Austal Ltd. defended its work in response to earlier reports of corrosion issues on the first littoral combat ship built at the company’s Mobile shipyard.
The Australia-based company’s chief executive officer, Andrew Bellamy, told the Sydney Morning-Herald that any corrosion on U.S.S. Independence was the fault of whoever is operating and maintaining it.
“We have built 230 vessels of this type that have not suffered from this type of problem … where the operator and the maintainer of the ship have followed the procedures in a thorough way,” Bellamy told the newspaper. “I suspect there is a problem in the area of operational maintenance if there is a galvanic corrosion issue.”
Bellamy told the newspaper that the issue was a “storm in a teacup” and unlikely to threaten Austral’s contract with the U.S. Navy to build more of the speedy, shallow-water combat ships.
The Navy did not immediately respond to questions today about Independence’s maintenance.
Austal on Friday confirmed media reports that Independence experienced “galvanic corrosion” in its propulsion system.
Chris Johnson, a Navy spokesman said in a written statement Sunday that the Navy blamed the corrosion issue on dissimilar metals used in the ship’s construction.
Austal specializes in aluminum-hulled ships, while the Navy has traditionally bought steel ships.
The problem was discovered in 2010, before the ship was delivered to the Navy, said Jim DeMartini, a spokesman for Maine-based Bath Iron Works. Bath is the prime contractor for the first two littoral combat ships built at Austal, Independence and Coronado, which is set for delivery in summer 2012.
Austal in December won a $3.6 billion contract to act as the prime contractor building 10 more littoral combat ships.
Johnson said that the Navy in 2010 started developing both short- and long-term fixes to the problem. The service will, by the end of July, install “doubler plates” around portions of the Independence propulsion system, which will make it safe to operate in the near future, he said.
Next year, when the ship is dry-docked, the Navy will install a cathodic protection system as a long-term fix to the corrosion problem, Johnson said.
Such an anti-corrosion system is going to be added to Coronado before it is launched, Johnson said. And Austal included the protection system in its prime contracting bid, so no changes to the design of those ships need to be made, Johnson said.
Austal is Mobile’s largest industrial employer with about 2,200 workers at its Mobile River shipyard. It expects to nearly double that number in the next few years as it ramps up construction of both littoral combat ships and high-speed transport ships for the Navy.
In a written statement issued today, Austal officials said the company is “intimately familiar” with how to properly deal with galvanic corrosion. If Austal is chosen by the Navy to provide post-delivery support for its aluminum littoral combat ships, it will be “a straight-forward process” for the company’s engineers to handle such upkeep. Austal said that it has six maintenance hubs worldwide that can handle the work.
“An integral part of any post-delivery support program for a high-performance, high-speed vessel .¤.¤. is to provide a cadre of qualified maintainers who can help our Navy partners,” the statement read in part.
Austal’s statement also said the company wants to be included in the investigation of the corrosion, but has not yet been involved in that process.