This waterfront facility, located just 15 miles south of Philadelphia along the Delaware river, can accommodate ships up to 900 feet in length. The Pennsylvania Shipbuilding Company in Chester PA, formerly the Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, closed in 1989 amid a flood of cost overruns. In the early 1980s the company had completed the conversion of two container ships -- Denebola and Capella -- to Fast Sealift Ships, which are vehicle cargo ships.
Sun Shipbuilding launched its first vessel in Chester in 1917 just as the United States entered the war. In the 1920s Sun Shipbuilding activities included construction of tankers for the Standard Oil Company. In World War II Sun Ship built 281 T-2 tanker oil carriers, nearly 40 percent of all the tankers built in this country in that period, as well as hospital ships and C4 cargo carriers for the US Maritime Commission. The average production time from laying of the keel to completion of the T-2 tankers was about 70 days. During the war a number of cargo ships originally built by Sun Shipbuilding were converted to flush-deck escort carriers (CVEs) at other shipyards. By the end of the war, Sun Shipbuilding was a city of its own, sprawling along the Delware river.
After the war activities ranged from construction C4 Mariner cargo ships and repairs of US Navy destroyers to scrapping war-surplus vessels such as the aircraft carrier CV-4 Ranger. But the company was was hit hard by the restructuring of the US economy and increasing competition from abroad. The Glomar Explorer was built in 1973 by Sun Shipbuilding for a secret CIA mission to retrieve a sunken Russian submarine. With the continuing deterioration of its business, on 15 February 1977 Sun Shipbuilding launched its last cargo ship, Westward Venture, having delivered 543 ships over a span of six decades.
By the early 1990s Chester, a 65% african-american, low-income community, was home to an extensive complex of oil refineries, as well as four large hazardous and municipal waste facilities, including the nation's fourth largest garbage incinerator, the nation's largest medical waste autoclave, and a sewage treatment plant and sludge incinerator.
Metro Machine has achieved a major presence on both Pennsylvania Coasts and revived three dormant shipyards. Incorporated in 1963, Metro Machine originally began as a machine shop employing six men in support of local industry. Since that time, they have developed extensive facilities and capabilities by performing repair and overhaul services for the US Navy and other ship owners. In 1987 the company became employee-owned with increased work force participation in most management decisions. Profits go to the employee pension fund. The Norfolk yard does repair and phased maintenance work on Navy vessels, with two dry docks on the Elizabeth river next to Norfolk Shipbuilding & Drydock (NORSHIPCO).
In 1994 a Navy Phased Maintenance Contract enabled the reopening of 60 acres of the idle Pennsylvania Shipbuilding Company by Metro Machine Corporation of Norfolk VA. Idle since 1986, the facility needed major renovations, and work began in late 1993 to restore some of the yard. Supported by low-interest loans from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the shipyard's revival came with assurances that Metro Machine would meet all Chester city ordinances. One such ordinance requires 25 percent of employees to be city residents, 15 percent minorities and 10 percent women. Metro offered scholarships to the Tidewater Maritime Training Institute as a way of training local residents for the new jobs -- up to 600 people by the end of 1997.
In 1996 Metro Machine leased a portion of the Philadelphia Naval Business Center, formerly the Philadelphia Navy Base, with berthing and dry-docking capabilities in excess of 1,000 feet.
In the mid-1990s Metro obtained the old Ingalls Shipbuilding facility in Erie, PA. The Erie site had last been open as Erie Marine Enterprises, a division of Johnathan Corporation of Norfolk, VA in 1995. Jonathan Corp. went into bankruptcy and the facility closed. Metro aquired the site to do repairs on cargo ships and to build foundations for its double hulled construction. In 1998 Metro Machine signed a five-year lease (with an option for another five years) with the Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority for the former Erie Marine main building on Presque Isle Bay. Plans called for performing ship repair and maintenance in the winter months and ship building during favorable weather. The facility's 1,000 foot dry dock is one of only two such facilities on the Great Lakes.
