Major US contract for Aussie shipbuilder—Birdon

On Wednesday 5 October, the U.S. Coast Guard awarded Australian-owned company, Birdon America, the contract for the detail design and construction of its next generation of river buoy and inland construction tenders (as reported in the Australian Financial Review and Maritime Executive).

The river buoy and inland construction tenders (also known as waterways commerce cutters, WCCs) service short-range aids to navigation (ATON) on the western rivers. They set, relocate and recover buoys to mark the navigable channel in the rivers as the water level changes and also establish and maintain fixed aids, lights and day beacons.

The initial award is worth $28 million, but the contract includes options for up to 16 river buoy tenders and 11 inland construction tenders. If all options are exercised, the total contract value would come to about $1.2 billion.

The new WCCs have greater endurance, speed and deck capacity, improved habitability, and will accommodate mixed-gender crews.

Birdon America, Inc. is a wholly Australian-owned company. Birdon, based in Port Macquarie on the NSW mid-north coast, grew out of an old dredging business.

Port Macquarie News reported that Birdon Group CEO Jamie Bruce said:

“We are confident that we represent a low risk, high-performing, and long-term partner for the Coast Guard on the WCC Program,” he said.
They also stated that

Having responded to the first Request for Proposal (RFP) in July 2021, Birdon has invested in developing and refining a fully compliant, comprehensive, low-risk, and best value solution for the USCG. Pre-award investment included full tank testing and preliminary design approval from the American Bureau of Shipping.

Birdon is an Australian shipbuilder specialising in workboats and high-speed craft. It runs repair operations on both U.S. coasts, a small-craft manufacturing plant in Colorado, and a newly-opened manufacturing facility in Portland, Connecticut.

Birdon also holds several important US contracts. The $190 million, 10-year contract to overhaul the Coast Guard’s motor lifeboat (MLB) fleet under a service life extension program, covers up to 117 vessels from stations around the US. It also has a contract to build the US Army’s Bridge Erection Boat (BEB), a small road-portable utility tug built for bridging operations.

The US maritime industry is straining to keep up with demand, particularly in submarine construction, which of course is an issue with Australia.