Report to assess hurricane’s impact on US Coast Guard’s Offshore Patrol Cutter
The US Coast Guard is awaiting a report from Eastern Shipbuilding Group, the prime contractor for the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), on how a major hurricane last year will affect the programme’s cost and schedule, according to the service’s commandant.
‘There [are] some impacts. What we’re looking for is specificity from Eastern Shipbuilding, ADM Karl Schultz told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s coast guard and maritime transportation panel recently. ‘We [have] to get all the analysis of the data from Eastern to figure out the path forward.’
The report is due to the coast guard on 31 May. The service plans to take a few weeks to review the document before briefing lawmakers on the findings by late June.
Delivery of the first OPC has been scheduled for 2021, and Eastern has said that the total value of the OPC contract will be about $10 billion. But Hurricane Michael, which hit the US in October, caused massive damage to the Florida Panhandle, where Eastern’s two shipyards are located.
‘Mother Nature dealt a pretty tough hand to Eastern Shipbuilding Group,’ Schultz testified.
Eastern said it resumed operations two weeks after the hurricane struck. In January, it began cutting steel for the first OPC, the Coast Guard Cutter Argus.
The coast guard plans to buy 25 OPCs to replace its ageing Medium Endurance Cutters, some of which are more than 50 years old. If the programme is delayed, one possibility is to delay retiring some of the existing vessels.
‘It’s not ideal to run 50-, 60-year-old ships,’ Schultz said. ‘Unfortunately, that’s sort of the nature of where we are as a service.’
Rep Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat who chairs the full committee, expressed concern that a provision included in a pending disaster assistance bill could allow Eastern to renegotiate its contract with the coast guard.
‘Their justification is their shore-side facilities were damaged; of course, I’m pretty sure they had insurance,’ DeFazio said. ‘They say their labour costs are up, but I question whether or not this has something to do with their original bid, which some thought was low. We don’t want someone to bid low, get a contract and then use a hurricane as an excuse to change [the] contract and then up the price to the coast guard.’
According to the coast guard, the 360ft-long OPCs will serve as a ‘capability bridge’ between the service’s larger National Security Cutters, which patrol the open ocean, and its smaller Fast Response Cutters, which operate closer to shore.
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