Apr 9, 2010 5:43 PM by Melissa Canone
LOCKPORT, La. (AP) - Major construction officially began Friday
on the first in a series of new U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats with
a combined tribute to a Coast Guard hero, the service's lifesaving
role after Hurricane Katrina and the Louisiana shipbuilding
industry that employs thousands.
The $88 million USCGC Bernard C. Webber, being constructed at
Bollinger Shipyards, is the initial vessel in the Sentinel class
for fast-response cutters. The vessels will gradually replace the
Island class of patrol boats that Bollinger started building about
25 years ago.
The vessel is named for a petty officer who became a Coast Guard
legend nearly 60 years ago. Webber, as commander of a rescue
vessel, led three other Coast Guardsmen in a daring, high-seas
rescue of 32 crewmembers of the S.S. Pendleton. The ship had broken
in half during a storm on Feb. 18, 1952, off the coast of Cape Cod
"He literally, that day, gave those people back their lives,"
Adm. Thad Allen, the Coast Guard's commandant, said of Webber.
Webber died in 2009.
Webber's daughter, Pattie Hamilton, said of her father: "He
gave his heart and his soul to the Coast Guard and truly loved his
Allen himself received plaudits for his role as the head of
Coast Guard rescue efforts along the Gulf Coast after Katrina and
flooding triggered by levee failures devastated the region in
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., called Allen "a true hero to
the people of south Louisiana," crediting the Coast Guard with
saving thousands of lives.
"When some agencies picked up and left ... the Coast Guard
stayed and dug in deeper," Landrieu said.
For Bollinger Shipyards, a family company started in 1946, the
Coast Guard has been an economic lifeline. CEO Donald "Boysie"
Bollinger called the latest series of cutters a "continuation of a
Bollinger Shipyards, one of dozens of shipbuilders both big and
small in southern Louisiana, began with marine repairs and branched
into the building of specialized vessels for the offshore petroleum
industry. But the oil price crash of the early 1980s dried up the
demand for such ships and the company did its first business with
the Coast Guard. Since then, the company has built about 135
vessels for the Coast Guard, including 49 in the Island class.
"I cannot understate how important these shipyards are to the
economy of the state of Louisiana," said Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The ceremony also included a shipbuilding tradition known as
"authenticating the keel" - signing a plaque stating that the
ship's basic foundation had been "truly and fairly laid."
Bollinger has a contract worth up to $1.5 billion to build up to
34 of the vessels, each of which will accommodate a crew of 22 for
up to five days at sea. So far, three other vessels in the series
are in line to be built after the Bernard C. Webber.
Allen, who is retiring next month, said the new class will
improve the Coast Guard's increasing role in homeland security.
"This cutter can be applied in a variety of missions," Allen
said in an interview. "That's what makes it so valuable."