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Congressman wants Navy to consider purchase

Half-finished cruise ship still docked in Pascagoula

PASCAGOULA — When American Classic Voyagers (ACV) went bankrupt last fall, they left behind a cruise ship at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Ingalls Operations in Pascagoula that was 40% complete.

And although construction on a second ship has not started, approximately 90% of the material had been committed and all the engineering and design work had been virtually completed when ACV went bankrupt.

U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) hopes he can persuade the Navy to buy the half-finished ship, which was being built under a $185-million loan guarantee approved by Congress. He said the ship could be used as mobile housing or a hospital for troops.

“The citizens of our nation are at the moment facing about a $180-million liability because of the failure of American Classic Voyagers to fulfill its obligation to pay for the ship,” Taylor said. “I don’t see anyone in the cruise ship industry looking at it.”

The alternative to finishing the ship is having it towed to Mexico to be scrapped, said Taylor.

U.S. taxpayers would actually save money by having shipbuilders at Ingalls finish the boat — given the fact that, on almost a continuous basis since 1990, the Navy chartered what they call “offshore quarter boats” for barracks, according to Taylor.

“We have chartered at least two cruise ships,” he said.

One was brought to the nation of Bahrain to help troop morale, and the other chartered was used in Guantanamo, Cuba. Taylor, who has served on the military construction committee, said the nation spends billions of dollars to provide housing for troops around the world. He believes cruise ships, if owned by the U.S. Navy, could help to lessen some of that cost.

“When Panama asked us to leave, we left behind over $63 billion in infrastructure,” Taylor said. “I think it makes sense to invest some of our resources in things that are mobile, and I think the Panamanians would have been less likely to ask us to leave if we’d taken our things with us. They knew they were going to be the beneficiaries.”

Although Taylor recently received criticism from a major news magazine — a January article in Time said Taylor’s proposal was “pork” — he is still asking the Navy to study the idea of purchasing the cruise ship.

“This is a business decision,” Taylor said. “We have to find some work for those ship yards and the individuals who work there. Northrop Grumman is still the biggest employer in Mississippi.”

Lee Youngblood, press secretary for U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss), said the senator’s views on the matter have not changed. Lott believes that if the Navy purchases the ship, taxpayers will ultimately save money.

“The legislation that was passed basically asked the Navy to take a look at that,” Youngblood said. “Sen. Lott will continue to search for ways these ships can be utilized.”

According to a statement released by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems officials last week, the company is continuing to discuss the completion of cruise ships with the U.S. Maritime Administration, as well as a number of possible buyers. However, there are no definite proposals at this time.

“We certainly appreciate the continued support of the Congress and our Congressional delegation in regard to the U.S. Navy taking over the cruise ships. This is an issue to be decided by the Navy and Congress,” said the company in its statement.

George Freeland, executive director of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation, said his organization had complete confidence in Northrop Grumman’s capabilities to achieve an eventual resolution on the issue.

“We’re hopeful that a resolution will come to pass that will be beneficial to all,” Freeland said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com.


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