A Tacoma Tideflats shipyard site, whose 96 years have been a roller coaster of prosperity and paucity, once again is getting an infusion of activity.
A Bremerton boatbuilding company has landed a $35-million Navy contract to build five 78-foot-long aluminum patrol boats at the shipyard site. The company, Safe Boats International, expects to begin work on the first of those Navy patrol boats within two months.
The Navy has an option with Safe Boats to build a sixth patrol craft. Defense News said the Navy may ultimately order up to four dozen of the boats. The boats will be used to protect naval forces and commercial shipping in areas such Strait of Hormuz and in the waters off of Somalia where pirates commandeer commercial ships. The patrol craft can be transported to the area aboard Navy landing ships.
The company expects building the five boats now on order could require about three years. The first of the boats is due to be delivered in May next year, said Safe Boats spokesman Bryan McConaughy.
Safe Boats expects to hire about 50 crafts-people to build the boats. The company is accepting applications on its website, www.safeboats.com.
McConaughy said Safe Boats is expanding beyond its Bremerton location because the new boats are too large to transport over land to the water. The company’s Bremerton site is several miles from Puget Sound.
“We looked for quite a while for a site suitable for building larger boats,” he said. Several other states approached the company trying to lure it to waterfront sites.
“We were familiar with the Tacoma site, and we wanted to keep our business local,” said the company spokesman.
The shipyard site is at the Commencement Bay end of Alexander Avenue between the Blair and the Hylebos Waterways.
At its busiest in World War II, the shipyard there employed 33,000 workers and built 74 ships, including escort aircraft carriers, tankers and cargo ships. The site, now owned by the Port of Tacoma and dubbed the Earley Business Center in memory of former port commissioner Bob Earley, was first operated by Seattle’s Todd Shipyards Corp. in 1916.
Todd built two dozen ships at the site during World War I and shortly thereafter. Todd closed down the Tacoma shipyard in 1925. During the Depression, the company demolished multiple buildings on the site to cut its taxes and maintenance.
The shipyard reopened in 1939 to build ships for the Navy. Initially, Todd thought the shipyard would employ about 400 workers, but with the onset of World War II, the payroll ballooned to 33,000, and ship production began at an assembly line pace.
During the war, the shipyard was building as many as half a dozen ships on ways that slope gently down toward Commencement Bay. After the war, the yard closed again, and the Port of Tacoma acquired it.
In the intervening years, the site has seen sporadic shipbuilding activity. During the 1980s, Tacoma Boatbuilding Co. used the yard to build several larger Navy surveillance ships, medium Coast Guard cutters and two chemical incinerator ships that were never used for their intended purpose.
Most recently, Citadel Yachts has built large, steel-hulled yachts on the site. Citadel recently signed a new lease with the port to expand into yacht maintenance and storage on the site.
Port of Tacoma spokeswoman Tara Mattina said Safe Boats and the port have a working agreement on a new lease on the yard and its buildings not occupied by Citadel. That agreement is being drafted into formal language to be considered for adoption by the port commission.
The company said several modifications will have to be made to the aging shipyard buildings where the patrol boats will be constructed. New lighting will be installed as well as an heating system.