Coast Shipbuilder's Workload Doubles

A Coast shipbuilder is celebrating having twice its normal workload. On Friday, VT Halter Marine in Moss Point held a keel laying ceremony for not one, but two vessels. The CEO says it's the first time this has happened in the company's history.

Not long after one keel had been laid for a new NOAA vessel. It was time to do it again. Two keel layings in one ceremony isn't something VT HalterMarine is accustomed to.

"It's the first time we've had two keel layings which means we're starting two ships at the same time in this yard.," said Boyd "Butch" King, company CEO. "That means we're going to guarantee our workforce work for the next two years. It really shows how we've come back from Katrina and that we could do this accomplishment."

During the ceremony, Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher addressed the crowd.

"These two ships are extremely important because they are the latest in technology. They bring the United States from the bottom of the pile to the top of the pile in the world order."

NOAA officials say once built the Ferdinand Hassler, a costal mapping vessel, and the Bell Shimada, a research ship, will help shape our country's future.

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher said, "I think we're just at the edge of this technology. When we learn how to examine ecosystems with a ship that is so quiet it doesn't disturb any of the fish or any of the marine resources. and be able to really understand how things live under the water, then we're going to make enormous discoveries on how to take care of them."

The Vice Admiral says for NOAA to have two ships under construction is a dream since he agency could barely get the support to build one ship. VT Halter Marine says the government is not the only one helping to turn the tide in the shipbuilding industry.

CEO Boyd "Butch" King said, "Right now the forecast as I look at for the next three to five years is very positive. Both in the government sector and in the commercial sector. Things are starting to pick up in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil patch is picking up. We're getting a lot of inquiries into orders for commercial vessels also."

NOAA had a ship naming contest for high school students to determine what the new ships would be called. The winning students from Marina, California and Naugatuck, Connecticut attended keel laying ceremony.