Breathing New Life into Old Workboats

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

By Larry Pearson

There is no question that timely repairs and preventative maintenance can extend the life of almost any workboat. It is also true that changing market conditions can lead to renovations to effectively extend the life of many vessels.

The one event that triggers many repair projects is the Coast Guard's five-year hull inspection program, often referred to as a "shave and a haircut". Most operators use these occasions to inspect shafts, wheels and do top side repairs as well. With the hull is out of the water, not only can shafts, rudders and wheels be repaired, but also anodes replaced, sea chests inspected and the entire bottom given a coat of anti-fouling paint. Since the vessel is inactive while on dry dock, topside repairs can be effected as well and they can range from regulatory mandated changes to repowering.

Vessel repair often extends to non-powered craft such as barges. For example the 462-foot by 82-foot by 22 foot Mickey Birdsall, a bulk cargo barge owned by Dixie Carriers recently visited Bollinger's Gulf Repair facility for preventative maintenance and regulatory inspections. The ripple impact of OPA-90 legislation has caused the retirement of many single hulled tankers and barges, but it has also led to the extensive modernization of many barges and their tugboats. At the present time Bollinger Shipyards, Lockport, La. is building a series of two 100,000 barrel and two 80,000 barrel petroleum carrying barges for K-Sea Transportation of New York. The first of these double-hulled OPA 90-compliant barges was delivered in July. As the first barge was nearing completion, the tug Tasman Sea which will push this barge was at Bollinger Gulf Repair having the Acomarine ATB coupling system installed and other repairs done including new bottom paint and new anodes. As the other three barges are completed, their tugs will need the coupling system installed and possibly other repairs done as well.

One of the busiest of the smaller repair yards in Louisiana is Allied Shipyard with facilities in Golden Meadow and Larose. The yard does its share of regulatory inspection work, but has specialized in more extensive projects such as repowering and complete rebuilding work. "We do a lot of work in returning inactive supply boats to good working order with full Coast Guard COI's." said Danny Toups, production manager at Allied. Toups recalled that several Trico Marine vessels had been on his docks for extensive repair and updating.

"On some of the vessels we did some repower work to gensets and replacing pumps and other equipment. While on the dry dock for hull inspection, wheel, shaft and rudder repairs were made where necessary, new anodes added and bottom side painting," Toups added. Earlier this year Allied received the pushboat Robert P. Frazer that had been sunk during a storm in Breton Sound up to the pilothouse level. After a crane barge raised the vessel and pump the water out, it was refloated and towed to Allied. "In a project such as this the first thing is to remove all of the damaged equipment," Toups said. That meant almost everything in the engine room had to be removed including both engines, the two gears and both generators. "The engines could be rebuilt, but the electrical panel and its distribution boxes were discarded as well as practically all the wiring, the pumps and every electric motor," Toups added.

The engines and gears were "swapped out" by Lake Charles Diesel. Lake Charles, La. while the generator engines were rebuilt by the owner and the generator front ends "swapped out" by Delco. When a vessel is sunk every surface underwater gets coated with an oily film that has to be removed. All tanks had to be cleaned and painted, insulation removed and replaced.

Air compressors replaced with rebuilt models. On the 02 deck that contains the bunks and the galley, everything was stripped back to bare steel and built out. "We replaced almost all of the galley equipment, the heads, the bunks, paneling, doors, ceilings, tile floors…the works," Toups said. As is often the case with complete rebuilds such as this, many items were replaced or refurbished that were not damaged by the sinking of the vessel. For instance, new scupper openings were fabricated and welded into place, a watertight door was installed on the cargo room bulkhead, holes repaired, a leak in one of the channel coolers repaired and broken manhole bolts replaced.

The vessel arrived at Allied on January 14, 2002 and was finished March 5, 2002. Some shipyards specialize in emergency vessel repair. Steiner Shipyard, Bayou LaBatre, Ala is one place where fishing vessels and crew/boats often heads for if a shaft or prop problem develops.

"Quick turnaround is essential for a fishing trawler or a crew/supply boat," said Russell Steiner, president of the yard. Steiner said that often a vessel would contact the yard in advance so the necessary repair parts can be on hand when the vessel arrives at the shipyard. "We have a 300 ton Marine Travelift so we can quickly get the boat out of the water, repair the shaft, rudder or prop and get the vessel back earning money for the owner," Steiner said.

The repair of ocean going vessels, jackup and semisubmercible drilling rigs and cruise ships is often done in Mobile, Ala. on a small stretch of the Mobile River. There, Alabama Shipyard and Atlantic Marine-Mobile are on one side of the river and Bender Shipbuilding and Repair is on the opposite shore. Both yards specialize in large deep draft ship repair. Atlantic Marine-Mobile almost always has at least one jackup or semisubmercible drilling rig at its yard, typically for fairly extensive repair work that may last 45-60 days. Both yards can handle cruise ship repairs on either a scheduled maintenance visit or an emergency repair of propeller or other propulsion components. Bender often has a U.S. Navy destroyer, cruiser or frigate at its yard for quick repairs or a well planned in advance Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) that may take months to complete.

Some offshore service operators have their own shipyards where routine maintenance, regulatory inspections and repairs and renovations take place. For example, Edison Chouest Offshore, Galliano, La. handles most all of their own newbuilds, repair and maintenance at their shipyards in Larose and Houma, La. To get service and repair capability even closer to their offshore fleet, ECO has built and placed a drydock at their C-Port facility in Port Fourchon, La. at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico. Also, Chouest recently repowered a number of their 165-foot crew/supply boats and have been converting seismic vessels in their fleet to supply boats. Last year, the ECO shipyard in Larose, La. completed the conversion of the 320-foot freighter Margaret B. Chouest to a super size supply boat that is under contract with Shell Oil. The vessel was renamed Akira Chouest. Another Southern Louisiana shipyard that specializes in ship repair is Conrad Industries with facilities in Morgan City and Amelia, La. Their dry docks and slips are typically full of pushboats and oil field support vessels in for regulatory inspections and/ or repair work. Repair work is big business at many shipyards in the Gulf South. As noted above, for many shipyards that is their specialty. As the oil patch gears up for increasing amounts of deep water and shelf work, "keeping them working" takes on new significance for the repair yards.

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