Bay Shipbuilding, Helping to Save Ships

Bay Shipbuilding Company is doing its part to be more eco-friendly by expanding the lifespan of various Great Lakes freighters, rather than junking older vessels when they become inefficient.

The Charles M. Beeghly, built in 1959 by the Interlake Steamship Co., underwent a “re-powering” this spring at Bay Ship in Sturgeon Bay. The Beeghly was constructed with boilers and steam turbines, equipment that is not as efficient as 21st century technology, according to Pat O’Hern, vice president and general manager of Bay Ship.

Crews at Bay Ship removed the 50-year-old boilers and other power plant equipment and replaced the out-of-date technology with two new diesel engines, boilers and the parts necessary to power the Beeghly.

“The new system is computer controlled, whereas the old system was controlled by people,” O’Hern explained. “After the [re-powering] investment is made, the ship is easier to operate with less people. It’s more fuel efficient and more environmentally-friendly as far as emissions. It’s more economical to operate and to man.”

The Beeghly is an 806-foot long, 75-foot wide carrier that can haul 31,000 tons of bulk commodities such as iron ore, stone or coal.

Bay Ship is likely to see more and more jobs requesting re-powering of old ships, O’Hern said. The Beeghly is the second ship Bay Ship has re-powered; crews worked on another freighter two years ago to re-power its power plant. Another re-powering project for a 1,000-foot ship is planned for this winter and another customer is contemplating a re-powering in 2010-11.

“If [a customer] can justify the investment, they will save significant money on fuel and manpower,” O’Hern said. “They run better and safer than the old ships do with the big boilers which require a lot of maintenance. There’s three legs of savings:  less maintenance, less fuel and less manpower.

“Re-powering saves,” O’Hern continued. “It’s much less expensive than building a new boat. Re-powering is $X. A new ship is $X times 10.”

Bay Ship faces the conundrum of improving ship efficiency while decreasing the number of hands required to operate a ship. O’Hern said shipbuilding and operations can be compared to job creation and loss in any field.

“In every productivity improvement anywhere, that comes with doing something better and faster, the ultimate goal is to take costs out of operations, not to operate at a much higher level,” he said. “If you’re more efficient, you’ll have more work. If you’re less efficient, you’ll have less work. If we didn’t improve, we would be out of business.”

For now, work at one of Sturgeon Bay’s largest employers is steady. This winter however, the docks may hold fewer ships.

“We have a good slate of work for this year,” O’Hern said, “but in the fourth quarter, we do expect things to slow down. There just isn’t the backlog of work we’ve enjoyed in the past. Our customers don’t have access to money from the banks as they did in the past.”