Maritime Memos                                                                                March 2011


I have said before that it's time to renew the dry bulk barge fleet and here comes Kirby Ocean Transport, ordering a 20,000-dwt dry bulk ATB from Signal International.  Read the announcement here.  Both the barge and the tug will be built in Signal's Orange shipyard.  The contract price is $47 million, with delivery scheduled for end-May 2012, and there is an option for a second unit, to be delivered 12 months later.  Signal's entry into commercial shipbuilding should surprise nobody.  The Orange yard used to be Texas Drydock, who built Lake Maracaibo drilling barges there; before that it was a Trinity barge factory; and further back, as Consolidated Steel, it built destroyers.  Signal has already built a large deck barge and two power-generating barges there.  So, if this project goes well, expect to see more like it.  For starters, Kirby has four large dry bulk barges, all about the same size and all built around 1980: two new ones now, two more next year?  March 31, 2011.


I wish Huntington Ingalls Industries well.  They have a tough row to hoe.  Maybe they will succeed, maybe they won't, but they are much more likely to succeed than the other guys.  (It's such a relief not to have to track the misdeeds of the other guys any more.  Now, if only the dreaded LMT would get out of the shipbuilding industry too.)  It's going to be very interesting to watch HII over the next year or so, as they fix their Gulf Coast problems and develop new business activities to replace their declining naval workload.  I would love to be HII's guy in charge of strategic planning and/or business development, but only in theory, I'm not about to give up my current sybaritic lifestyle.  Anyway, I'm going to leave HII alone for six months, until they publish their 10-Q for the third quarter.  I'll report interesting developments, of course, but I'll refrain from offering any caustic comments.  March 31, 2011.


Some eagle-eyed readers, not including me, noted that the Navy's recent announcement regarding the names for the next two LCSs to be built by Austal USA, referred to them as ships of the Freedom class.  I think that most of us were under the impression that the Freedom class ships were the monohull steel ships being built by Marinette and that the aluminum trimarans being built by Austal constituted the Independence class.  But if you go to the PEO Ships web site for the LCS program - find it here - you find that the Navy is now referring to them all as Freedom-class ships.  Well this is very strange, irregular even.  Do I smell the influence of Lockheed Martin here?  What do you think?  I cannot recall if we have ever been in this situation before, with alternate ships of a particular type being built to two radically different designs.  March 31, 2011.


Who says we don't have competition in naval shipbuilding any more?  According to the CGBlog, there are now 14 shipbuilders registered as interested in bidding for the OPC program.  Read the story here.  Actually, the number is 12, not 14: in alphabetical order, they are Austal, BAE, Bath, Bollinger, Derecktor, Eastern, Marinette, NASSCO, NGSB (now HII), Todd, Signal and VTHM.  And on the face of it, they are all qualified, some more than others, of course, but none obviously unqualifiedMarch 31, 2011.


I told you that OSG would not like the idea of Aker Philly building two extra product carriers on spec, and they didn't.  But now they have backed reluctantly off and the political deal is going ahead.  Read the story in the Inquirer here.  OK, Mr. Rkke and American Shipping Company, let's buy Horizon Lines and build a whole bunch of containerships.  March 31, 2011.


Check it out -  Nice clean design, not much content, but it is only Day One.  Interesting that they've left AMSEC and Continental under Ingalls: one might think that Ingalls management had enough to worry about.  March 30, 2011.


Shares in Horizon Lines lost half their already miserably low value today after the release of their annual report, in which they effectively admit that they cannot continue much longer.  Read the 10-K here.  Read the story in their hometown Charlotte Business Journal here.  As I said before, when opining on this topic, there are big opportunities here for new operators to take over Horizon's trades.  We can't blame the existing operators if they try to increase their shares, but the Jones Act non-contiguous trades need some fresh blood.  March 29, 2011.


The name starts to come down.  March 29, 2011.




