2 huge ships shifting here for 5 years Antares and Capella may mean as many as 225 jobs

Floridians are resisting

Berths await arrival at Clinton Street Marine Terminal

The Port

January 15, 1996|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,SUN STAFF

Baltimore will be the new home port for two massive U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command ships scheduled to arrive here today and tomorrow, a move expected to generate nearly $90 million for the local economy over the next five years.

The USNS Antares and the USNS Capella are being moved to Baltimore from Jacksonville, Fla., by Keystone Ship Berthing, the Maryland subsidiary of the Sealift Companies of Houston that won the Navy contract to manage the ships with a $2.6 million bid.

Keystone has contracted with the Maryland Port Administration to berth the 946-foot-long ships at the Clinton Street Marine Terminal, a finger pier that has not been used for years.

Keystone already manages the Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, which has been berthed here for eight years. The company expects to bring two other, smaller, supply ships to Baltimore sometime in the spring and berth them at South Locust Point.

In addition, Fort McHenry Shipyard Inc., which currently has the Ready Reserve ship SS Wright, a helicopter supply ship, at its Key Highway shipyard, expects to bring four more supply vessels to Baltimore, also in the spring. Two would be tied up at piers leased from Rukert Terminals Corp., and the other two would perhaps go to the Fort McHenry Yard, according to company official Robert C. Stout.

The arrival of the Antares and the Capella, used for moving heavy military equipment during wartime, will mean as many as 225 jobs for this area. Each ship carries a nucleus crew of 22, many of whom are expected to relocate here, and the other jobs would be created in providing services that the ships require.

The ships, which are nearly as long as aircraft carriers, will require utilities, repair and maintenance services, food, fuel and other commodities, according to state officials.

"These ships are like floating cities and they will depend on local businesses to provide everything from dry docking and fuel to food and paper towels," said Maryland Transportation Secretary David Winstead.

The cost of fuel and oil, for instance, is estimated at $20 million over the next five years, while food is projected to cost $1 million and utilities $5 million.

Salaries for crew are estimated at $13 million over the five years.

During the past four months, Sealift has spent more than $1.5 million to widen the Clinton Street pier and dredge to 34 feet there, according to company President Bill Burgstiner.

Mr. Burgstiner, whose company has managed the Comfort here for the past eight years, said he hopes in five years to again win the Navy contract and keep the Antares and the Capella in Baltimore. "Initially, we won't make much money and the port won't either, but this will create jobs here," he said.

The ships could be particularly significant to the hard-hit ship repair industry in Baltimore.

"The ship-repair people are going to love them," he said. "They spend an inordinate amount of money in dry-docking."

Costs for dry-docking, repairs and maintenance are estimated at $45 million over the five-year period.

The movement of the ships to Baltimore, however, is being challenged in federal court by Maritime Management Inc., the Florida company that has managed them there for the past five years and was underbid by Keystone.

H. Scott Hilaman, president of Maritime Management, contended that the shift to Baltimore would cost the Jacksonville economy millions of dollars. In addition, he said, Baltimore's Clinton Street pier did not meet the Navy's technical specifications regarding depth and length of pier. The Navy rejected that argument.

The lawsuit is pending, although a federal judge last week

rejected the company's attempts to secure a temporary restraining order to prevent the vessels from leaving Jacksonville.

According to Navy spokeswoman Trish Larson, the ships are scheduled to arrive in Baltimore this afternoon and tomorrow morning. The Antares and the Capella are two of the eight Fast Sealift Ships in the Military Sealift Command's strategic sealift 00 force, which positions vessels all over the country in order to move supplies for military ships.

The two ships, originally built for CSX's Sea-Land Service, were purchased by the Navy in the early 1980s and converted to roll-on, roll-off vessels to carry tanks, jeeps and other military vehicles and are capable of carrying up to 500 pieces at a time. They have a top speed of 33 knots an hour.

They also have helicopter landing pads on the top deck. Because of their speed, they are ideal for moving military equipment for heavy armored divisions in wartime. The ships being moved to Baltimore, for instance, were used to transport ++ equipment to the Middle East during Desert Storm. They can be fully activated within five days.

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