By Michael Welles Shapiro Shipping News Blog
To watch the christening ceremony live, please click here.
NEW ORLEANS— Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Avondale Shipyard on Saturday will christen USS Somerset, an amphibious landing platform dock named for the Pennsylvania county where the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 crashed on September 11, 2001.
The ship, the ninth of the San Antonio class of LPDs, is also one of the last two ships that will be built at the yard outside of New Orleans, which is slated for closure next year. Huntington Ingalls also owns Newport News Shipbuilding, and Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss.
On hand for the Somerset’s christening will be ship sponsor Mary Jo Myers, wife of former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers.
Patrick White, the relative of a Flight 93 victim and president of Families of Flight 93, will be the principal speaker for the christening.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pennsylvania county officials picked items, including a pin commemorating Flight 93 and a bottle of locally made maple syrup, to be sealed in a box and tucked into Somerset’s mast until the ship retires from the Navy fleet.
Somerset’s keel was laid in 2009 and the ship was launched in April. U.S. Navy Cmdr. Cole Hayes is set to be the ship’s commanding officer, leading a crew of 360 officers and sailors, and three Marines.
As the 2013 closure date for Avondale draws nearer, Huntington Ingalls continues its search for a partner to repurpose the large manufacturing facility.
“We’d love to redeploy it into something else,” Petters said in a recent interview with the Daily Press, of the Avondale yard.
“The state needs to be involved, the Navy needs to be supportive, we need a credible market and a credible partner to prosecute that market,” he said, but so far no luck, despite support from Louisiana and the Navy.
“We continue to turn over rocks trying to figure out markets and partners.”
Petters said he’s hopeful the plant and its workers can fill a hole in American manufacturing.
“The country’s manufacturing base diminished a lot over the last 10 years, but shipbuilders didn’t go anywhere,” he said. “Now that people are starting to come back and think maybe we need to invest more in infrastructure, maybe we need to make more investment in energy, transportation, those kind of things are out there that are going to require some local manufacturing.”
“Well, we’ve got a local manufacturing base,” he continued.
“Finding a way to make a match there is not easy now, but that’s what we’re committed to try to sort out. In the meantime, we don’t have a choice but to close it.”