There are 4,000 or so folks at Avondale who must be wondering what's going on.  Here's Huntington Ingalls Industries going full steam ahead as a two-shipbuilder operation, with nary a passing reference to the New Orleans shipyard.  If the politicians of Louisiana, a pretty despicable bunch at the best of times, are so concerned about Avondale, wouldn't you think that they and/or Northrop Grumman might talk to the employees?  Is there a credible buyer for the yard?  If so, who?  If not, what's the plan?  Sorry to repeat myself, but what happens when a shipyard faces closure is that the best and most experienced workers are the first out.  They have no trouble finding jobs and that's particularly true in Louisiana, with all those small shipyards nearby.  Anybody who then buys the yard is left with the workers who couldn't find jobs elsewhere.  We've seen this pattern after every major shipyard closing in the past 30 years.  March 28, 2011.


They christened the future USS Arlington, (LPD 24), at the Pascagoula shipyard on Saturday, an occasion for solemn remembrance as well as for celebration.  Overlaid on this event was another celebration: this coming Friday, the yard with the ludicrously cumbersome name - Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding Gulf Coast Operations Pascagoula Shipyard - will once again be called Ingalls Shipbuilding.  Grand news.  Read the story on here.  Now, let's see, how long will it take them to repaint the name on the big gantry crane?  My bet is that it will be done over the weekend, and at Newport News too.  March 28, 2011.


GD has warned the employees at NASSCO of the impending lay-off of maybe 350 of them because of the inability of the Congress to fund authorized programs.  Read the notice here March 25, 2011.


On Monday, the Navy revealed that LCS 5 and 7, to be built in the northern city of Marinette, Wisconsin, will be named for the northern cities of Milwaukee and Detroit.  Today they announce that LCS 6 and 8, to be built in the southern city of Mobile, Alabama, will be named for the southern cities of Jackson and Montgomery.  Read the announcement here.  Golly, whose brilliant idea was this?  March 25, 2011.


The CEO of desperate-for-work Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, Jim Miller, is heading back to Houston to become EVP of Aker Contractors, although he is expected to continue to be involved in the shipyard, taking over the position of Chairman at next month's annual meeting.  Read the announcement here.  His place in the hot seat at the yard is being taken by Kristian Rkke, the 27-year-old son of Norwegian tycoon Kjell Inge Rkke, the man who got Aker into this mess in the first place.  March 24, 2011.


Two permits in two days and this one's for another new well!  Whatever next?  BOEMRE has approved a deep-water permit for ExxonMobil's Well #3, in Keathley Canyon Block 919.  This well is in 7,000 feet of water, 240 miles off the Louisiana coast.  Read the announcement here.  The really notable thing about this permit is that this is the first project that will use the new Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC) containment system - pictured on the right.  If you haven't heard about MWCC, visit them hereMarch 23, 2011.


The Administration has nominated the U. S. Coast Guard's Jeff Lantz to be the next Secretary-General of the IMO, to succeed Thimio Mitropoulos - also a retired Coast Guard officer - when his second four-year term is up at the end of the year.  Read the announcement here.  This is a really excellent choice and one that should be acceptable to the international community.  I haven't read of any other nominations and the election is not till June, but this ought to sail through.  March 23, 2011.


BOEMRE continues to attract fire for the bewilderingly slow pace of its permit approval process, but it did achieve a small breakthrough yesterday when it approved its first application for a new project.  The application, from Shell Offshore, was not wholly new, being essentially just a three-well expansion of Shell's long-established Auger field, 130 miles off the Louisiana coast.  Progress of a sort, however.  Read BOEMRE's announcement here.  March 22, 2011.


A shipbuilding contract for a Great Lakes yard, two more for West Coast yards and now one for a Gulf Coast yard.  The Navy has exercised an option on its contract with Swiftships for three more 35-meter patrol boats for the Iraqi Navy - pictured on the right.  Read the DefenseLink announcement here.  The price is $14 million per boat, with delivery by August 2012.  These are, I think, boats 10 through 12 of the class of 15.  The announcement includes an option for three more, but there were already three more on the contract: I suspect that these are the same three, possibly repriced because of the delay in their award.  March 22, 2011.


