How One Shipyard Survived a Hurricane and Built a New Coast Guard Cutter

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How One Shipyard Survived a Hurricane and Built a New Coast Guard Cutter

Eastern Shipbuilding Group fought through the aftermath Hurricane Michael and still delivered for the fleet.

Coast Guard ships are built for the specific purpose of maintaining security and stability, preventing disaster, protecting the homeland and rescuing people. So it may not seem surprising that when one new Coast Guard ship was itself ravaged by disaster while under construction, the shipyard was able to rebuild the ship and sustain mission focus amid destruction. 

In October of 2018, Category 5 storm Hurricane Michael ripped onto shore in Panama City Florida, wreaking havoc upon Eastern Shipbuilding Group’s facilities at crucial points in the construction of the Coast Guard’s new OffShore Patrol Cutter (OPC). 

Buildings were destroyed, progress was setback or eliminated, and work was interrupted. As a result, ESG launched an effort to implement immediate cost and schedule relief to return from the brink of complete devastation. 

Hurricane response is one of many Coast Guard missions, so one could almost say there is a certain inspirational consistency between the broader Coast Guard mission itself and the shipyard’s effort to fight through the disaster. 

Hull and superstructure of the USS Argus under construction at Eastern Shipbuilding’s yard in Panama City, Florida, images courtesy of Eastern Shipbuilding Group.

The shipyard’s Phoenix-like resurrection from near complete destruction in the aftermath of the hurricane could therefore be described as consistent with the spirit and intent of the Coast Guard mission to respond to disaster, repair damage, provide humanitarian assistance and restore stability. 

“ESG’s shipyard is located about 15 miles east of Eastern’s headquarters and main yard in Panama City, and just a few miles west of Mexico Beach, Fla., where Hurricane Michael made landfall. Our yard was hit hard. In the midst of our reconstruction, we were hit by the pandemic, like so many other businesses in the country. Through hard work and determination, we were able to recover after the hurricane and keep our employees on the job,” Joey D’Isernia, President of Eastern Shipbuilding Group, told The National Interest. Eastern was able to sustain operations, and just two months afterwards, we were able to start construction on the original schedule.

Image courtesy of Eastern Shipbuilding Group.

The ESG shipyard restoration included massive efforts to reconstruct infrastructure, salvage and repair essential parts, technologies and components. In fact, perhaps of greatest importance, was the will to preserve the mission focus necessary to complete the task. 

It was a disaster of consequence, as the Coast Guard mission to build a new fleet of Medium Endurance Cutters to replace the decades old existing 210-foot and 270-foot cutters with a larger, more advanced, high-tech multi-mission ship was considered the service’s highest acquisition priority. So, without any room for wavering or hesitation the mission had to go on. 

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Reuters.