The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Seward Ship's Drydock considers offer


Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix LOG

Seward Ships Drydock with a full plate last summer. Owner Jim Pruitt says the facility's work calendar remains full up.

Seward Ship's Drydock Inc, which leases land from the City of Seward at Seward Marine Industrial Center, and manages the shipyard facility is considering an offer by another company to purchase the shipyard, but to date nothing has been finalized and there is no signed agreement, said Jim Pruitt, the shipyard owner.

He denied rumors that the shipyard had already been sold to another company. Without naming the company they have been talking with, Pruitt said it was just one of several interested parties that have approached him over the 40 years since he bought the facility.

That said, Pruitt is 69 years old, and has been looking at retiring. Furthermore, he added, the shipyard is in much better shape than it's ever been, having been steadily built up over the years. Meanwhile, the workload has been getting better, and the facility is already booked through April.

"We started up on a field. We had a platform, not even a transfer rail. We probably didn't do ourselves any favors trying to haul boats out without any structure. Now it's a full fledged operation, and is getting up on all cylinders. So the yard's busy. It's been taking a long time coming."

Any transfer of the lease agreement to another company would be subject to the approval of the Seward City Council, said Assistant City Manager Ron Long. The council has been paving the way for such a deal to occur, however. In June 2012, the city extended the ground lease with Seward Ship's to the year 2040, stating that such a long-term lease would make it more attractive to investors.

The city also plans to greatly develop SMIC, beginning with the construction of a new protective breakwater and harbor dredging. The city is lobbying the state and federal governments to provide the final $7.9 million needed to enable construction project to begin.

As Alaska's only year-round ice-free harbor, Seward has already begun witnessing the Arctic region's nascent shipping boom. Its docks and the shipyard have already seen Shell Oil exploration and support vessels, U.S. Coast Guard vessels and vessels from the Coastal Villages Region Fund fishing fleet, formerly from Seattle.

Vigor Shipyards, based in Seattle already has seven shipyards and has been steadily acquiring more, and is rumored to be the interested company. It owns shipyards in Washington State including Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Bremerton and Port Angeles, it has a sister shipyard in Portland, Ore., and also recently acquired Ketchikan's industrial shipyard and employs 120 workers year-round.

Vigor partners with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard to help maintain fleet-readiness in the Pacific Northwest, the Polar Regions, and worldwide, according to its website. It has been working with the Coast Guard to return American heavy icebreakers to the Arctic and Antarctic, and to build new, more efficient patrol-cutters. It maintains U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, repairs and modernizes destroyers, frigates, and more in its yards.

Last year was particularly busy, but tough for Seward Ship's. In handling a $6.2 contract to repair the M/V Ferry Tustumena, the company received 180 change orders for extra welding work on deteriorated steel plates in the hull of the 50-year-old ferry that were only discovered during the repair process. It also had to install a control-monitoring system. This caused lengthy delays to the planned completion-date and the ferry was unable to provide services to Southwest Alaska throughout the summer. Some of the change orders were paid by the state, but $4 million in payment for additional work done is outstanding, and Seward Ship's has filed a claim with the Alaska Marine Highway System to recover that funding, Pruitt said.

The shipyard also may have a new EPA inspection hurdle to clear.

In March 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency was petitioned to re-assess areas of the shipyard operations for contamination in order to see if it would classify as a Federal Superfund Cleanup Site. In 2007, EPA determined that it would not, and that no further action would be taken unless new information came to light.

On Jan. 16 the EPA notified the shipyard that new information regarding site conditions that were not previously investigated had been brought to its attention: four sumps that connect to the center transfer pit that connect to a French drain and that discharge to the subsurface. The agency has directed the shipyard to provide more information on its drainage system, and informed the company that it may require consent to visit and inspect it.

"We have inspections from time to time, it's part of doing business," Pruitt said. The shipyard has been looked at through a microscope, and the yard is clean, he added. Any sale would require an environmental baseline study.

"If it sells it sells. My concern is whoever takes it over, takes it to the next level. I'm concerned about keeping my people, keeping them working. I've been in business here since '72, and it's been a labor of love."


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