POSTED 3 MAY 2008 - 4:00am HST

Time to jump ship? HSF maker under fire

image above and below: Ceremonial weld at keel laying of LCS2 at Austal USA. See

by Kristin Hashimoto on 1 May 208 in The Big Island Weekly

Former Austal employees allege the Hawai`i Superferry's Alakai is operating with manufacturing defects. They also warn that her sister ship, currently under construction, will have similar problems.

Austal is a 20-year-old Australian ship building company that is working on private and government marine vessel projects and Wayne Jenkins is a class-A welder who used to work for the company in Mobile, Alabama. He has been fired for being "disloyal to the company" after he voiced his concerns about these defects on Katy Rose's Hawai`i public radio talk show. Jenkins has a wife and young son.

While working on the boat, Jenkins noticed some of the work that was supposed to be done by the specially certified and tested class-A welders was being done by unqualified employees. "There was second class welders welding a butt weld. It's just two pieces of plate being joined together. Fitters that were fitting the stuff weren't certified to fit two pieces of plate together . . . ," said Jenkins.

When he was asked to make a wide half-inch weld to join two plates, Jenkins questioned his supervisor. He was told to keep welding.

"I've seen a lot of stuff that's not been done right," said Jenkins in reference to construction of the latest addition to the Hawai`i Superferry (HSF) interisland fleet. According to Jenkins, a half-inch weld is too wide and can create welds that are structurally compromised.

Conversely, Bill Pfister, vice president of government programs at Austal said, "You can close in a half inch wide gap. That's a pretty wide gap, but you can do it."
On a ship that is completely comprised of aluminum metal plates and pieces, each weld contributes to the overall soundness of the ship.

In February, the Alakai was dry-docked for repairs. "When they (Austal employees) went over there (Hawai`i) to work on it, I was told what happened. I was told the welds broke, and it was running for a week while it was leaking," said Jenkins.

Pfister's, response to Jenkins allegations of unqualified welders working on more complex joints was " . . . No, that's just not so. That's the kind of allegations our competitor would use, or we would use on them. That's just bogus. The welders are all qualified. The ships are built in accordance with design and construction standards . . .," said Pfister.

While Jenkins did not work on the Alakai, he did work on the sister vessel and saw these welds for himself. "My concern is it can hold up to 850 people on there, if it's not structurally qualified . . . People's lives are more important than covering it up," said Jenkins.

"There's a fine line between someone who's got their own agenda and a whistleblower," said Pfister.

Jenkins was one of a small handful of nearly 1,100 employees at Austal that was a union member. The shipyard remains non-unionized. However, the Sheet Metal Union Chapter 441 has been trying hard to gain ground with the workers at the plant in Mobile. Their latest vote to unionize the yard, ended with workers voting 3-1 against the union.

This is not the first time Jenkins had been fired. The first time, he joined the local sheetmetal workers union, Chapter 441. Through their efforts, the National Labor Relations Board got him reinstated. However, this time, Jenkins won't go back to Austal even if the company asks him to return.

Regardless of the union agenda that Pfister alludes to, there are still real concerns about manufacturing errors. When asked about the Alakai's leaking rudder, Pfister replied, "It wasn't a design flaw, it was a manufacturing flaw."

"We sent a guy to take a look . . . maybe two months before they went into drydock. They (HSF) tried temporary repairs. A standard fix is using cement. The leak was near . . . high speed rudders . . . we took out the rudders and filled it with cement. Those kinds of temporary fixes are normal and safe," said Pfister.

Lt. John Titchen, information officer at the U.S. Coast Guard 14th District, related, "We cleared the boat." Inspectors and the Coast Guard believe the ship is safe.

Alakai has been awarded their certificate of inspection and passed their annual inspection. He also commented that there was nothing "noteworthy about the temporary repairs."

An inspection can last one to two hours or span eight to 10 hours. Inspectors ripped away insulation in the ship and examined welds. They used various tests such as the dye penetrant test to evaluate the viability of seals. Inspectors examined inserts, rudder, hull, among other things, and deemed the ship and its repairs, "satisfactory." Nine different inspectors, a marine engineer, and a class society director in addition to members of the Coast Guard all walked the ship and found nothing amiss.

