Austal To Start U.S. Shipbuilding Joint Venture

Australian shipbuilder Austal has signed a joint venture agreement to establish a U.S. shipbuilding operation, Austal USA. After extensive investigation, Austal's Chairman, John Rothwell, announced that Bender Shipbuilding & Repair Co. Inc. would partner Austal in the USA. The majority equity will be held by Austal.

Currently the coastwise trade laws in the U.S. (primarily the Jones Act and the Passenger Vessel Services Act) generally prohibit foreign-built vessels from operating on domestic routes. But the U.S. passenger vessl market is ripe, with an estimated 3,600 vessels carrying nearly 200 million passengers each year. "With Austal's leading-edge technology, and world leadership in the design and production of high performance aluminum vessels, coupled to Bender's comprehensive capabilities and domestic knowledge, we will revolutionize light weight, high speed shipbuilding in the USA," said Rothwell.

"We are extremely excited about this opportunity to bring to the American people the most advanced and sophisticated technology available. Of equal importance will be the employment opportunities an operation of this scope will provide." Tom Bender, President and grandson of the founder of Bender Shipbuilding, said. "I am looking forward to collaborating with our friends at Austal in building modern, high-speed aluminum vessels in Mobile. With our knowledge of the U.S. market, experience in hiring and retaining skilled shipyard workers and expertise in purchasing material and equipment, we expect to contribute significantly to the venture. Our new hightech laser cutter - the first of its kind in a U.S. shipyard - should help Austal USA achieve sizeable cost savings in building these ships." It is expected that the full product range will be built at the Mobile, Alabama shipyard. Austal has substantial growth ambitions not only to capture a significant share of the passenger ferry market with its sophisticated technology and vessels not presently available in the U.S., but is also seeking opportunities to supply to the U.S. Defense Department. "We have already had comprehensive discussions with various U.S. Defense personnel in regard to the High-Speed Sealift Ships program. Additionally, we believe Austal USA will be well placed to supply future needs of the U.S. Coast Guard based on our experience and success as the supplier of patrol craft needs for Australia's Coast Guard equivalent, the Australian Customs Service," said Rothwell. In addition to domestic orders, export opportunities will also be sought.

A site has been identified and construction on the first stage of the development will commence as soon as the required approvals are received. It is anticipated that this site will grow in size comparable to Austal's Western Australian facility. Recruitment will commence as early as January 2000 with training of key personnel in highly specialized aluminum shipbuilding skills to take place at Austal's Western Australian Shipyard. Substantial training initiatives will be implemented to facilitate commensurate skilled workforce growth and the quality for which Austal vessels are world-renowned.

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