LEEVAC Shipyards, LLC is a full-service new construction and repair shipyard with three facilities strategically based in Louisiana to service Gulf coast operations with offshore supply vessels and platform support vessels, as well as a variety of other barge and specialty boats.
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David Soyka reports on how this shipbuilder’s unique design and engineering capabilities coupled with the highest quality maritime construction and repair services launch some very specialized vessels.
With a history dating back over half a century, LEEVAC Shipyards, LLC has built a variety of vessels of just about every description for the oilfield services, gaming, excursion and commercial fishing industries for use primarily in the Gulf coastal waterways, but also up to Alaska as well as around the world. Which explains the company motto, “We Make It Happen.”
One thing LEEVAC is making happen to a larger degree is its repair services for large supply boats, platform support vessels (PSVs), tug boats and barges. “We’ve always done repair work, even back to when our current ownership took over the yard in the mid-60s,” points out Dan Gaiennie, Vice president of Business Development and Engineering. “But our main focus was always design and construction. However, in the last few years we’ve seen a real growth prospective in the repair business, particularly for large boats where most shipyards don’t have either the water draft (the minimum depth of water a boat can safely navigate) or the air draft (facilities where there may be a bridge or other overhead restriction that have to be navigated past when coming from the Gulf of Mexico). In addition, the pool of shipyards serving Florida to Texas is getting smaller. Meanwhile, boats are getting larger and larger and when you consider that regulations require these boats be in dry dock twice every five years, that represents quite a significant market opportunity.”
To that end, LEEVAC embarked on expanding its existing facilities as well as acquiring another shipyard and outfitting them with state-of the-art construction equipment. The Jennings shipyard, operating on 180 acres on the west bank of the Mermentau River, is strategically located on a direct passageway to the Gulf of Mexico. With over 100,000 square feet of fabrication area covered to minimize weather delays as well as to improve safety and efficiency, this yard primarily performs new construction work of tugs, barges and offshore supply vessels. The Jennings facility also features a side launch system capable of handling a 700-foot vessel.
About 45 percent of LEEVAC repair work is performed at its Lake Charles facility, a 10-acre complex with two floating dry docks with no air restrictions (meaning there are no bridges that would prevent passage of vessels mounted with fixed cranes or bridges of a certain height), located about 17 miles from the Gulf and is conveniently located near to the Jennings facility to support its new construction work.
Last summer, LEEVAC acquired a third shipyard in Houma, formerly owned and operated by Tidewater Marine, which operated as a private repair shop since 1992. LEEVAC has since invested about a million dollars in renovations, while more than tripling the workforce. The property has 10 buildings and 110,000 square feet of covered construction area. “The Houma yard has some restrictions in terms of air draft — it’s located under the Prospect Bridge — as well as water draft,” Gaiennie explains. “But it fits into our strategy to expand our repair footprint. It’s close to many of our vendors, so that helps to further strengthen our working relationships and enables us to more cost-effectively complete and commission our new construction vessels that we bring over from our Jennings yard. Right now, our work at Houma is split about 50/50 between repair and new construction work.”
LEEVAC employs approximately 750 people, depending upon project needs. “We do hire some foreign workers, particularly from the Philippines and Mexico who have specialized skill sets we need,” Gaiennie says. “But we do try to hire locally wherever possible. Basically, what we’re doing here is trying to pound a huge hunk of steel into the shape we want, but it’s sometimes hard to find people we need with traditional welding and sheet metal skills. Our philosophy is to ‘grow your own,’ to offer good wages and benefits and a safe work environment that will interest people and then train them with the skills we need. Our investment in people is one reason why we have been successful over the years.”
One significant capability that distinguishes LEEVAC is its in-house vessel design and engineering services. LEEVAC Design Services, LLC offers “stem to stern” design capabilities. “Our customers can simply provide their ideas on paper and our design staff and engineers will produce the project from beginning to end,” Gaiennie notes. “Since 2000, LDS has designed over 30 offshore supply and platform supply vessels ranging from 220 to 300 feet in length, as well as two oil tank barges with a 135,000 barrel carrying capacity.
“Most shipyards typically work with an outside engineering firm,” Gaiennie says. “The advantage of having our own engineers and designers is that we are more closely connected to the actual construction process. That enables us to anticipate certain issues in the design phase that in other cases might have to be solved during production. Our objective is always to make construction as cost-effective and efficient as possible.”
LEEVAC Shipyards, LLC have built and will continue building many vessels using third party design firms. In fact, they just delivered two (2) tugs for G & H Towing that were based off of a Robert Allan, Ltd. design and are building two (2) large MPSV’s (Multi-Purpose Support Vessels) for Hornbeck Offshore based off of an STX design. LEEVAC Design Services, LLC can take any third-party engineering deliverables and complete the design as they are capable of doing all of the production-related construction details in-house using software such as Rhino and ShipConstructor.
Construction timetables range between 16 to 24 months. “It depends on a number of factors, including our existing backlog as well as the complexity of the project. We also place great emphasis on meeting or exceeding all regulatory and safety classifications and requirements. But, once we set a schedule and a budget, we meet it. We’ve built our reputation on our ability to deliver on-time and on-budget,” Gaiennie says.
“Boosted by partnerships with companies like Markey Machinery and J.H. Menge & Co., we’ve designed, manufactured and launched a variety of vessels and barges up to 450 feet in length and our launch system is capable of handling vessels of up to 700 feet,” Gaiennie says. “With the acquisition of the Houma shipyard, we’ve further expanded our capabilities, particularly for repair and conversion work, but we’re still evolving. The infrastructure isn’t quite there yet, but we are making great strides towards being able to provide all the services our customers require, particularly for larger vessels.”
Gaiennie notes that shipbuilding, like any industry, is a cyclical business. “Because our projects have such long lead times, we are typically a little bit out of step as to what is going on in the current economy, Gaiennie notes. “Right now we think we’re in a little bit of a pause phase, compared to a lot of activity we saw in 2011 to 2012, because owners are now thinking they have sufficient capacity. That said, the Gulf region is a growth area, and while regulations require U.S. built boats and tugs for Gulf operations, the boats we build can be certified for use anywhere in the world. In addition, we do see our expanded repair and conversion capabilities as a significant hedge against any lulls in new construction.”