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‘Titan’ floating dry dock from Norfolk could usher in new era of vessel maintenance in Baltimore County’s Sparrows Point

The largest floating dry dock in Norfolk, Virginia, will arrive Thursday at Tradepoint Atlantic in eastern Baltimore County where it will be dry-docked itself for repairs, ushering in what officials hope will be a new era of vessel maintenance in Sparrows Point.

Shipyard operator BAE Systems is bringing the “Titan” dry dock to Tradepoint Atlantic’s dry dock for repairs and preservation, a job expected to take five months and require 90 workers.

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It marks the first use of the massive Sparrows Point dry dock since 2017.

Tradepoint Atlantic, the redeveloped distribution hub on the former Bethlehem Steel mill site, purchased the former Sparrows Point shipyard, including the dry dock, for $33.5 million in April 2018, adding 150 acres and more deep-water berths to the 3,100-acre site. The site is home to distribution centers for Amazon, Under Armour, FedEx and others.

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Work on the Titan will usher in “countless new opportunities for Tradepoint Atlantic and sends a strong signal that we are willing and able to capitalize on projects of similar scale and scope,” said Russell Williams, Tradepoint’s director of business development. "Our dry dock is back in business.”

Work and planning has been underway for about a year to prepare the dry dock for such jobs.

Bethlehem Steel had employed thousands of shipbuilding workers at Sparrows Point during World War II. More than 650 ships were built there, including many Liberty ships during World War II. The last was the Navy oceanographic research ship Tanner, commissioned in 1989; it is now operated by the Maine Maritime Academy as the training ship State of Maine.

The shipyard at Sparrows Point has a rich and important history and it is amazing to see industry returning to it after too many dormant years,” Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday in an announcement.

The Sparrows Point dry dock was built starting in 1969 and completed in 1971 and originally used for shipbuilding by Bethlehem Steel. It was later used for vessel maintenance and repair after the city’s shipbuilding industry went into decline. It also has been used to construct sections of tunnels and other products. The dry dock is 1,200 feet long and 199 feet wide with a depth of more than 28 feet.

The USS Constellation and the World War II-era submarine Torsk were repaired in the Sparrows Pint dry dock in 2011.
The USS Constellation and the World War II-era submarine Torsk were repaired in the Sparrows Pint dry dock in 2011. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

Work on the Titan will be split by employees of BAE Systems and Baltimore-based General Ship Repair under a contract.

The Titan floating dry dock has the capacity to lift vessels of up to 52,534 tons and is used primarily to service Navy destroyers, cruisers and amphibious warships, and other ships as long as 1,000 feet. The dry dock has not left the port of Norfolk for repair work for nearly three decades.

It’s used to maintain the Navy fleet in its largest home port. Renovations to the dry dock should add 20 to 25 years of service life, said Dave Thomas, vice president and general manager of BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair.

Besides its distribution facilities, Tradepoint offers access to deep-water berths, rails and highways.

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