The Navy selected a Mississippi shipyard, rather than Maine’s Bath Iron Works, to undertake the costly repairs to the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald, which collided with a commercial ship this summer.

In a statement released Wednesday, the Navy said Huntington Ingalls Industries was chosen to repair the Fitzgerald based on availability and workload at the two shipyards that build Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The Fitzgerald, which was built at BIW and commissioned in 1995, sustained major damage to its starboard side when it collided with the Philippine-flagged merchant vessel ACX Crystal off the coast of Japan on June 17. Seven Navy sailors died.

“The Navy chose this course of action following a review of the capabilities and workload of new construction and repair shipyards,” the office of Naval Sea Systems Command said in the statement. “Given the complexity of the work and the significant unknowns of the restoration, the Navy determined that only an Arleigh Burke-class shipbuilder could perform the effort. Only HII has the available capacity to restore USS Fitzgerald to full operational status in the shortest period of time with minimal disruption to ongoing repair and new construction work.”

The Navy said the timing, scope and costs of the Fitzgerald repairs have not yet been determined, although repair costs are expected to reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars. A second guided-missile destroyer also built at BIW, the USS John S. McCain, also will have to undergo costly repairs after sustaining major damage during a collision with an oil tanker near Singapore this week. Ten sailors are still missing, although the Navy said divers recovered some remains inside the damaged portion of the ship.

Colleen O’Rourke, spokeswoman for Naval Sea Systems Command, said Huntington Ingalls will be given a “sole-source contract” – as opposed to a competitively bid contract – “due to the unusual and compelling urgency to restore USS Fitzgerald to operational status as soon as possible.”

O’Rourke said it “would be premature to speculate” on repairs to the McCain at this time.

A spokesman for BIW declined to comment on the Navy’s announcement.

“Ingalls and all of its employees regret the tragic circumstances that will bring the ship to Pascagoula,” Ingalls Shipbuilding President Brian Cuccias said in a statement. “But it is an honor and a privilege to work with the Navy to return the ship to the fleet in the shortest time possible.”

General Dynamics-owned BIW and Huntington Ingalls are the only two shipyards that build destroyers for the Navy, which typically splits the work between the two yards. But BIW has been struggling to deliver new destroyers on time and on budget recently in part due to delays in building the lead ship in the Zumwalt-class of stealth destroyers. Those delays have, in turn, affected work on the newest version of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers that have been built at BIW since the 1980s.

While Congress and the Navy have historically split construction responsibilities between Maine and Mississippi, the price competition between BIW and the Ingalls shipyard is intensifying. BIW officials are under pressure to reduce costs as the shipyard gears up for the next multi-ship contract and have been haggling with the Navy about the costs of integrating design changes into the newest ships. BIW also lost a contract competition last year to design and build the next-generation Coast Guard cutter to a lower-cost Gulf Coast shipyard.

Launched in 1994, the Fitzgerald is one of 34 Arleigh Burke-class – or DDG 51 – destroyers built in Bath. Four more of the ships are currently under construction in Bath alongside the final two Zumwalt-class or DDG 1000 destroyers.

The Arleigh Burkes are among the workhorses of the Navy, deploying around the world to provide both offensive capabilities against targets on land and at sea, as well as to intercept and destroy incoming ballistic missiles. They measure more than 500 feet in length, carry a crew of roughly 300 sailors and currently cost $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion to construct.

Both the Fitzgerald and the McCain are part of the 7th Fleet, which is based in Japan. The 7th Fleet provides a crucial U.S. presence in a hot part of the world given the rising tensions with North Korea and the growing attempts by China to lay claim to parts of the South China Sea.

Guy Stitt, an expert on naval acquisition and shipbuilding who is founder and president of the maritime consulting firm AMI International, said the need for a quick turn-around on the Fitzgerald may have been “a significant part” of the Navy’s decision to conduct the repairs in Mississippi.

“Ingalls may have had the best schedule for getting (the ship) in and out,” Stitt said. “These DDGs and their ballistic missile technology are crucial right now. And they need to be in the areas where the ballistic missiles are heading towards.”

The loss of the repair contract upset leaders of Local S6, the labor union that represents the majority of BIW’s roughly 6,000 workers.

“This is devastating news as our pride was vested in fixing the Bath-built ship that our brave men and women serve on,” leaders said on the union’s Facebook page. “The reasons for not having that opportunity are concerning to us. BIW seems to have no answers for being able to secure future work for our shipyard. We will be reaching out to our delegation in Washington today to find out more in helping to determine what went wrong.”

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation also expressed disappointment.

“The highly skilled workforce at Bath Iron Works has proven time and again that the world’s most advanced warships are Bath built,” Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King said in a statement. “BIW was the logical place to rebuild the Fitzgerald and the Navy’s decision is an incredibly disappointing one. We have both spoken to the secretary of the Navy about the situation and have invited him to visit Bath soon to better understand BIW’s capabilities. We will continue to do all we can to support the outstanding men and women at BIW who do so much to support our nation’s security.”

Repairing the Fitzgerald and, eventually, the McCain will be costly and time-consuming endeavors given the extent of the damage to the ships. It took 14 months and an estimated $250 million to repair the USS Cole, which was severely damaged in 2000 when al-Qaida militants blew up a small boat next to the destroyer – killing 17 sailors – while it was at anchor in Aden, Yemen.

Those repairs were also conducted at the Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi. While BIW is the Navy’s primary shipyard for performing maintenance and modernization on Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, Ingalls just re-delivered the USS Ramage to the fleet on Monday after a roughly nine-month overhaul and modification stint in Pascagoula.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-District 1, hinted that the delegation will be monitoring decision on repairing the McCain.

“I am extremely disappointed that the skilled men and women at Bath Iron Works were not selected to rebuild the USS Fitzgerald,” Pingree said in a statement. “I’ve made it known to the Secretary of the Navy that I am displeased with the lack of transparency in the process of selecting a yard for this repair and will urge him to have a more open process for future repairs.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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