Key stakeholders involved in the landmark project to build a 192-ft. high-speed ferry for Milwaukee-based Lake Express LLC attended
a ceremony on July 10 to celebrate the start of the vessel’s construction at the Austal USA shipyard
in Mobile, AL.
Chris Pemberton, Austal USA’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing, welcomed the guests and explained that construction of the aluminum catamaran was actually already well underway, as was evident in the main construction hall of Austal USA’s modern shipbuilding facilities.
Pemberton acknowledged the Maritime Administration’s support for the project and lauded the vision of the Director of the Port of Milwaukee, Ken Szallai.
“MARAD’s recent confirmation of loan guarantees under the Title XI program was vital to this project moving forward, and it is a great pleasure to be involved in realizing Ken’s 10-year-old dream of a high speed link across Lake Michigan,” Mr. Pemberton said.
David Lubar, President of Lubar and Co., the company that created Lake Express, stressed that it was a partnership that had been formed and said he looked forward to working with Austal USA to realize this landmark project.
“We are delighted to be able to work with Austal USA and have complete confidence in its ability to deliver the vessel on time, on-budget and to the world-class quality for which Austal is well known,” he told the audience which included John Waggoner and Greg Brown of Hornblower Marine Services. Hornblower will be responsible for operating the vessel and will also oversee its construction on behalf of Lake Express.
Lake Express Partner Oyvind Solvang, who managed the project from the outset and steered it through the rigorous Title XI review process, recalled his early days working for his father in Norway as a steel welder.
Mr. Solvang said that then, as now, aluminum welding was a stage above his experience but accepted an invitation to weld part of a fuel tank module as part of the ceremony.
“I am happy to accept,” he said, “because now I will be able to say that I have welded with the best of them. This news will certainly make my father in Norway very proud!”
Mr. Solvang then donned protective gear and proceeded to weld a perfect fillet weld in front of the 250 people who had assembled for the event, including Austal USA’s 150 highly skilled production staff.
The shipyard’s welders were eagerly inspected Mr. Solvang’s effort and congratulated him on a job well done. Mr. Solvang spoke afterwards of how pleased he was to be able to meet the team in this way.
Greg Metcalf, CEO of Austal USA, thanked Lake Express for their confidence in Austal and spoke of the importance of this project to the Mobile shipbuilder’s future.
“Building the Lake Express vessel establishes the shipyard as a proven contender for upcoming projects to build even larger vessels, especially Army’s high-speed Theater Support Vessels and Littoral Combat Ships for Navy,” he said.
The Lake Express vessel will be delivered to Milwaukee by late May 2004 prior to commencing service on Lake Michigan at the start of June that year. It will be the first high speed car ferry to operate in continental USA.