Jaws is no fish story for Eastport International Md. company makes sharks for park.

February 28, 1992|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

UPPER MARLBORO -- Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, a giant shark -- very similar to the man-eater that terrorized Amity Harbor in the 1975 movie, "Jaws" -- has been spotted -- in Maryland.

The 38-foot great white was not seen slicing through the Chesapeake Bay but resting on the land-locked paved parking lot at Eastport International Inc. And though the fiberglass fish seems harmless now -- the lower jaw with its razor-sharp teeth are missing -- it won't be long before the shark is back scaring people at Universal Studio Florida, a theme park in Orlando.

Eastport got into the shark business this month, said Craig Mullen, the 47-year-old former Navy diver who heads the company, when Universal awarded it a "multimillion-dollar" contract to develop mechanical sharks for its "Jaws" exhibit at the 2-year-old Orlando park.

"They were having problems with the sharks . . . and came to us because of our technology in underwater robotics," he said.

Eastport designs and builds remote operated vehicles, unmanned mini-submarines that photograph and recover objects on the ocean floor.

Universal's Jaws attraction, scheduled to open next year, will feature sharks that swim rapidly toward boats of park visitors, then roll and rise from the water with their razor-sharp teeth biting at the crafts.

Eastport's challenge is to design and build the mechanical systems that make the sharks' movements look real.

Mr. Mullen said the Jaws ride will have "a pretty spectacular ending." He declined to disclose it, but said, "It gets pretty scary."

He said the Universal contract represents a new market where Eastport hopes to do more business. It recently concluded talks with Walt Disney Co. to lay the groundwork for possible theme park projects.

"Jaws," as the about 200 workers at Eastport call the Universal contract, is just the latest chapter in the history of a company that has had some thrills of its own.

Last year Eastport played a role in the murder and fraud conviction of the head of a political club in Austria. The case led two top government ministers to resign.

It centered on the sinking of the Lucona and a bid to collect an $18 million insurance policy on its alleged cargo, a uranium processing plant. But photos taken by an Eastport ROV of the ship's wreckage on the floor of Indian Ocean showed no uranium plant. They did present evidence that the vessel had been blown apart by a bomb inside.

It was an Eastport ROV that recovered the sections of the space shuttle Challenger's booster rocket containing the faulty O-ring responsible for the 1986 explosion. More recently, its sea rover found more than 400 drums of arsenic trioxide that were swept from a container ship during a storm off Cape May, N.J., in January.

Eastport was formed in 1966 as a unit of Aluminum Co. of America. Mr. Mullen and two partners bought it in 1989.

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