BethShip gets pact for work on 2 ships $20.5 million contract is biggest in 2 years

September 20, 1995|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s BethShip division received its biggest contract in two years yesterday when the Sparrows Point shipyard was notified that it has been selected to overhaul two Navy cargo ships at a cost of $20.5 million.

"This is a big contract for us," said BethShip spokesman Ted Baldwin. "It will be seven or eight months of steady work. It's the kind of contract that adds stability to our work force for a long time."

The contract, to renovate the USS El Paso and USS Mobile, will not create any new jobs at Sparrows Point, said Mr. Baldwin, "but it will keep the 800 people here working for some time."

Mr. Baldwin said that in recent years much of the work at BethShip has been "smaller jobs involving ships in quick turnarounds. A ship would come in for four days, be repaired and leave. Some would turn around in 10 days."

Once the repairs are completed, the two Navy vessels will be used to transport tactical equipment used by the Marine Corps in amphibious assaults, according to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who announced the award.

Mr. Baldwin said the first of the two ships is scheduled to arrive at Sparrows Point in the first quarter of next year, "probably in February. My guess is that the second will arrive in the second quarter."

He said an average of 200 people will be working on the two ships for a period of eight months.

The shipyard currently employs 800 workers, and Mr. Baldwin said that if the yard is successful in landing any of the several dozen contracts it is currently bidding on there could be an increase in employment.

BethShip had as many as 5,000 workers in the mid 1970s when it was involved in the construction of five oil-carrying supertankers. Employment dropped to a low of 400 last summer.

Mr. Baldwin said yesterday's award did not involve the shipyard's newly restored status as a so-called home port. He said the contract was from the Military Sealift Command in Bayonne, N.J.

Baltimore's home port status, which allowed it to bid on short-term ship repairs -- those that take less than six months -- was canceled in June by Navy Secretary John H. Dalton when he ruled that yards bidding on repair contracts could be no farther than 75 miles from the ship's base. Previously the distance had been 165 miles.

But Mr. Dalton reversed his decision in August.

Mr. Baldwin said this would help Sparrows Point win more work, but he was not aware of a new contract as a result of the reversal.

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