Few shipyards have the flexibility to build their infrastructure to meet the needs of a specific ship program, but Florida-based Eastern Shipbuilding Group does just that.
On October 10, 2018, three years ago this Sunday, ESG was directly affected by Hurricane Michael, the third strongest Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in the United States. He wiped off most of the major shipyards on Eastern, Nelson Street, Panama City. Now, just three years after the storm devastated the region, ESG has completely rebuilt its facilities from scratch. Turning adversity into opportunity, she used this pristine starting point to optimize her yard layout for a very specific program. Its Nelson Street shipyard is now designed for (and dedicated to) the U.S. Coast Guard’s highest acquisition priority – the Offshore Patrol Cutter program.
The success of the project with the OPC is the story of an impressive rebound. Eastern Shipbuilding won the Coast Guard’s first Offshore Patrol Cutter contract in 2016, beating defense industry heavyweights Bollinger and Bath Iron Works. After two years of design review and preparation, it received final approval to go ahead with construction at the end of September 2018. Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Michael took off. made landfall in Panama City as a Category 5 storm, with winds of up to 160 miles per hour. Most of the buildings at the Nelson Street yard have been extensively damaged or destroyed, and one commercial project nearing completion – the fishing boat North Star – partially capsized.
The North Star was badly damaged in Hurricane Michael when it was nearing completion (left), and has since been successfully repaired and delivered (right).
The storm also took a heavy toll on the surrounding community. About 69 percent of all homes in the Panama City area suffered damage from wind or storm surges, including the homes of many ESG employees. The company decided to provide direct assistance by creating temporary shelters on its own land.
“We were faced with a decision. When you get hit so hard, you know, do you lie down or immediately get up and fight? Our company, our people, our community, chose to stand up immediately. We started fixing our facilities again, getting our employees back to work, helping our friends, neighbors and employees, ”said Joey D’Isernia, President of Eastern Shipbuilding.
ESG reached out to its partners and raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for the employees most affected by the storm damage. For those who have found themselves completely homeless, the company has set up a temporary housing community on site, giving 100 workers the chance to get their lives back on track and continue earning a regular salary. It was a team effort, D’Isernia says, with the generous support of longtime business partners.
ESG has set up a temporary accommodation community for workers in need (ESG)
Business partners, suppliers and other supporters provided relief supplies to workers affected by the storm (ESG)
“We have treated our customers and suppliers with the utmost respect, and in return, they really came to our aid after the storm,” says D’Isernia. “With their support, we transformed our warehouse into a temporary Costco filled with relief supplies. We had everything and everything you can imagine, and our employees and their families were able to come and shop for free. “
In less than a week, relying on temporary energy sources, Eastern reopened its Allanton shipyard and set up temporary spaces to continue OPC production engineering. This allowed Eastern to start cutting steel in January 2019, just in time for the initial schedule of the first OPC. In just a few weeks, ESG has brought 80% of its employees back to work. By taking care of its workforce, Eastern kept production moving and laid the groundwork for a successful rebound.
“Today we are moving forward with full steam and a new sense of vigor,” D’Isernia said. “This is the third year after Hurricane Michael and we are fine in the first ship – it’s fully assembled.”
ESG is competing for the next phase of the OPC contract, which covers the next 11 vessels in the series. This is a massive multi-billion dollar deal, and Eastern is pushing hard. He built a dedicated on-site C5ISR integration facility, allowing all of the sophisticated electronic components of the OPC to be tested together prior to installation. The company also invested in a high-end aluminum fabrication plant at the Nelson Street site, which is now nearing completion.
ESG has also completely rebuilt its second yard in nearby Allanton, which manages the company’s commercial shipbuilding portfolio. The company also added a brand new facility in the town of Port St. Joe, located about 30 miles to the southwest. This new site has a long wharf and plenty of space to work on final fit-up or surface repair work. The yard is new Ollis– Class ferries for the ferry system from Staten Island to New York are getting their finishing touches at the Port St. Joe shipyard, and the first of the three ship series was just delivered in August.
Fortunately, Eastern did not have to tap into federal relief funds to rebuild its facilities. Reconstruction was financed by insurance proceeds, and infrastructure expansion works were financed by $ 50 million in state credits and economic development grants.
The number one goal of Eastern’s investment program is to meet the Coast Guard’s production needs of two OPC hulls per year, with the capacity to go up to three per year if desired.
“All we did, both before and after the storm, was position ourselves to deliver excellence in shipbuilding to the Coast Guard and win those tracking vessels. We want to be “the OPC factory,” D’Isernia said.
The OPC contract is an opportunity for the site, but it is also of significant importance for the rest of the community. ESG is the county’s largest private employer, and it pays a solid salary without requiring a college degree. Many of its employees have been with the company for their entire careers, right out of high school. This opportunity is still available for the next generation: ESG is actively adding to its workforce of 1,300 people today, and it sponsors two professional programs to give new applicants the skills they need.
“At the end of the day, I think it comes down to really treating people fairly,” D’Isernia says. “And the rest tend to take care of themselves.”