium Endurance Cutters.
Since the yard was just the beginning stages of building Argus, Olexy said the hull wasn’t damaged. “No steel had been cut,” he said.
Eastern Shipbuilding is still in the process of assessing damage to the yard and trying to reach its workforce. Many employees evacuated the area and have not returned, or are in the area but lost their homes, Eastern Shipbuilding spokesman Justin Smith told USNI News.
At first, about 200 workers returned to work, but by week’s end about 500 were at the yard, Smith said. The company is providing meals, water, and ice for its workforce.
“Although we were significantly impacted by this catastrophic weather event, we are making great strides each day thanks to the strength and resiliency of our employees,” Joey D’Isernia, president of Eastern Shipbuilding, said in a statement.
“We are filled with hope and pride as we see family, neighbors, and volunteers helping each other and we are grateful to our partners, customers and the federal and state lawmakers that have assisted us so far on our path to recovery.”