IDEX: Small Louisiana Boat-Maker Hopes for Big Saudi Win

By Stew Magnuson

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — A U.S. boat maker is vying to win a major Saudi Arabian contract for coastal patrol vessels that could mean thousands of new jobs for economically depressed southern Louisiana.
The Saudi Arabian coast guard is looking to buy a series of new boats, said Craig Arndt, director of business development at Swiftships Shipbuilders LLC. The Morgan City, La., company is the only U.S. manufacturer in the running in a crowded field.
Swiftships and its parent company, Sewart Seacraft, built the legendary swift boats of the Vietnam War. Since 1949, it has constructed some 3,110 ships ranging from 30 to 225 feet. It has more than 100 designs in its portfolio.
It recently moved its corporate office to Washington, D.C., although its main shipyard is in Morgan City.
The IDEX show this year introduced a new section, NAVDEX, which is alongside a cove across a walkway from the massive Exhibition Center. Among the numerous shipbuilders there from India, South Korea, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Italy, Swiftships was the only U.S. boat manufacturer.
Swiftships has a strong customer base in the Middle East. It's building a 35-meter patrol boat for the Iraqi Navy, two 54-meter diving support vessels for Kuwait, and a 28-meter patrol boat for the Egyptian Navy, which will be co-produced in Alexandria.
The shipyard employs about 450 workers now, but winning the Saudi contract would mean adding another 1,000 to 1,500 personnel, he said.
It would expand into the Michoud Assembly Facility in east New Orleans, where the external fuel tanks for NASA's space shuttle were once made. Local officials have been keen on finding new companies to occupy the yard now that the shuttle is nearing its final missions.
"We will take up the entire final assembly area if we win the Saudi contract," Arndt said. If it is a five to 10 year program, Swiftships may have to construct new facilities in addition to occupying most of the existing buildings.
About 10 shipbuilders, mostly in Europe and Australia, are vying for the contract. There will be four classes of vessels, and Swiftships submitted bids on all of them. Technical evaluations are currently ongoing, and there may be a down-select to three companies as early as this month, he said.
"It's hard to compare apples to apples to see where everybody is, but we are well positioned," he said.
Keep watching National Defense Magazine’s blog for daily reports from the 2011 IDEX and NAVDEX exhibitions at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 21-24.
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Topics: Shipbuilding

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