Local 104 members build ocean-going barge

A tug boat guides the Ho'omaka Hou.

Vessel is first for U.S. Barge at Swan Island shipyard

U.S. BARGE LAUNCHED its first vessel, the Ho’omaka Hou, at a Swan Island shipyard in Portland, Ore., Oct. 16. Built by members of Local 104 (Seattle), Ho’omaka Hou means “a new beginning” in Hawaiian. And that’s just what it represents for U.S. Barge, a joint venture between Vigor Industrial and Oregon Iron Works.

U.S. Barge opened its doors for business in Sept. 2006. In just a year’s time, they have completed one barge and have contracts with several customers for more. Under their original contract, Young Brothers Ltd. of Hawaii, the owner of the Ho'omaka Hou, has additional barges on order. The next barge to be launched will be a specialty crane barge for American Bridge/Fluor Enterprises. Most recently, a contract was signed with Harley Marine, a Seattle-based marine transport company, to build four tank barges.

While U.S. Barge’s order books are filling quickly, the company still offers some of the fastest delivery dates in the industry — an attractive feature for other potential customers.

The Boilermakers signed their first collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Barge in February, and completed the Ho’omaka Hou in plenty of time for its ceremonial christening.

At the ceremony, Frank Foti, president and CEO of Vigor Industrial, addressed the workers and their families, praising their hard work for making U.S. Barge a success. So far, U.S. Barge has created almost 200 family-wage manufacturing jobs. With more barges in the works, and the new contract with Harley Marine, company reps foresee a plan that will keep U.S. Barge in business for many years to come.

Oregon Iron Works Chairman Terry Aarnio, who got his start as a Boilermaker, said, “Vigor Industrial has been a strong ally of Oregon Iron on several past projects, and we think the U.S. Barge alliance is an ideal fit, one that complements the strength of both firms. We’re confident that there are excellent prospects for U.S. Barge in the current marketplace and expect this market to grow substantially in the next decade.”

According to an article in the Daily Journal of Commerce, Amy Hill of Vigor Industrial attributes the production demands to federal legislation requiring double-hull capacity on oil-bearing barges by 2010. Older barges are now being phased out, and many Gulf Coast vessels were either destroyed or damaged during Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing flood.

David Bunch, who organized U.S Barge and is the Boilermakers’ servicing rep for the Local 104 members at U.S. Barge, is looking forward to a long partnership with the company. He says barge construction, unlike ship repair that can be more temporary and less consistent, means steady employment for workers.

It is this level of partnership that Foti wants to foster in the future.

“You can’t accomplish anything unless you paddle together,” Foti told the Daily Journal of Commerce.

At 340 feet in length, 90 feet in width, and 20 feet in depth, the Ho’omaka Hou is the largest barge in the Young Brothers’ fleet. Designed to handle the increasing volume of 40-foot containers used by Young’s customers, the Ho’omaka Hou will go into regular service at Kahului, Maui.