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VT Halter fighting NOAA order termination

PASCAGOULA — A Pascagoula shipyard says it is working to lift a termination order from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration prompted by a dispute over construction of a coastal mapping ship.

Bill Skinner, chief executive of VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, told The Sun Herald that NOAA terminated its latest contract for a 110-foot ocean and coastal mapping vessel, the SWATH Ferdinand R. Hassler.

Skinner said the vessel is 98 percent complete and has undergone sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Hassler is named after the first superintendent of the U.S. Survey of the Coast. Ferdinand Hassler took the position in 1816. After the survey was moved from the Navy to the Army in 1818, Hassler went to other duties, but returned in 1832 when the survey was returned to the Navy and remained the superintendent until 1843.

Skinner said the dispute with NOAA is over how much weight the vessel could carry.

Skinner said both sides are trying to resolve the problem, but there’s a possibility “that someone else will finish the job.”

Halter employs 1,600 at three shipyards in Jackson County and has a $1 billion backlog of work to do for the U.S. Navy.

“We look forward to resolving the dispute with NOAA. This is very important to us, our reputation for good quality vessels,” Skinner said.

Halter built four ships for NOAA before taking on the Hassler in a separate contract, Skinner said. He described the Hassler as a much smaller vessel that “performed outstandingly” during its sea trials.

“Its speed and sea-keeping characteristics exceeded our original expectations,” he said.

What became crucial was how much water the vessel draws with weight that NOAA expects to add to it over the 25-year life of the ship.

“We’re talking about a few inches,” Skinner said.

He said Halter’s backlog of Navy projects should take the company through 2013. If it fails to receive final payments from NOAA, that won’t affect jobs at the yards.

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