House OKs ship funds


Congress is set to appropriate $38 million for U.S.-based shipbreaking operations, continuing a pilot program set up two years ago to dismantle retired military ships in ways that are safe for workers and the environment.

The conference report, HR-4576, passed the House on a vote of 207-159 yesterday, and is expected to be passed by the Senate today, said a spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland.

President Clinton is expected to sign the measure, the spokeswoman said.

"This is a big win for the Navy, a big win for the country, a big win for the environment and it could be a big win for Maryland and potentially for the port of Baltimore," Mikulski said through the spokeswoman.

Competition for lucrative shipbreaking contracts was tight among companies during the past fiscal year as the Navy awarded about $15 million in contracts.

With more than double the money available for the next fiscal year, the pace of dismantling retired defense ships is expected to quicken, and shipbreaking companies could get more contracts congressional spokesmen said.

Baltimore Marine Industries Inc., the Sparrows Point shipyard that dismantled the USS Patterson last year under a $3.8 million contract with the Navy, plans to be in the running for future contracts.

"Our employees are proud of the job that they did in the dismantling of the ex-Patterson," said Steven Sullivan, vice president of BMI. "Their exceptional performance in protecting safety and health and the environment has just been recognized by the Navy. We look forward to our next ship-breaking opportunity."

While BMI landed the Patterson contract last year, it recently lost another multimillion dollar shipbreaking contract to Metro Machine Corp. of Philadelphia. The contract would have meant an additional 200 jobs for BMI, which now has about 500 employees.

The Department of Defense receives funding for shipbreaking operations, and the Department of the Navy awards contracts for each ship that is scrapped. More than 60 inactive defense ships are in line to be scrapped, according to Mikulski's office.

Clinton initially requested $12 million for 2001, but Mikulski requested an additional $16 million through a Senate appropriations subcommittee. Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican from Alaska who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, tacked on another $10 million.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland, who sits on the Senate Budget Committee, had secured the initial $12 million for Clinton, a congressional spokeswoman said.

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