U.S. gives BethShip 6 months of work

December 02, 1993|By David Conn | David Conn,Staff Writer

Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point shipyard has been awarded its second major ship repair job this fall, a $33.7 million contract that should keep all 1,200 of its workers employed at the yard for at least six months.

The contract, announced yesterday, means BethShip should be able to retain the 600 employees who were recalled to the yard in October to work on a similar contract, according to Bethlehem spokesman Henry Von Spreckelsen. Another 600 have been working on other jobs at the Baltimore County site.

Mr. Von Spreckelsen said the company was "anticipating the award" but hadn't received a formal announcement yet.

A spokesman for the U.S. Maritime Administration, which is awarding the contract, said it was to be signed by the end of the day yesterday.

If additional funding becomes available, said spokesman John Swank, the contract could be worth as much as $45.3 million.

The contract is to renovate three ships for the U.S. Ready Reserve Fleet of cargo ships used for military operations. Work on the newly renamed Cape Rise, Cape Ray and Cape Race -- formerly the Saudi Riyadh, Saudi Makkah and the G&C Admiral -- should take about four months each, according to an announcement about the contract from U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's office.

The ships are roll-on, roll-off vessels, commonly called ro-ro ships, which have side doors that allow vehicles to be driven on and off. The ships must be put into dry dock and coated, repaired and converted for their new roles as part of the Ready Reserve Fleet.

BethShip was awarded a $27 million contract in September to renovate two 10-year-old Polish-built ro-ro ships, also for the Ready Reserve Fleet, which resulted in the recall of the 600 workers.

Work on one of the ships is done, but the other still will be in the yard when the first of the three "Cape" ships arrives, according to Mr. Von Spreckelsen.

"Obviously our people would be very very busy trying to find additional business between now and [May]" if this latest contract hadn't come through, he added.

Employment at the shipyard, once one of Baltimore County's largest private employers, was as high as 2,600 people in 1981, but it has tailed off substantially, reaching a low of about 900 people in 1992. Not since 1988, when 1,700 people worked at Sparrows Point, has the work force been as large as it is today, Mr. Von Spreckelsen said.

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