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U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration Administrator Mark H. Buzby reported at a March 2019 hearing on U.S. Maritime and Shipbuilding Industries, that 90 percent of global shipbuilding occurs in three countries—China, Korea and Japan.
According to a 2015 report by the Eno Center for Transportation, an unbiased expert source of information on critical and emerging topics in transportation, less than one-third of one percent of shipbuilding occurred in the United States.
And despite these staggering statistics, Jacksonville is still home to a thriving—if small—environment that builds and repairs ships and provides supplies to those who do.
Steve Ganoe, Owner of St. Johns Ship Building, based in Palatka, Florida said there is “quite a bit” of shipbuilding that occurs in Northeast Florida—and sets the region apart from the rest of the state. “Other areas in Florida cater only to recreational boats or yachts while some ports have little to no capacity. It’s really unique what we have here.”
Robert Peek, JAXPORT’s Director/General Manager, Sales and Marketing, agrees, calling it an “an important but quiet sector.” He adds the region’s broader maritime industry “relies on each other for business.”
Nowhere is that truer than W&O Supply, which began providing piping products for ships and shipyards in 1975. The company remains headquartered in Jacksonville to this date with a presence in locations around the world.
“Our location has allowed W&O to prosper with a strong maritime workforce, attractive and affordable location for employee transfers, and a strong economic climate in Northeast Florida especially with the success of the local and surrounding ports,” said Tammy Emerson, W&O’s Market Leader, Florida.
Here is a look at a few of the companies prospering in various aspects of shipbuilding in Northeast Florida.
BAE Systems is a massive conglomerate with more than 85,000 employees worldwide. Its focus includes land and air innovations as well as cybersecurity and electronics. Its sea operations include the design, manufacture, and repair of surface ships, submarines, torpedoes, radar, and command and combat systems.
In Jacksonville, ship repair operations are based at the intersection of the St. Johns River and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, and at Mayport Naval Station. Recent work includes the modernization of several guided missile cruisers. The local facility includes a floating dry dock with a 13,500-ton lift, a marine railway with a 4,000-ton lift, and crane capacity of up to 150 tons.
NORTH FLORIDA SHIPYARDS
Another longtime firm—having begun in 1977—North Florida Shipyards maintains two facilities for ship repair and conversion. Commodore’s Point and Mayport Naval Station operations provide vessel conversion, dry-docking and repair services for commercial and government clients.
The company’s skills include blasting and coating; diesel and steam propulsion; HVAC systems; hydraulics; joiner work; lagging; material and logistics control; piping; rigging; rudder and propeller repairs; and steel fabrication and installation.
ST. JOHNS SHIP BUILDING
Located on the St. Johns River, the full-service shipbuilding and marine repair facility is a “viable resource for drydocking, layberth dockage areas and repairs,” Ganoe said.
The facility includes a 1,200-ton dry dock, two rail launch systems, a large fabrication shop, and a 400-foot launch basin. It also includes complete carpentry, electrical, and machine shops.
In 2017, the company launched a 190-foot landing craft vessel, Grand Master II, for Bahamas Ferries, designed for cargo transport among the islands.
It was one of three landing crafts ordered by Caribbean transport groups. Other recent projects include a 267-foot dump scow barge, a 157-foot offshore support vehicle, a 190-foot landing craft, a 180-foot deck barge and a 30,000-barrel tank barge. The company also crafts custom house boats and can handle just about any type of repair.
W&O operates 17 branches in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. The company’s Jacksonville location is home to a staff of 81, including corporate headquarters, a local branch, and a 45,000-square-foot central distribution facility. The product line has expanded from the original piping to include valves, fittings, engineered products, and automation. All products are focused on the marine and upstream oil and gas industries, Emerson said.
The company, which had a record-breaking year in 2019 thanks to a strong economy and military rebuilding, sees continued growth with the deepening of the Jacksonville port. “As a global distributor of pipe, valves, fittings, and other engineered solutions, W&O thrives on a healthy economy in shipbuilding and ship repair. With the Jacksonville port busier with larger vessels, there are more maritime companies setting up local offices and more port traffic, which all means opportunity for W&O and other companies that service the maritime industry.”
Story by Sandy Smith