In October 1997 Metro Machine Corporation was awarded a $13,691,356 contract for research and development of state-of-the- art curved plate technology for constructing large double hull tankers. The funding will be used to complete the development, design, construction, and testing of a full scale prototype utilizing curve plate technology. The prototype will be used to evaluate and consider deploying this technology for use by the United States Navy. The curved plate technology promises to reduce construction costs and increase the safety and performance of Navy vessels. Work for the project will be performed in Chester, PA (50%) and Erie, PA (50%) and is expected to be completed by September 1999.
Metro Machine is conducting several other shipbuilding research and development programs, including a contained blasting enclosure to protect both air and water and the design of an environmentally-friendly double hull oil tanker.
The Compliant All Position Enclosure (CAPE) system is being developed in Metro Machine's Norfolk facility in response to competitive pressures, environmental protection issues and the need to improve worker safety in shipyards. It is designed to prevent fuel oil, lube oil, hydraulic oil, grease, abrasive dust and paint overspray from being picked up by storm water runoff, contaminating the surrounding waters. The CAPE system is presented as a practical solution to enclose hull blasting and coating in a controlled environment. It consists of a series of steel staging towers, enclosed at the back, connected and sealed around one quadrant of a ship's hull. The ends are then closed and sealed to the hull. Each tower contains a movable work platform that scissors in and out to maintain hull proximity. A CAPE support vessel contains the mechanical systems necessary to control volatile organic compounds, dust, temperature and humidity inside the enclosure. Work can be done in all types of weather and no contaminants are allowed to leave the enclosure into the air or water. The stated goals of using the CAPE system are to meet all existing and anticipated environmental regulations ; improve the quality and durability of the coatings applied; reduce coating time, dry dock time and ship out of service time; and lower the cost of coating ships' hulls.
The Marc Guardian Tanker design is based on a new structural concept involving a small number of standardized parts. Basic cubicles, 7'x8'x50'' are built from two sizes of flat or slightly curved steel plate and permit a highly automated manufacturing process that creates high quality and close tolerances for hull coating and welding procedures. The stated goal is to produce a high quality, long-life tanker. Life extension, efficient life cycle operation, and oil containment are all benefits promised to Marc Guardian tanker owners. Special features include a pipe tunnel above the inner bottom that provides access to all cargo and ballast tank operating equipment. The double hull protects the cargo tank from collision and grounding damage, decreasing the likelihood of environmentally destructive oil spills. If a federal law barring single-hull oil barges from US waters after 2003 takes effect as expected, Pennsylvania's coastal shipyards could stay active and productive for years to come.
Orders permitting, the Erie facility would accommodate construction of such double hulled vessels. Plans at Chester and Philadelphia called for hull sections built in Chester to be moved to Philadelphia using floating dry docks, joined with bow and stern sections, and returned to Chester to complete construction.
Metro Machine was planning to build a dry dock and shipyard on 173,000 square feet of publicly-owned submerged lands and uplands within the Fort Clinch Aquatic Preserve, off the Northeast coast of Florida. The ship yard was intended to be used in part for maintenance, refurbishment, and repair of Navy frigates and destroyers based in Mayport in response to a Navy request for proposals (RFP) to do that work. On 24 July 1997 the Navy cancelled that RFP, and in early 1999 Metro lost the renewed competition.
Metro Machine laid off 70 employees in April 1997 from two shipyards in Pennsylvania, at Chester and Erie, citing a lack of work as the reason. The layoffs cut Metro's work force to about 160 people companywide. In addition, Metro Machine requested that Virginia postpone a loan payment until the end of 1998. The firm borrowed $15.5 million in 1994 to buy part of Pennsylvania Shipbuilding in Chester. Metro Machine planned to build product tankers at the yard, but has not received any orders. Since March 1997 Metro had slashed payroll at its empty Norfolk shipyard by more than 400 workers. The company ran out of work and had nothing scheduled until August 1997, when an off-site contract began in New Jersey.
Metro Machine bounced back from lean times in early 1997, and by early 1999 its employment was again about 500 in Norfolk. The yard has a steady stream of work scheduled for the rest of 1999 and is bidding for other work that could fill the remaining holes in its schedule. Several amphibious ships are part of a five-year, five-ship phased maintenance contract worth more than $100 million that Metro Machine won in 1997. Each of the ships are scheduled to visit the yard at least twice by 2002. The company also worked on the fleet oiler Supply at its Chester yard for three months starting in February 1999.