Lockport, Louisiana-based Bollinger Shipyards has agreed to pay the United States $8.5. million to settle a lawsuit alleging the shipbuilder lied about the seaworthiness of several aging Coast Guard vessels it was contracted to lengthen.
The payment settles a False Claims Act action filed against Bollinger Shipyards in the Eastern District of Louisiana claiming that Bollinger misrepresented the longitudinal strength of patrol boats it retrofitted and delivered to the Coast Guard.
The claims date back to 2002 when Bollinger was contracted to lengthen and modernize all 49 of the Coast Guard’s 110-foot Island-class patrol boats or to 123 feet, meant to extend the life of the vessels until the arrival of the next-generation Fast Response Cutters. The Island-class boats were after all originally built by Bollinger between 1982 and 1992. But soon after the first eight vessels completed the retrofit and returned to service they began buckling and failing, including at least one vessel that developed a severe crack in its hull.
The Coast Guard eventually ordered all eight vessels decommissioned in 2007 and the modernization program was cancelled.
The United States alleged Bollinger provided the Coast Guard with engineering calculations that falsely represented the longitudinal strength of the boats and was two times greater than their actual longitudinal strength. The suit also claimed Bollinger ran the calculations three times and only provided the Coast Guard with the highest and most inaccurate, of the three calculations. The U.S. further alleged Bollinger also failed to follow the quality control procedures that were mandated by the contract that would have ensured against such engineering miscalculations.
“Those who expect to do business with the government must do so fairly and honestly,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “We expect the utmost integrity and reliability from the contractors that design and build equipment that is essential to public safety and our national defense.”
Of the eight lengthened patrol boats, six would be scrapped and two were transferred to the U.S. Navy and used for target practice. At the time of their decommissioning, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen noted: “The excessive cost and time associated with continuing to pursue an uncertain resolution to these structural problems has convinced me — with the recommendation of my chief engineer — that permanently removing these cutters from service while recouping any residual value and redirecting funds to other programs is in the best interest of the government.”
Still, Bollinger Shipyards remains one of the U.S. Coast Guard’s main subcontractors for new vessel construction. The shipyard recently delivered its 15th Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter (FRC), 154-foot patrol crafts that are just now starting to replace the roughly 30-year-old Island patrol boats. To date, Bollinger has been commissioned to construct 30 FRCs with a contract value totaling $1.4 billion.
Bollinger is also currently competing with two other shipyards for the design and construction contracts for another next-generation Coast Guard workhorse, the Offshore Patrol Cutter. Up to 25 OPCs are planned.