BethShip shifts policy, seeks long-term work Change seen as positive sign yard might be sold

December 21, 1996|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

BethShip Inc., the Sparrows Point shipyard that is threatened with closure, has reversed a policy of taking only short-term work, suggesting that the yard might soon be sold.

Art Roth, a spokesman for Bethlehem Steel Corp., the yard's owner, declined to comment except to say, "I'm not denying it and I'm not confirming it."

But Murphy Thornton, the president of Local Lodge S33 of the Industrial Union of Marine & Shipbuilding Workers of America, said BethShip is seeking long-term work.

He said that decision may indicate confidence by the company that the shipyard will be sold.

"I'm viewing it as a positive signal," Thornton said.

Bethlehem Steel said in October it would close the 700-employee BethShip, which has suffered from a weak ship repair market, unless the steel giant could find a buyer by early next year.

Before that announcement, the shipyard had turned down one project that would have lasted well into next year, partially to limit its commitments in case a shutdown became necessary. The yard currently has work that will last into March.

Thornton said BethShip officials told him Wednesday that it will seek a contract to work on the USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship. "It's a pretty good-sized job," he said.

He said the job would start in March and last "about six to eight months."

"Clearly, an operating company has more value than a closed shipyard," said attorney and Orioles chief executive Peter Angelos, who has submitted a proposal to buy the yard. "That reflects an awareness on the part of the company that they will get their best price by keeping the shipyard functioning."

"If the yard wasn't going to be sold and Bethlehem didn't have what it considered to be reasonable offers, they would close it down," said Richard Singer, a real estate developer and a member of Angelos' group. "They wouldn't incur the obligations and liabilities of keeping it open."

As the deadline to find a buyer approached, Angelos' group remained the only publicly identified prospect. Former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a consultant for Angelos' group, has said she believes three other parties want to buy BethShip.

Singer said he doubted the number of potential rivals is that high. "Nobody can find out who else is bidding," he said. "I'm sure there is one other at least. But I would be surprised if there were three."

Pub Date: 12/21/96

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