Photo Cutline: In June, the Brownsville ship channel hosted a fascinating juxtaposition of two containerships. One was recently built and the other is arriving for recycling. Pasha Hawaii’s new MV Janet Marie docked at Seatrium AmFELS’ shipyard. At the same time, Signet Maritime’s tug boats towed Pasha’s retired SV Horizon Pacific to berth at SA Recycling/SteelCoast.
In June, two containerships crossing paths at the Port of Brownsville’s 17-mile-long ship channel illustrated the modern-day ship life cycle. As Pasha Hawaii’s newly completed MV Janet Marie container ship docked at Seatrium AmFELS’ shipyard, Pasha’s retired SV Horizon Pacific containership was drawn by Signet Maritime’s tug boats to berth at SA Recycling/SteelCoast for recycling.
Known as the premiership recycling port of the United States, securing 85% of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) and U.S. Navy contracts, the Port of Brownsville is also the primary shipbuilding port of Texas. In 2022, one of the three major ship recycling companies at the port, SteelCoast, merged with SA Recycling to become the company’s only ship recycling facility in the United States, employing 237 employees.
For over 30 years, Keppel AmFELS, now known as Seatrium AmFELS, has been the top fabricator of jack-ups, oil platforms, and vessels, including containerships and wind turbine installation vessels, providing thousands of jobs to the region. Currently, AmFELS employs 1,800 workers at the port, contributing to the local economy.
In 2016, the company pivoted from the oil and gas industry into Jones Act shipbuilding. Under the Jones Act, all cargo that travels by sea between two U.S. ports must be transported on ships built, owned, and operated only by U.S. citizens.
AmFELS has been making big waves recently in the shipbuilding industry, landing the contracts to build two containerships for Pasha Hawaii, the first Jones Act-compliant offshore wind turbine installation vessel for Dominion Energy, the largest high-specification Trailing Suction Hopper Dredge (TSHD) in the U.S. for Manson Construction Co., among other projects. The construction of deep draft vessels is found nowhere else in the Lone Star State but in Brownsville.
During the oil and gas slowdown, Seatrium AmFELS looked to diversify its product line. President Kelvin Fok explained the company’s journey into the Jones Act shipbuilding market.
“Pasha Hawaii came to us interested in building two 2,525 TEUs Dual Fuel Containerships. Seatrium AmFELS jumped on this opportunity, leveraging our group’s strength and came up with a design that met the needs of our customer. Seatrium AmFELS had previously built smaller ships before, but George III and Janet Marie are much bigger in size,” said Fok.
In 2019, AmFELS partnered with the Port of Brownsville to construct a Public Vessel Assembly and Erection Pad. The U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration supplied a $1.8 million grant to the port to fund the project, which totaled $5.3 million.
The two new 774-foot U.S. Jones Act vessels, George III and Janet Marie were built on the vessel assembly and erection pad. The containerships were designed to carry 2,525 TEUs, including a fully laden capacity of 500 45-foot containers, 400 refrigerated containers, and 300 40-foot dry containers, with a sailing speed of 23.0 knots. Both vessels were built to service Pasha Hawaii’s Hawaii/Mainland trade lane. The George III began service on Aug. 17, 2022, and the Janet Marie was delivered in July of this year.
“We are extremely proud of the perseverance and commitment of our partners at AmFELS, and the skilled men and women at the shipyard, including our own on-site team members, who have proven once more that shipbuilding and ingenuity are alive and well in the United States,” said Pasha Group President and CEO George Pasha, IV, in a press release announcing the delivery of the Janet Marie.
Skilled trades play an integral part in the shipbuilding and ship recycling industries. Welders, fitters, and electricians are in demand to complete projects at the port. Crews at Seatrium AmFELS and SA Recycling/SteelCoast are willing to learn and build upon their skill sets.
“Eighty-five percent of our workforce is from the Rio Grande Valley,” said Seatrium AmFELS Senior Marketing Manager Khon-Whey Tay. “It is not an easy industry, and we provide the opportunity to train and continually build on these vessels.”
SA Recycling/SteelCoast Regional General Manager Mark Hodgson detailed that while the company’s primary client is MARAD, commercial recycling contracts like Pasha Hawaii’s Horizon Pacific provide a steady lineup of work.
“We currently have three projects ongoing with another four en route to carry us in to 2025,” Hodgson said. “It is our goal to provide long-range employment and employment growth at our facility.”
The Port of Brownsville has earned the reputation of being the final berthing place for U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and other retired warships. Since 2014, the port has seen the arrival of six aircraft carriers for recycling. SA Recycling/SteelCoast completed the USS Saratoga in 2019. The USS Forrestal, USS Constellation, USS Ranger, USS Independence, and USS Kitty Hawk are part of the exclusive and growing family of aircraft carriers that have made their final voyage to the Port of Brownsville. The USS John F. Kennedy will soon join this respected list of retired warships recycled in South Texas.
SA Recycling/SteelCoast Regional Financial Officer Albert Garcia said partnering with the port, local educational institutions, and other key stakeholders makes a difference.
“It takes a community to make businesses successful, the port and the city have done a great job in supporting the work we do,” said Garcia.