Yesterday seems to have been a good day for shipbuilders.  Marine Log reports that Harley Marine has ordered three more coastal tank barges, one of 52,000 bbls and two of 31,500 bbls: read the story here.   All three barges will be built in Portland, two by Zidell and one by US Barge.  March 22, 2011.


The news that Bay Shipbuilding is to build two large PSVs for Tidewater, first reported here a week ago, has been confirmed.   Read the announcement here.  The boats are 303-foot MMC 887s, with deliveries in 4Q12 and 2Q13.  Good for Bay.  March 22, 2011.


Secretary Gates' memo re streamlining DoD - the one that everyone is talking about but hardly anyone has seen because it was not publicly released - includes some moves that affect the maritime industry:

  • All JLOTS forces are assigned to TRANSCOM;

  • All Army watercraft and terminal operating forces are assigned to TRANSCOM;

  • Responsibility for the NDSF is transferred from the Navy to TRANSCOM; and

  • The RRF is transferred from MARAD to MSC.

These moves would actually be quite logical if TRANSCOM were to operate as a true joint command and not as if it were a wing of the Air Force.  And if MARAD loses the RRF, what's left for them to do?  What's the betting they'll be gone inside two years?  If you're interested, you can find the whole memo here.  Note the remarkable number of flag and SES billets that are to be eliminated or downgraded.  March 21, 2011.


The Navy has announced that LCS 5 and LCS 7 will be named Milwaukee and Detroit.  Read the announcement here.  The most recent Milwaukee was AOR 2, sold for scrap in 2009 and not quite dead yet, while the most recent Detroit was AOE 4, scrapped in 2006.  March 21, 2011


The Coast Guard's Acquisition Directorate's monthly newsletter, Delivering the Goods, reports that it is going to work collaboratively with the Corps of Engineers' Marine Design Center to develop new multi-mission designs for inland tenders.  Read the story here.  This is excellent, one small step toward rationalization of our fragmented and chaotic maritime regulatory system, a problem I have been going on about for years.  Now let's see if we can't find ways of streamlining some of the other overlaps, involving MARAD, FMC, NOAA, EPA, USFWS, USGS, etc, etc.  March 19, 2011.


If the King of Bahrain doesn't understand the concept of democracy, to Hades with him:  we'll just move the Fifth Fleet to somewhere that does.  Why do we have to have a fleet based there anyway?  Oh, I know we need it to provide support for our forces ramming democracy down the throats of Iraq and Afghanistan, but why do we have to put it in such a blatantly undemocratic country, apart from it being practically the only place in the area where a thirsty sailor can buy a drink?  Or is it only in Bahrain to annoy the Iranians?  Why don't we put it in Pakistan, which actually is a democracy?  Warming to this theme, why do we still have overseas bases at all?  Germany?  Japan?  Isn't WWII over yet?   Isn't the Cold War over yet, either?  Why do we act like it's our job to police the world? What would we say if China established a naval base in Chinese-owned Freeport, in the Bahamas?  No wonder we're broke.  We spend six times as much as China on defense.  We spend more than double what the whole of the 27-nation EU spends.  What for?  We can't even find Osama Bin Laden.  What nightmare scenario would result from cutting 20% or 30% or even more off our defense spending and putting half of what we save toward fixing the infrastructure, educating the kids properly, etc, etc, and the other half to reducing the deficit? By the way, these are all rhetorical questions.  March 17, expanded March 18, 2011.


The Navy has ordered two more LCSs.  LCS 7, from Marinette, is priced at $376 million and has a delivery date in April 2016, while LCS 8, from Austal, has a price tag of $368 million and a delivery date in October 2015.  Read the DefenseLink announcements here March 17, 2011.


Check out Crescent City's Triplicate - here - to see the effect of the tsunami on its harbor and fishing fleet.  March 17, 2011.


