SF port industry poised for a comeback

March 6, 2009 7:03:12 PM PST
San Francisco tourism may be hurting, restaurants may be suffering, but a mostly forgotten segment of the business community is positioning itself for a comeback.

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A Carnival Cruise ship sits in the dry dock run by BAE systems. It needs $3 million in repairs and cleanup on the hull and another $6 million or for refurbishing the interior. Three more cruise ships are scheduled for later this year.

"The cruise sector is probably our strongest potential for growth," Port of San Francisco marketing director Gerard Roybal said.

Roybal says last year the port, BAE and Princess Cruise lines teamed up on $5 million worth of improvements to dry dock.

"That's going to allow us to singularly capture the mega ship market for cruise ships because there are no other dry docks that can compete with this one in the American Pacific," Roybal said.

In addition, the federal government is looking at offer a contract to the yard to clean up 50 of the mothballed ships that are anchored in Suisun Bay. The ship yard's general manager says that 50 ships from ghost fleet would help fill the slack time between the cruise ship jobs.

"There's a lot of work out there that we're trying to get competitive and seeing what we can't do to bring that work in order to keep work for our guys," Hugh Vanderspek said.

Right now, the yard employs a couple of hundred people, but a big cruise ship or a Navy job could swell the work force to 800.

Residents of the Dogpatch neighborhood that borders the ship yard say the community is ready for more growth.

"Well, this community is changing, obviously you've got the brand new hospital going in as well as Pfizer and Genentech," resident Jenny Foster said.

The one stumbling block for the ship yard's plan to expand is the shallow water of the central basin that prevents deep draft navy ships from reaching the dry dock.

The port is applying for $10 million to dredge the basin. The port's marketing manager says the dredging would bring in jobs, increase efficiency and make the yard more competitive.

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