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Shipyard to undergo major repairs

The yard at the Ronald Reagan Marine Railway shipyard will be closed for the next four weeks for major capital improvements and when the work is done, it will be just in time, as more vessels are expected back around June or July for repairs, says David Robinson, chairman of the Shipyard Services Authority.


This was revealed by Robinson during a news conference yesterday called by the shipyard service board because of what Robinson said are board concerns over a “great deal of misinformation spreading in the community regarding the activities of the shipyard.”


“There have been some pretty serious allegations, which for the most part seemed totally incorrect. So we wanted to set the story straight with the latest information and development of the shipyard,” said Robinson who was accompanied to the news conference by board vice chairman Doug Harrington and board member, Mike Wisneske, who is also the general manager of Samoa Fishing Management, the local subsidiary of Tri Marine International.


Robinson said he and Harrington have relayed recently to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga the current situation of the shipyard, and the governor “has been fully informed of what we’re up to here on its current status, how the shipyard is progressing and what we are planning to do.”


He said the most pressing issue faced by the shipyard is the equipment that’s related to dry docking. That equipment he referred to are the chains and the engine that pulls up the chains.


Both the chains and engine are close to 30 years old and they are not in the best of condition. The chains were surveyed by mainland based Crandall company about 12 months ago, and Crandall recommended a full replacement for the worn out equipment.


“So we’ve ordered two new chains and they arrived a few weeks ago, with installation set for this month during the maintenance upgrade work for the shipyard, including the slipway,” said Robinson.


Additionally, the engine is almost 30 years old and it's suffering badly from the lack of routine maintenance over the years. In fact, in the past six months of the current fiscal year, it has broken down on two occasions and each time it breaks down, “that means we can’t operate the dry dock and that causes us a loss of revenue,” said Robinson.


During the maintenance work which will be carried out over the next four weeks, the chains—which costs just over $200,000—will be replaced and the new engine, which was ordered specifically for the shipyard with the help of Harrington, will arrive soon from California while the older engine will be overhauled and used as a spare.


Harrington and Robinson pointed out that finding spare parts for the old engine is very difficult because this engine is no longer being manufactured.


“We’re working with vintage equipment. And in this day and age, it's not very desirable,” said Robinson.


According to Robinson, fitting of the new chains will take time to complete because of the work involved, such as vacuuming the slipway itself. It's been years since that was done, he said, adding that there was a big buildup of sand, following the 2009 tsunami.


“This is one of the major developments that needs to take place in preparation for Tri Marine’s commitment to base their ten purse seiners here,” he said.


“In order for us to have the right capacity… we need to have the right equipment in order to do the work. So we are preparing ourselves now,” he said.


Wisneske said Tri Marine has increased its vessels home ported in American Samoa to ten. “So we are here, we’re not planning on restructuring our operations for the fishing fleet. We are here as a full fledged operation. That’s what brings our interest into supporting and helping operate this shipyard in any way we can.


“And part of that is by doing our repairs here in between refits because it's not just about when you can bring a vessel up on the dry dock, it's also about how to maintain the vessel between those times,” he said.


“As the boat comes in to discharge its load of fish, we always have a certain amount of repair work to do in between; so we’ve been trying to do that here at the shipyard and the work has been more than satisfactory,” Wisneske said. “The labor force has been fine, they have more than stepped up to the plate.”


He also said that the shipyard crew worked right through Flag Day this year to help get one of Tri Marine’s vessels done and out fishing. “Everything went as smoothly as it possibly could go. So we’re happy here,” Wisneske said, adding that Tri Marine is looking at two more boats for repairs this year at the shipyard.


Regarding the reports that the shipyard was looking at layoffs and down time for workers, Robinson said there has been none of that at all.


However, “it could be that when we start our real maintenance program — putting the chains in — we might have to shorten the hours of one or two of the staff, because not everybody will be involved in the chain installation project,” he said.


“So there will be some people who won’t have much work during the project. But it will only be a temporary situation and we will get them back to work as soon as we can.”


Robinson also shared with reporters that many of the longliners have been suffering recently with the price of albacore, which most of them catch. He said the price has dropped dramatically from $3,000 a ton down to less than $2,000 a ton and some of the smaller boats have decided not to go out.


The board chairman said some have anchored in the harbor for quite some time; however, some of them have  also decided not to wait and they have gone out fishing. Robinson__ said five of those smaller boats were scheduled to come in between now and the end of May for repairs, but they decided to go out fishing.


“So they’ve put off their maintenance schedule ‘til they finish their fishing… probably in June or July, when they say they will come back and carry out their repairs and maintenance,” he said.


Robinson said the board is not much worried at this point with these vessels out fishing as it fits in with the plans to carry out major repair and maintenance work at the shipyard. He did point out that the shipyard is looking at one or two small boats coming in over the next two weeks for maintenance and it includes the Samoa government owned vessel Samoa Express.


According to the shipyard board chairman there has also been talk about some fishing vessels leaving here and going off to Fiji and Tonga for repairs. “We as a board, don’t think that we’ve seen any evidence of that happening,” said Robinson. “The fleet based here seems to be fairly happy — in general terms — with the work that we’ve carried out for them and the way we’ve looked after them.


“We’ve been pricing our work at an economical rate, which is why most of the long liners, have come back to the shipyard,” he said and noted that previously the longliners used to go to New zealand, Fiji,  Singapore, or South America, “but they’ve all come back because we’ve offered them a good deal, good service, good pricing and good quality work.”


He did say that maybe “one of two [vessels], “for what ever reason they might have” did leave here, “but I don’t think it's because of the lack of attention we’ve been paying to them here. They might have some other commercial reason for going.”


“We are in a situation now that we have to spend capital on improvements to our equipment and plant” for now and into the future of the shipyard, said Robinson, whose comments during the news conference were supported by the vice chair.


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