Three shipyards vie for fast ferry contract

Winning bidder could build 2 out of 4 catamarans planned

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2001

A second attempt by the state to hire a shipyard to build fast ferries netted responses from three companies that competed for the contract the first time around.

Derecktor Shipyards of New York, Eastern Shipbuilding of Florida, and Austal USA, an Australian company with a shipyard in Alabama, have submitted technical proposals for the project, said Philip Grasser, marine engineering manager of the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The state will review the proposals to determine if the companies are qualified to build two of at least four high-speed aluminum catamarans capable of speeds up to 32 knots. The shipyards that make it through the initial screenings will have a chance to bid on the contract to be awarded in December, Grasser said.

This is the second time the state has tried to award the fast ferry contract. During the first attempt in 2000, five companies filed technical proposals but only one submitted a complete bid to build a ferry slated to run between Juneau and Sitka. The state in April rejected the $35.99 million bid by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Washington state, calling it "nonresponsive."

In June, the state Department of Transportation issued a new and expanded request for proposals after consulting with shipbuilders who competed in 2000. The revised RFP is for two fast ferries - the Juneau-Sitka vessel and a ferry for Prince William Sound - with an option for two more. Both ferries will carry 250 passengers and the equivalent of 35 sport utility vehicles. The Juneau-Sitka ferry is the only vessel fully funded so far.

Although Derecktor Shipyards, Eastern Shipbuilding, and Austal USA fell out of contention the first time, Grasser was confident the state would find a qualified candidate among them.

"We're going to get a shipbuilder. I've been to all these yards and I have confidence we're going to have a contract in December," Grasser said.

Derecktor Shipyards dropped out last time because its bonding agent went out of business and the shipyard didn't have enough time to line up alternate bonding, Grasser said. Eastern Shipyards didn't have experience building aluminum vessels, but the business is "beefing up" its expertise, he said. Austal USA didn't make the cut in 2000 because its Alabama shipyard still was under construction. However, the new shipyard is operating now and the company is building vessels there, he said.

"It's quite a different company than it was a year ago," Grasser said.

Brian Nichols of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders said some of the state's conditions in the first contract were unacceptable, including terms on liability and bonding. The state resolved some of the company's concerns in its second request for proposals, he said. However, the shipyard decided not to bid again after it got another contract.

"The No. 1 reason we pulled out is we are too busy," Nichols said.

Kathy Dye can be reached at

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