New owner of shipyard scrambles for business Comeback: Some workers are back on the job at the former Bethlehem Steel shipyard as Veritas Capital's Baltimore Marine Industries arranges ship repair deals.

October 10, 1997|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

A week after Veritas Capital Inc. bought Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s dormant Sparrows Point shipyard, a few workers are back on the job and management is trying to drum up new business.

The 200-acre shipyard is mostly barren, with neither a person nor a ship anywhere near its huge dry dock -- an eerie sight in a vast yard that once sustained 8,000 workers.

But in the yard's fabricating shop yesterday, Ulysses Eure, 49, was finally working again after a two-month layoff. "It's great to be back," he said.

A 26-year veteran of the yard, Eure was one of 900 workers who saw deals with WHX Corp. and Baltimore Orioles Chief Executive Peter G. Angelos collapse before Veritas, a New York-based merchant banking fund, came along.

Eure had been out of work since early August, one of hundreds of workers laid off over several months as Bethlehem prepared to sell or close the yard. "When things happened like they did, you got to a point where you didn't know what was going to come next," Eure said.

An automatic burning machine operator, Eure returned Oct. 2, the day the Veritas deal closed. Yesterday, he was working on a project for Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point plate mill, a segment of the yard's steel fabrication market.

In all, 65 people were working at the yard yesterday -- up from a skeleton crew two weeks earlier of about 30.

Veritas bought the struggling yard for about $16 million, a little more than half of Bethlehem's original asking price. The New York-based merchant fund will get help from a state financing package of approximately $7 million. Veritas also negotiated a labor contract that includes a 75 cent reduction in the average hourly wage of $13.47, pushing it well below $13.

Since the deal became final, the new management has replaced BethShip Inc. signs with those bearing the company's new name, Baltimore Marine Industries Inc.

And the management team, which will stay the same, cemented deals to bring three repair jobs into the yard this month.

The Royal Majesty, due on Oct. 27, will provide work for about 200 people over 10 days. The Baltimore Trader, a Hale Intermodal Transport Co. barge, will arrive at the end of next week and employ 40 people for about a week. The Lone Range, a yacht arriving at the end of the month, will put about 20 people to work for a week.

It's a modest start. But workers say it's meaningful not only because the yard faced closure if it had not been sold, but also because the yard missed the profitable cruise ship season as negotiations dragged on.

"Our cruise customers had to go elsewhere because we could not assure them that we would re-open for business," said Dave Watson, the former president of BethShip Inc. who now serves as chief executive officer of Baltimore Marine Industries.

Armed with lower costs under its new owner, the yard is calling on customers in search of business. Watson, who plans to meet with cruise ship operators next week in Miami, said he thinks the yard will sustain between 400 and 500 workers by the end of the first quarter of 1998.

When the yard gets work, it won't have any trouble finding people to do it, said Lonnie Vick, financial officer of Local Lodge S-33 of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding workers.

Since the middle of September, about 400 workers have completed the safety training required for them to return to the yard -- 95 percent of those on the list of people who would be called back first. Another 300 to 400 are waiting to take the 12-hour training course, Vick said.

"There's a lot of eagerness," Vick said. "They're looking forward to going back to work with the new owner."

Pub Date: 10/10/97

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