Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, January 12, 2002

Senator urges Navy to buy, convert cruise liner

By John Porretto
Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott says the Navy should buy a partly built cruise ship that was destined for Hawaiian waters to lessen multimillion-dollar losses for the federal government and the shipbuilder.

Lott, R-Miss., would like the Navy to convert the ship into a command and control vessel. The public-private venture was abandoned after the drastic decline in tourism since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I'm trying to find a use for a 40 percent complete ship that would mitigate the losses of all concerned," Lott said yesterday.

Northrop Grumman halted construction in October after the U.S. Maritime Administration dropped $1.1 billion in loan guarantees.

The cruise ship was one of two Northrop was building for American Classic Voyages Inc., which filed for bankruptcy after the terrorist attacks. Construction of the second vessel had not begun.

The new ships were to be based in Hawai'i. American Classic Voyages had operated the Independence and the Patriot in Hawai'i. The Independence sailed from Hawai'i on Oct. 30 en route to San Francisco for storage.

Taxpayers are on the hook for $187 million; the shipbuilder's losses are expected to exceed $10 million.

Construction began last year at the Pascagoula shipyard with a glitzy ceremony that featured fireworks, red, white and blue confetti and dancing hula girls.

Critics of the public-private venture have included Lott's Republican colleague, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who complained of pork-barrel spending.

No cruise ship has been built in the United States in more than 40 years. The 1,900-passenger vessel was to be the largest of its type ever built in the country.

Lott, who lives in Pascagoula, said when he learned in recent months that the Navy needed a new command and control ship, he called military officials and pitched the languishing vessel.

"They basically said, 'Well, we'd be interested, but right now we don't have the money,"' Lott said.

Nevertheless, he said he added language to the defense appropriations bill approved by Congress Dec. 20 instructing the Navy to explore the feasibility of converting the ship to a military vessel.

The Navy continues to study requirements for its next class of command and control ships, Navy spokesman Lt. Bill Speaks said yesterday from the Pentagon.

The Navy has four command ships and wants to buy a new one, but that likely will not happen until fiscal 2006, Speaks said.

"We're still trying to get a firm picture of what the replacement ship has to look like," he said.

Meanwhile, Northrop spokes-man Den Knecht said the company continues to work with the Maritime Administration to try to find a buyer.

"Certainly, the Navy deal is another alternative," Knecht said. "We'd like to see anything that could be done to complete the project."