However, the rudder repair affected rideability, making the ship's ride rougher than normal. The ship also consumed 5 percent more fuel as a result of not having the rudders to steer the ship at high speeds. It was a costly repair in more ways than one. "Things that they discover within the first year is our nickel. That's the warranty," said Pfister.

The allegations Jenkins made are similar to findings in corrective action reports filed by the Navy from May 2005 to May 2007 on another vessel manufactured by Austal at the same shipyard. In August 2007 an article by Sean Reilly for the Newhouse News Service reported that the Navy had concerns about Austal's work on a Littoral Combat Ship. Some of the concerns the Navy listed were botched welds and employees doing work for which they were not qualified. Reilly obtained these government records under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Austal's own inspector found problems with the vessels during manufacturing. Teresa Hart is a certified level two inspector specializing in ultrasonics, magnetic particle and liquid penetrants. She is qualified to conduct visual inspections and to supervise welding, and was hired by Austal to provide quality assurance even though there was no department handling that facet of the manufacturing process. "Even when they were trying to hire me, they told me they didn't want a quality assurance department or manager," Hart said.

While onsite in Mobile as the Alakai was under construction, Hart noticed problems with some of that ship's welds. They "just weren't right," she said. ". . . there were welds missing, that's a pretty big deal and I thought, well, surely they'll bring somebody in and they'll catch it. It's never normal to miss a weld." Hart told a supervisor about them at the time but was told that her work was restricted to another ship.

While the ships didn't have a lot of quality assurance people eyeing each process and weld, Hart explained that Austal used x-rays to insure the structural integrity of the joinery. Still, Hart was concerned. As her clamors about quality control grew louder, she was terminated in March 2007, five months after she was first brought onboard. Reason? "They told me I wasn't a team player."

Aside from the problems with Austal's shipbuilding, Wayne Jenkins also weighed in on the working conditions. "I've been in some holes (of the ship) that's been pretty filled with smoke and dust and they brought no kind of fan to help assist the process," he said.

Workers are provided with respirators. Still Carolyn Slay, another fired employee, reported, "When I go home and blow my nose, all that comes out is black from the ash." Slay said her skin also breaks out in rashes and complained that the work environment was unfriendly to black employees. She reported that she saw nooses hanging in the workers area, and the "n-word was scribbled on the walls." Slay also claimed that pay scales were unequal for women and men, and black employees versus Caucasian workers.

Slay confirmed that unqualified welders, worked on welds at the Austal shipyard.
While Austal experiences its own employee turnovers, HSF is doing its own shuffling. On Monday HSF appointed Admiral Tom Fargo to take the helm as new President and Chief Executive Officer. John Garibaldi is now Vice Chairman and will continue to serve on the board of directors for the company.

HSF currently makes one voyage daily from O`ahu to Maui and from Maui to O`ahu. Beginning May 9, a second voyage will be added four days a week operating on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.




POSTED 3 MAY 2008- 4:00am HST

When life imitates art - The China Syndrome

by Marsha Weisiger in 2007 in

A thriller, the China Syndrome told the story of a television news crew that—while shooting a fluff piece promoting the nuclear power industry—accidentally witnesses an alarming crisis in the control room. Unbeknownst to plant officials, cameraman Richard Adams (Douglas) films the entire scene. When he and reporter Kimberly Wells (Fonda) show the film to a physicist and a nuclear engineer, they learn that the plant probably experienced a close call, one that might have nearly exposed the reactor core, precursor to the "China Syndrome."

As the physicist explains, if exposed, the core would melt, within a matter of minutes, through the bottom of the plant and downward "theoretically to China." But, in actuality, the scientist continues, once the molten core hit groundwater, it would explode into the air, spewing clouds of radioactivity. "The number of people killed would depend on which way the wind is blowing," he somberly intones, "rendering an area the size of Pennsylvania permanently uninhabitable." Such a sequence of events, in truth, has never happened, even at Chernobyl. But when I saw the film the weekend after the accident near Harrisburg, this line sent a chill down my spine.

The sense of déjà vu continued. As the news crew realizes they have stumbled on an important story, the plant's conscientious control-room operator, Jack Godell begins his own investigation, troubled by a tremor during the accident. Discovering that pipe welding certificates were falsified, he teams up with Wells and Adams to publicize his concerns before the reactor is brought back on-line and a second plant, built by the same shoddy contractor, is licensed.

But as a third member of the news crew, Hector Salas (Daniel Valdez), brings the evidence of phony inspections to a licensing hearing, company goons run him off the road in a scene that purposefully evokes the suspicious death of Karen Silkwood, whose car crashed while en route to a meeting with a New York Times reporter with evidence of safety violations at the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant in Crescent, Oklahoma. Just as Silkwood's documentation vanished, so does Godell's.



POSTED 15 APRIL 2008- 7:30am HST

KKCR radio Interview with Austal workers

image above: Austal builds(LCS prototype trimaram with partner General Dynamics for Navy

by Scott Mijares on 15 April 2008

Below is a link for the audio file from the interview that Katy Rose, Jimmy Trujillo, and Jonathan Jay conducted with the employees of Austal last week on their radio show.

The allegations brought forth by these welders raise serious concerns about the way the Superferry was built and the safety of it's passengers.

Please take the time to download and listen to this interview in it's entirety. It explains a lot about the problems the Alikai seems to be having.

Keone and I will be broadcasting clips from last weeks show and taking calls from listeners to get their reaction to some of the serious allegations these Austal employees made during this important interview.

Please try to tune in to KKCR - Kauai Soapbox and/or call in tomorrow (tuesday) at 4:00pm. KKCR Phone line 826-7771

To hear last weeks interview please click on the link below. If you would like to save it you should right click on the link and "save target as". It's a large file (90 megs)so it will take a while, but it is worth it:

Right click and save as...



POSTED 12 APRIL 2008- 9:00am HST

Austal workers say shortcuts taken on HSF

image above: Austal builds hull 614, a 58 meter catamaram fo use as a civilian ferry will serve
between Milwaukee and Muskegon at 70mph.

Superferry Damage: Da Inside Scoop
by Joan Conrow 10 April 2008

During their show this afternoon on KKCR, Katy Rose and Jimmy Trujillo interviewed three guests who offered some interesting insights into the Superferry, most notably the damage that sent it into drydock early.

Wayne Jenkins, a welder employed by Austal USA, which built the Alakai for Hawaii Superferry, said he “had problems with the way some of the welds were being done on the boat.”

He pointed these out to his supervisors, but was told the welds didn’t need to look good, because they’d be covered with insulation. However, he said, “those little cracks continue to expand.”

When those hairline cracks are subjected to stress, Jenkins said, “they will crack all the way through,” causing leaks, and that’s apparently what happened to the Alakai.

Jenkins said Hawaii workers poured concrete into the cracks to stop the leaks and then continued to operate the ferry for another week before Austal crews were sent over from Mobile, Ala. to work on the Alakai.

He said if the cracks widened sufficiently, they could allow in enough water “to sink the ship.”

Jenkins said he does not think the Austal work crews were in Hawaii long enough “to repair it the way they should. I personally do not think it would be safe enough to ride.”

He also confirmed that the ferry suffered “major damage” to its hull when it fell off the blocks while being placed into drydock. “I don’t think they (Austal work crews) had the right or proper equipment to repair it. They just patched it up the best they could to put it back in the water.”

Jenkins and Swan Cleveland, union organizer for the Sheetmetal workers’ union engaged in the union drive at Austal, said the company allowed “people who are not properly trained” to do welding on the Alakai and its sister ship, now under construction and due for completion Sept. 30.

Jenkins attributed the use of poorly trained workers on the two high speed ferries to Austal’s desire to finish up the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, which is already over budget at $500 million.

“It seems they’re casting everything aside to complete the navy ship,” he said. “They want those other 55 ships (under the Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS contract) so they’re trying to cut every corner they can.”

Cleveland also confirmed that Austal executives had discussed military uses for both of the high-speed ferries, saying “if the military needed the superferries, they could carry so many tanks and personnel.”

Cleveland further maintained that Austal was engaged in racial discrimination and union-busting tactics, and that a company using such practices should not be involved in building a U.S. warship.

Mahalo, Katy and Jimmy, for tracking those guys down and putting them on the air. Kinda puts the big dailies, with all their resources, to shame.

image above: Computer generated rendering of Austal's LCS now under construction

see also:
Island Breath: HSF Structural Design Problems 04/09/08
Island BReath: Austal sued for descrimination 04/02/08
Island Breath: Superferry Oversight Reports 04/02/08
Island Breath: Superferry Rudder Damage 02/05/08