Let's be clear.  NG did not spun off NGSB because it didn't fit into their grand plan.  It was because it didn't make enough money and its future looked dodgy.  This is, unfortunately, true.  Remember the figures I posted here in January?  The Newport News operation makes money, the Gulf Coast operation doesn't.

Look at their backlog - although this is not fully defined in the materials HII has published so far - and at the Government's current shipbuilding programs.  All being well, HII will have steady work in both divisions for at least the next ten years, equivalent to revenues of around $7 billion a year (in today's dollars).  But what happens if these programs are cut back and/or stretched out?

If HII can make 9% EBIT, which is what they seem to be aiming for, they will be doing pretty well, servicing the ridiculous amount of debt they've been lumbered with and having room to maneuver for the future.   But how are they going to make that much margin?  I look at the numbers and think they'll be lucky to make 5%.  If they are going to make 9%, they really need to fix the problems down south - and fix them sooner rather than later - and they really need to reduce their overhead, and they really need the Government to keep those contracts coming.

What happens if, for whatever reason, they don't make their revenue goals and they don't make their margins and their EBIT slips exponentially and they can only just manage to service the debt, if that?  One solution would be to diversify into some more profitable activities, either by acquisition, or by a joint venture or possibly even by starting something from scratch.  This is not easy, however, and it takes time, and I don't see them thinking that way.  They don't want another Double Eagle program.  Alternatively, they could shoot the albatross, their Gulf Coast operation, and carry on as Newport News, still the world's greatest shipbuilder.  Otherwise, they end up having to sell themselves to some passing vulture, such as . . . well I won't name names.  I certainly hope HII succeeds.  It won't be easy, but it is possible.  I might even have to buy a share or two.  March 16, 2011.


The good news that BUMMER, sorry, I mean BOEMRE, has actually managed to approve a second permit for deep-water drilling in the U.S. Gulf - read about it here - should be seen in the context of international activity in the six months since BP's Macondo well was sealed.  The offshore industry has clearly demonstrated its confidence in the future of the technology by ordering 63 new rigs - 22 drill ships, 4 semis and 37 jack-ups - a total investment of over $20 billion.  March 16, 2011.


Rumor has it that Bay Shipbuilding is going to build two 300-foot PSVs for Tidewater.  Great idea, let's hope it's true.  Bay is one of our better yards and they are practically out of new construction work now that the OPA 90 demand has all been taken care of.  March 15, 2011.


And the spin-off is official.  NGSB will become HII on March 31.  You can read NG's announcement here but more interesting is HII's Spin-off Presentation.  Comment later.  March 15, 2011.


Our largest inland tank barge operator is going to buy our largest coastal tank barge operator.  Read Kirby Corporation's announcement here and K-Sea Transportation's here.  The total value of the transaction is said to be $600 million and brings together Kirby's fleet of 241 towboats and 904 tank barges, with a total capacity of 17 million barrels, and K-Sea's fleet of 63 tugs and 58 tank barges, with a total capacity of 3.8 million barrels.  K-Sea, which emerged from the shadow of Eklof Transportation in the 1990s and went public in 2003, will retain its identity, becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kirby, which is not a bad thing to be.  March 14, 2011.


A Congressional Budget Office analyst testified before the House Seapower Subcommittee on Wednesday: his testimony, titled "An Analysis of the Navys Shipbuilding Plans", thoroughly discredits both the Navy's shipbuilding plans and the associated cost estimates.  Read it here.  There's a ton of very interesting stuff in this relatively brief report: everyone involved in naval shipbuilding should read it.  The key conclusions?  First, the Navy's plan won't get it to the force structure that it says it needs.  Second, the Navy under-estimates the costs associated with its plan by about $3 billion a year.  Either of these problems would be bad enough on its own: the two together are a nightmare.  Even the most hawkish congresspeople must reel before them.  You are all going to get really bored with hearing me say this, but it is absolutely inevitable that naval shipbuilding is going to be cut back, The Navy is going to have to settle either for simpler, cheaper ships or for fewer ships, probably both.  March 12, 2011.


