As a kid growing up near the Brooklyn shipyards, I always marveled at the phenomena of massive hulks of steel staying afloat while moving people and cargo to and fro. Although I endeavored in law enforcement and neither the maritime industry nor the physics involved, I still get awestruck with sea-faring vessels, including how they are constructed. My police career being spent in the Tampa Bay, Florida region brought me to the downtown courthouse many times. Just down the street is the shipyard where myriad vessels from all over the globe are tugged-in to receive maintenance, welding reparations, and facelifts. It is where the Port of Tampa also receives the gargantuan cruise ships which dock for a brief respite, scoop up vacationers, and head back out to sea.
Not too many miles away is the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, billed as one of the Coast Guard’s largest air stations staffed by nearly 600 USCG personnel.
Given our country’s national security woes and the ongoing federal government tussle over border wall security and such, the Department of Homeland Security —wielding the USCG’s parental hands— had preemptively placed purchase orders for new Coast Guard vessels to combat the relentless nefarious transnational actors as well as cater its renowned life-saving search/rescue expertise.
Along with Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Inc. (ESG), the outfit to which it granted quite lucrative ship-building purchase orders, the U.S. Coast Guard recently announced the initial construction of Patrol Cutter Argus, its newest maritime marvel among its seafaring fleet (cover photo, artist’s rendering). Behind the Argus will be a duplicate Patrol Cutter-class vessel called the Chase, with even more grand plans beyond those two projects.
According to an Eastern Shipbuilding press release, the federal government contracted for “Offshore Patrol Cutters to replace the Medium Endurance Cutters currently in service. The contract includes options for production of up to nine (9) vessels and has a potential total value of $2.38 billion dollars. On September 7, 2017 the U.S. Coast Guard exercised ESG’s contract option for Long Lead Time Material (LLTM) for the first Offshore Patrol Cutter, USCGC Argus. The Coast Guard plans to acquire a total of twenty-five (25) Offshore Patrol Cutters.” Whopping sale with handsome revenues equals a better-tuned and contemporary cadre of water-borne crafts to ensure national security woes wading a monumental playing field. No chump change involved, and the irony is that this is publicized concurrent with the government shutdown resulting in reopening…followed by the lurk of another lights-out debacle misguided by elected ones.
But the national security show must go on.
As ESG executives spelled it out: “The OPC will provide a capability bridge between the National Security Cutter, which patrols the open ocean in the most demanding maritime environments, and the Fast Response Cutter, which serves closer to shore.” Makes sense as to vessel size and operational allocations. As its class name implies, the smaller Offshore Patrol Cutter can effectively navigate closer to landmass and, if need be, deploy dinghies to creep even closer to shore, sans running aground. When completed, the Argus will possess “the capability of carrying an MH-60R or MH-65 Helicopter and three operational Over-The-Horizon (OTH) small boats,” those dinghies to which I referred.
Defense and firepower? The Argus is outfitted with a “highly sophisticated combat system and C4ISR (command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) suite that will enhance capabilities to execute the service’s missions,” according to the Eastern Shipbuilding specifications publicized on their website.
Regarding the Argus (and subsequently the Chase), once Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) program specs were met with approval by DHS and USCG officials, the next step was to ensure “detail design is integrated and internally consistent with the USCG requirements” greenlighting the “exercise of the contract option for construction of the first hull USCGC Argus,” as per the ESG press release. It appeared all thumbs were up…until Mother Nature vomited on the blueprints and building base.
Eastern Shipbuilding is located in Panama City, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The same coast which, in October 2018, was ravaged by Hurricane Michael. Michael’s formidably intense power carved the heck out of the Panhandle and flattened pretty much every jurisdiction in its path. Panama City was among the geography to which Michael showed zero mercy. That factor delayed ESG’s contract obligations to DHS and the UCSG. However, 155-mph winds will grab the attention of everyone, including federal government officials, so the delay was understandable. Thanks to Hurricane Michael, mitigating severe damages sustained by ESG and their employees took a front-row seat. Regrouping is part of what the USCG does, so ESG was granted adequate time to retool the shipbuilding operation and its contractual plans.
