Louisiana shipbuilders may dodge New Orleans yard closure

After months of intense lobbying, the Louisiana delegation clinched a commitment from the Navy that may keep a shipyard near New Orleans open.

The Navy is expected to announce Friday that the Avondale shipyard will be given the opportunity to keep building ships for the Navy. Defense giant Northrop Grumman, which owns Avondale, dealt a blow to already battered Louisiana when it announced plans to close Avondale in early 2013. Northrop Grumman at the time also indicated it may sell off or spin off its entire shipbuilding unit.

Avondale employs about 5,000 workers. Another 6,000 indirect jobs would have been affected by the closure.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) announced late Thursday that they secured a commitment from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus that the Navy will move up the construction of double-hulled tankers by three years to 2014 and ensure that the construction of two LPD-17 amphibious transport ships will be completed at the yard.

In an effort to keep thousands of jobs in her state, Landrieu had pressed Mabus earlier this year to use Avondale to update the nation's aging oilers.

The new timeline for constructing double-hulled tankers "would provide an opportunity for Avondale to compete for new contracts beginning in 2014, making the facility more attractive to prospective new shipbuilding buyers," Landrieu said in a statement.

The Navy's acquisition chief, Sean Stackley, stressed that the Navy is only ensuring that Avondale has the opportunity to compete for the new double-hull tankers. Stackley also stressed that the Navy can't keep Avondale open and that Avondale would have to be bought by another company to keep operating.

"Somebody has to buy Avondale," Stackley said at a Pentagon roundtable on Friday.

Stackley indicated that the Navy is signaling to potential buyers that there would be a shipbuilding market for Avondale with the acceleration of the oiler program.

Additionally, the Navy is helping Lousiana invest in its skilled workforce. The Navy intends to work with Louisiana officials to help sustain apprentice training and higher education in support of the maritime industry as well as award contracts for infrastructure improvement at shipyards in Louisiana. 

Avondale would not be the only shipyard that could build the tankers. NASSCO, a unit of General Dynamics, is also expected to vie for the contract once the Navy starts the competition.


This post was updated and clarified at 12:13 PM.