MARAD has approved a Title XI application from Boldini S.A., of Rio de Janeiro, covering the construction of five 282-foot PSVs by Eastern Shipbuilding.  The value of the financing is $227 million: at 87.5%, that puts the total project at about $260 million.  Read the story in the Panama City News Herald here.  Excellent.  March 9, 2011.


The University of Victoria, (known as UVic), assisted by BMT Fleet Technology, is planning to convert a former Coast Guard cutter, the Tsekoa II, which was built by Allied Shipbuilders in 1984, into a hybrid electric-drive research ship.  Read BMT's announcement hereMarch 7, 2011.


The Mexican company has ordered another jack-up from AMFELS.  This will be another LeTourneau Super 116E, costing $195 million, with delivery in March 2013.  Read the announcement here March 7, 2011.


The Coast Guard Blog had an excellent piece yesterday by Chuck Hill, on how to straighten out the Coast Guard's shipbuilding program.  Read it here.  In a nutshell, he says that the Coast Guard should cut short the over-specced, ludicrously expensive NSC program and kick-start an OPC program that buys a lot of standard-design boats which are smaller and cheaper than those now planned.   Sounds good to me.  March 7, 2011.


Horizon Lines is obviously in deep trouble, even now that they've dumped their grossly overpaid CEO.  Will they fold?  I don't really care if they do, as I think they are an embarrassment to the U.S. flag, but what will happen if they do?  The cargoes that they carry still have to get to their non-contiguous destinations.  It looks like we need a buyer, or possibly two or three buyers, with financial strength and US-flag operating experience.  We can't let Matson take over Horizon's Hawaii services or TOTE take over their Alaskan services, but it might work the other way round, with Matson getting the Alaskan services and TOTE the Hawaiian.  Then there's Crowley, who are big in the more competitive Puerto Rican services.  And dark horses, such as Seacor.  This will be interesting to watch, especially if it also stimulates some long overdue fleet renewal.  March 4, 2011.


NAVSEA has released the RFP for the Ship to Shore Connector (SSC) Program.  Read it here.  The competition seems to be between a team headed by Textron and a team headed by Marinette.  My prediction?  Marinette will have the better design and the lower price, so the Navy will go with Textron.  A more interesting question concerns the need for these things.  The LCACs have never seen action.  The last time the Marines stormed a beach was 60 years ago, at Inchon.  (The Brits went ashore at Suez in 1956, in the Falklands in 1982 and even in Iraq in 2003, to take Umm Qasr.)  I am all for the Marines - finest fighting force in the world - but I just don't get the need for all this expensive hardware.  I will probably now be swamped in e-mail from angry Marines, but that's life.  March 4, 2011.


The new management of Horizon Lines laid out the horror story today.  Read their announcement here.  A net loss of $54 million on revenues of $1,162 million.  Stockholders' equity down to $43 million.  How long can they continue?  March 3, 2011.


Start-up coastal feeder company American Feeder Lines, (AFL), says that it is beginning service in the second quarter of this year, linking Boston and Portland to Halifax.  Read their announcement here.  This doesn't say what ships will be employed.  Is it a secret?  March 3, 2011.


Tradewinds reports that General Dynamics is about to be stuck with three unemployed LNG carriers.  Older readers will recall that back in the 1970s, when we still had a big-ship shipbuilding industry, the Quincy shipyard built ten LNG carriers.  Eight of these were for Burmah Gas, operated by Energy Transportation.  Years passed and they were flagged out but all eight are still out there, moving LNG from Indonesia to Japan.  Their trade is now winding down and their charters expiring.  The charterer, Mitsui, has opted to buy five of the eight ships: the five they are buying are the five that are now owned by banks or leasing companies, while the three they are not buying are the three that are still owned by General Dynamics.  An interesting problem for GD.  What to do?  These ships are not ready for scrapping yet - LNG carriers have an economic life of 40 years - they could be sold or chartered.  March 2, 2011.