As reported by Maritime-Executive.com, “The shipyard set up daily distribution of meals and goods to employees in need.” ESG built a makeshift community nearby its main shipbuilding plant, so that employees whose homes were damaged or completely demolished by Hurricane Michael could have relative restoration, some normalcy in their lives, and financial replenishment by getting back to building boats for national security purposes. A GoFundMe page named Eastern Shipbuilding Employee Fund was set up to facilitate financial supports for ESG employees and their families. As of this writing, the Fund has received over $210,000 toward its $1.5 million goal; it is still active and receiving monetary donations.
In due time, all hands were once again on deck. Well, definitely handling the hull nowadays.
Skin in the Game
Recently, ESG exalted when it announced the first layers of skin in the game; steel foundations of the Argus hull have been cut, fabricated, and assembled as the foundational steps for crafting the Argus hull. From there it is a build-up until it forms an incredible hulk with cutting-edge instrumentation and the engineered integrity to withstand oftentimes treacherous seas.
ESG published a press release on January 28, 2019, boasting its “steel-cutting” process while projecting the completion of “keel laying of Argus later this year.”
Joey D’Isernia, Eastern Shipbuilding Group owner, founder and president, stated, “Today represents a monumental day and reflects the dedication of our workforce – the ability to overcome and perform even under the most strenuous circumstances and impacts of Hurricane Michael. ESG families have been dramatically impacted by the storm, and we continue to recover and help rebuild our shipyard and community. I cannot overstate enough how appreciative we are of all of our subcontractors’ and vendors’ contributions to our families during the recovery as well as the support we have received from our community partners. Hurricane Michael may have left its marks but it only strengthened our resolve to build the most sophisticated, highly capable national assets for the Coast Guard. Today’s success is just the beginning of the construction of the OPCs at ESG by our dedicated team of shipbuilders and subcontractors for our customer and partner, the United States Coast Guard. We are excited for what will be a great 2019 for Eastern Shipbuilding Group and Bay County, Florida.”
Currently operating two Florida-based shipyards, one in Bay County and the other in Gulf County, Eastern Shipbuilding Group is world renowned for crafting myriad vessels from fishing to firefighting vessels, from tow boats to tugs. In fact, the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) purchases its water-borne firefighting fleet from ESG. Since 1976, the ESG boatyard built and launched 350-plus maritime vessels among its portfolio.
It’s no wonder the USCG chose Eastern Shipbuilding pros to bolster the national security fleet for a nation whose immigration and contraband flows attempt to arrive by waterway. As Commandant of the USCG Admiral Paul Zukunft put it, “The OPC will be the backbone of Coast Guard offshore presence and the manifestation of our at-sea authorities. It is essential to stopping smugglers at sea, for interdicting undocumented migrants, rescuing mariners [in distress], enforcing fisheries laws, responding to disasters and protecting our ports.”
After diligent bidding among nine reputable shipbuilding entities, after four years of competition for the multi-billion dollar federal contract, the Coast Guard felt ESG stood out, awarding it the “largest vessel procurement contract in Coast Guard history…” According to the contract award newsletter, ESG is family-owned and employs over 1,500 in its boat-building niche. That family has the honor and privilege to construct the Patrol Cutter-class vessels, each of which is 360′ long and 54′ wide and ranging up to 8,500 nautical miles with a 60-day at-sea expectancy.
Dubbed the Coast Guard’s “workhorse,” the first of the twenty-five contracted Patrol Cutters, Argus is anticipated for fiscal year 2021 delivery to supplant some of the outdated and outmoded USCG vessels, per an interview with former Coast Guard Commandant and current ambassador representing Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Admiral Robert Papp. Jr. I bet the USCG’s maritime law enforcement officers are excited to get new rides. Now let’s go out with a splash of shipbuilding footage: