NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Foreign investor interest in the purchase and rescue of Louisiana's premier shipyard at Avondale is growing as the date for Northrop Grumman's plans to close the facility draws near.
Avondale was the pride of Louisiana, employing about 26,000 people at the height of its operations but suffered in the shipbuilding downturn. More recently Northrop Grumman, its latest owner, expressed skepticism that the facility could fit in with its growing emphasis on building a production inventory of unmanned vehicles, cyberwarfare tools and missile systems.
Analysts said a potential foreign buyer would most likely be European rather than Asian, because of the shipyard's role in defense manufacturing. Britain's BAE Systems plc was among the first potential foreign buyers mentioned in reports of ongoing talks.
U.S. Navy and Obama administration officials indicated last week they would aim to promote interest in the shipyard and could also bring forward plans for new defense ship-building.
One of the long-term Navy projects, double-hulled oil tankers for defense operations, is likely to be among proposals likely to be brought forward to give Avondale the chance to bid for it.
At the heart of the Avondale rescue plan is not only the aim of saving the jobs of about 4,700 employees currently at the shipyard but also helping to rejuvenate the Gulf Coast after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the 2005 hurricane Katrina, effects of which continue.
The shipyard has been in operation for about 75 years and its closure will give General Dynamics, the other major shipbuilder on the scene, what analysts see as an unfair advantage.
The yard is on the west bank of the Mississippi River, approximately 20 miles upriver from New Orleans. Avondale played a major role in the modernization of the USS Iowa in the early 1980s.
Northrop Grumman is currently building two Navy amphibious assault vessels at Avondale and has indicated it will keep the site open beyond the projected closing date of early 2013 if required to complete the ships. Earlier the company had indicated plans to move the remainder of the work on the two ships to another yard. The company has yards at Tallulah, La., and Pascagoula, Miss.
The Navy tanker building program that is likely to be moved forward in a gesture to Avondale was originally set to begin in 2017.
Analysts said the current strategy was to keep the yard open and running and secure a buyer while the manufacturing continued.
Northrop Grumman has indicated it will seek to transfer ownership of its entire military shipbuilding operation if it finds an appropriate buyer and concentrate on other areas of business.
Among rescue plans being discussed for Avondale is one that will see other existing shipyards, big or small, including the General Dynamics complex, making a bid for future ownership and running of Avondale.