Singapore Defense Contractor To Buy Coast Shipyards

A Virginia company is buying Halter Marine's Gulf Coast shipyards for $66 million, providing the firm's parent, a major Singapore defense contractor, an entry into U.S. shipbuilding and repair.

The bid from Vision Technologies Kinetics Inc., a subsidiary of Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd., was approved Wednesday by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Biloxi. Gulfport-based Friede Goldman Halter, which owns Halter Marine, has been in bankruptcy since April 2001 and is selling parts of the company as it restructures.

The deal with VTK Inc. includes Halter Marine shipyards in Mississippi and Louisiana, its headquarters in Gulfport and about 800 employees. The sale is expected to close in the next 30 days.

"Halter has continued to do business as a premier vessel builder throughout the bankruptcy process,'' said Anil Raj, Friede Goldman Halter's chief operating officer. "This change will allow the new VT-Halter to start new projects as well as options on existing contracts.''

A spokeswoman for VTK, based in Alexandria, Va., said company officials would not be available for comment until Friday. Singapore Technologies Engineering is a holding company for a group of engineering firms divided into four business segments: aerospace, electronics, land systems and marine. The company has more than 10,000 employees and reported sales of $1.3 billion in 2001, according to Hoover's Online.

Cynthia Brown, president of the American Shipbuilding Association, said Singapore Technologies has no presence at present in the U.S. shipbuilding and repair market, "but they've been sniffing around.''

"They've been trying to penetrate the American defense market for several years, and this would seem to give them an entry,'' Brown said.

VTK won a bidding war for Halter Marine with Louisiana-based Bollinger Shipyards Inc., which in May made a so-called "stalking-horse'' bid of $48 million.

"We had an asset purchase agreement in place for the sale of the company to Bollinger,'' said Friede spokesman Larry Walker. "If no bidders had come forward, they would have gotten the company for $48 million. Others, in this case, came forward and it worked out well for everyone -  with, perhaps, the exception of Bollinger.''

Bollinger filed a motion with the court to thwart VTK's bid, but it was rejected. In a statement, the privately held company said it was "disappointed in the outcome of the auction proceedings.''

Friede Goldman Halter has sold various parts of the company since its Chapter 11 filing. What's left is Friede Goldman Offshore, its division that builds and repairs large drilling and production rigs for the offshore energy industry. Walker said the company's plans are to reorganize Friede Goldman Offshore to operate once the company emerges from bankruptcy, but he did not rule out a sale if an appropriate offer were made.

The company's financial problems stemmed from four deep-water rigs that were mired in contract disputes between Friede and two customers.