P.S.  Don't let's get carried away here.  These ships were built as foreign-trade ships.  They are not Jones Act ships and it would require an Act of Congress to make them Jones Act ships.  If a need for Jones Act LNG carriers arises, which seems unlikely, I think the industry would prefer to build new ships or ATBs.  This would be especially true of GD, who could build them.  These ships will go on the international charter market until nobody wants them anymore, and then they will be scrapped.  March 2, 2011.


General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman have both now released their 10-Ks for 2010 and it's time for our annual invidious comparison.  Read GD's here and NG's here.  As you can see from the table below, GD as a whole is much more successful than NG and GD's Marine Systems Division, (GDMS), is even more successful than NG's Shipbuilding Division, (NGSB).  A particularly telling ratio is asset turnover: GDMS's is almost double NGSB's.  To see a summary of GD's historical financial performance, plus that of its predecessor companies, going back to 1985, click here The comparable data for NG are here March 2, 2011.

Item NG GD
2010 2010
mm $ mm $
Total Company
Net Sales 34,757 32,466
Operating Margin 3,070 3,945
Operating Margin (%) 8.80% 12.20%
Net Income 2,053 2,624
Net Income (%) 5.90% 8.10%
Total Assets 31,421 32,545
Stockholders' Equity 13,557 13,316
Property, Plant and Equipment 5,042 2,971
Depreciation 738 345
Capital Expenditure 770 370
Employees 117,100 90,000
Net Sales/Employee 296,815 358,100
Shipbuilding Unit
Net Sales 6,719 6,677
Operating Margin 325 674
Operating Margin (%) 4.80% 10.10%
Total Assets 4,768 2,612
Depreciation 183 74
Capital Expenditure 191 95
Shipbuilding as a Proportion of the Total Company
Net Sales 19.30% 20.60%
Operating Margin 10.60% 17.10%
Total Assets 15.20% 8.00%
Depreciation 24.80% 21.40%
Capital Expenditure 24.80% 25.70%


There's an interesting Opinion column in the Wall Street Journal today.  Read it here.  I make no comment.  If I were to say what I think, I would be inundated in furious e-mail messages, to respond to which I have neither the inclination nor the energy.  March 2, 2011.


Click here to read an excellent article in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot about the apparently never-ending problems of the USS San Antonio, (LPD 17).  Several new things here, such as the near-collision in the Suez Canal.  No comment needed from me, however.  March 1, 2011.

P.S.  I will make one comment.  Avondale gets most of the heat on the subject of the LPD 17 and, as the low bidder and prime contractor, back before NG came along, that's appropriate.  But there's lots of blame to go around, particularly for the Navy itself.  Did anyone in the Navy get fired?  Oh no, they got promoted.  March 2, 2011.


The Navy has exercised a $207-millon option on its contract with NGSB for the RCOH of the USS Abraham Lincoln, (CVN 72), which was initiated last year with a modest $81 million.  Read the announcement on DefenseLink here.  When you look at NNS' base workload - build a new CVN every four or five years, do the RCOH on one of the existing CVNs every four or five years, and now, also, deactivate one of the existing CVNs every four or five years - you get the feeling that they can pretty much go on for ever, very profitably, with or without any other work.  I know that that is a very simplistic view, but it serves to emphasize the importance to the success of HII of fixing the problems in the Gulf Coast yards.  March 1, 2011.


Algoma Central has taken a dominant position in the Canadian dry bulk market by buying Upper Lakes Group's fleet.  Read the announcement here.  As the announcement says, Upper Lakes operates or has an interest in 7 gearless bulkers and 10 self-unloaders, including newbuildings.  By my count, Algoma already operates or has an interest in 9 gearless bulkers and 22 self-unloaders, including newbuildings.  March 1, 2011.