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Floating docks new home expects business to bloom

Cruise lines promise steady work for Bahamas shipyard

When Dry Dock 4 sailed away from Portland last July, critics said the big dock's departure would mean a dearth of business for the Portland Shipyard.

The jury is still out on that point. But two other shipyards Ñ one in Victoria, B.C., the other the Bahamas shipyard that is Dry Dock 4's new home Ñ are now anticipating a steady stream of cruise ship repair business.

Victoria Shipyards recently announced that it will perform major refits this spring and fall on five cruise ships. Each job is valued at between $1 million and $2 million in Canadian funds.

In the Bahamas, two Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. ships are due for dry-docking at the Grand Bahama Shipyard in Freeport, now the home of the floating dry dock that used to have its headquarters at Cascade General's Portland Shipyard.

The trade periodical Cruise Industry News reports that the 982-foot floating dock is jointly owned by Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corp., which will have priority use of it.

The big dock is both long enough and wide enough to handle the new generation of megacruise ships with ease. For example, Royal's Celebrity Cruise ships that are headed for Freeport Ñ the Summit and the Infinity Ñ are each 965 feet long.

The Freeport shipyard's location on a key route for cruise ships is expected to bring in plenty of business and keep the dock in steady use.

Round-the-clock work

In Victoria, the lure is the 1,177-foot-long Esquimalt Graving Dock, the largest nonmilitary dry dock on the west coast of North America.

Malcolm Barker, general manager of Victoria Shipyards, told the Times Colonist newspaper that each of the 10-day cruise ship refits will mean round-the-clock employment for 500 shipyard workers as well as 150 contractors and suppliers.

The ships are stopping in Victoria on so-called repositioning cruises, when they move from their winter route to their summer route or vice versa. The Dawn Princess, due in Victoria on May 9, will stop along its way from the Caribbean to the summer Alaska cruising season.

When Frank Foti, owner of Portland-based Cascade General, announced last spring that he was selling Dry Dock 4 for $25 million to pay off creditors, he said there wasn't sufficient business to justify keeping the enormous dock at the Swan Island shipyard.

The shipyard, however, has done work on cruise ships in the past, including on the Dawn Princess, and the company's Web site still says: 'From supertankers to cruise ships, Cascade General has the experience to handle your most demanding project.'

Foti bought the 57-acre shipyard, including Dry Dock 4, from the Port of Portland in August 2000 for $18 million cash and two unsecured notes, totaling about $5.6 million, due in 2009.

The biggest of the yard's two remaining dry docks, Dry Dock 3, is 661 feet long.

Port is out of the way

Port of Portland spokeswoman Elisa Dozono said cruise ship repair jobs 'go where the destinations are, and Portland is not a destination Ñ so it wouldn't be economical for a cruise line to take a ship so far off its route.'

As Alaska cruising continues to grow in popularity and the West Coast cruise ship market expands, shipyards in British Columbia are expecting an increase in business.

According to the Times Colonist, 34 cruise ships will be on the coast this summer.

Victoria Shipyards' Barker said the the yard is looking at 'good indications' up to 2005, with word from the cruise lines to expect a minimum of four ships a year for refits.

The other four ships will be in Victoria in September, with just a day between refits, Barker said. A sixth cruise ship is scheduled for a fall refit at the Vancouver Shipyards. Both shipyards are owned by Washington Marine Group of Vancouver B.C., part of Missoula, Mont.-based Washington Cos.

Dry Dock 4 was built for the Port of Portland in 1979 with proceeds from an $84 million public bond issue. It is the biggest floating dry dock in the Americas.