Brownsville building Texas’ first deep-draft vessel
A little over a year since the deal was finalized, Keppel AmFELS at the Port of Brownsville has begun work on the first of two container ships it is building under contract for shipping firm Pasha Hawaii.
Parent company Keppel Offshore & Marine Ltd., based in Singapore, announced in August 2017 approval of a $400 million contract for two LNG-powered container ships, to be delivered in the first and third quarters of 2020. LNG stands for “liquefied natural gas.” Keppel AmFELS President Simon Lee said they will be the first deep-draft vessels built in Texas. The contract allows Honolulu-based Pasha Hawaii the option to order two more of the ships.
The vessels, of the shipbuilder’s proprietary design, each will have capacity for 500 45-foot cargo containers, 400 refrigerated containers and 300 40-foot dry containers. Lee said the ships are “Jones Act” vessels, meaning they will be operated by a U.S. company only in the United States. Pasha Hawaii, which ordered the ships to replace some of its older fleet, will use the vessels on its West Coast-Hawaii trade lane. They will be the first LNG-powered ships operating between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii.
Lee said the projects require Keppel AmFELS to bring on hundreds of new employees and that hiring has already begun. All workers are being hired locally and trained by the company in collaboration with Texas Southmost College and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, he said.
The Pasha Hawaii contract was welcome news for Keppel AmFELS given that its usual business, offshore oil rig fabrication, maintenance and repair, has slowed down since oil prices starting falling in 2015, triggering a decline in rig activity.
“ It all depends on the market,” Lee said. “We continue looking at opportunities. That’s how we grow.”
Eduardo Campirano, port director and CEO of the Port of Brownsville, said Keppel AmFELS has been a vital member of the port community for nearly 30 years.
“ The contract to build two container ships for Pasha Hawaii means 700 new high-paying jobs for Brownsville and a new industry for Texas,” he said. “That’s good news for the Rio Grande Valley’s economy.”