The barrier that keeps the waters of San Diego Bay from rushing into General Dynamics' owned NASSCO's drydock partially collapsed on Wednesday, sending seawater rushing into the construction site of the future Expeditionary Sea Base
Miguel Keith. Thankfully nobody was hurt in the incident but the ship is damaged and the Navy and General Dynamics are now trying to figure out just how badly. The pictures and video from the site aren't pretty, though.
The ship had large fissures in its hull open when the event occurred. Apparently, once the water hit a certain level the vessel floated off its blocks.
A statement from Navy Sea Systems Command via Defense News reads:
“On July 11, General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (GD-NASSCO) reported a flooding incident in its graving dock where Miguel Keith (ESB 5) is currently under construction... The ship floated off the docking blocks and took on water through hull cuts that were made to support the ship’s construction and outfitting.
The extent of damage to the ship will not be known until NASSCO and Navy personnel can fully assess the situation. Miguel Keith is currently in a safe and stable condition and all personnel are safe and accounted for.”
Miguel Keith is the third ship of its kind. You can read all about these behemoths in these past articles of ours—here, here, and here. They are adapted from the Alaska class oil tanker design, so clearly, when empty they are super buoyant.
NASSCO recently touted how far along they have come with the assembly the Miguel Keith in a Facebook video showing final structural components being loaded onto the vessel:
It will be interesting to see how General Dynamics de-waters the drydock and how long doing so will take, but this is likely to be a big and costly incident for the shipyard which had a questionable future just a couple years ago. That was before obtaining a number of new contracts that will carry the facility through at least 2024. These include billions of dollars worth of new fleet oilers for Navy and commercial vessels, as well. As such, NASSCO is on a hiring spree, looking for 1,000 workers to accommodate the rash of new business.
It's worth noting that the drydock facilities that support the U.S. Navy's shipbuilding and maintenance efforts are notoriously dilapidated after decades of fiscal neglect. With a larger budget overall under President Trump, Congress and the Navy are trying to pump more money into them in order to have any chance of achieving a 355 ship fleet in the coming decades.
These issues may have not been a factor at NASSCO but this event is a strong reminder of the types of things that could happen if deeper investments aren't made in the critical shipyard infrastructure that supports the fleet where the dry dock facilities average 80 years old.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com