First Accommodation Barge Launched as U.S. Navy Addresses Shipyard Living
The U.S. Navy is set to receive one of its smallest ships but one that will play a critical role as it seeks to address the perennial challenge of accommodations for its personnel while vessels are in port for repairs and maintenance. The difficult living and working conditions sailors face during extended dry dock periods drew attention in 2022 when three members of the crew of the U.S.S. George Washington each committed suicide in the span of a week.
The U.S. Senate pressed the Navy calling for reforms and more consideration of the conditions sailors face during these maintenance periods. Navy investigators contended that the 2022 suicides were unrelated but admitted in their report that there were common stress factors, including the quality of life in the shipyard.
They recognized a long list of stresses, including that the shipboard environment is hazardous and noisy with round-the-clock shipyard operations. Electrical power, heating, air conditioning, and hot water they say were frequently interrupted across various sections of the ship for up to weeks at a time and that welfare and recreation services, such as television, were not available onboard. In addition, there were limited places to sit and relax with the environment becoming so challenging that at least one of the sailors decided to sleep in his car rather than onboard the ship even though the parking lot for personal vehicles was over a mile away from the ship.
A month before the suicides happened, in March 2022, grappling with a $1.8 billion ship repair and maintenance backlog across its public shipyards, the Navy contracted with Louisiana-based Conrad Shipyard for the design and construction of up to eight Yard, Repair, Berthing, and Messing (YRBM) barges. The fixed-price contract has the potential value of over $140 million depending on how many options are exercised.
This week, Conrad Shipyard announced it had launched the first YRBM barge under construction for the U.S. Navy. The company is building the barges at its Amelia facility.
The barges are designed to provide temporary accommodation for U.S. Navy personnel whose vessels are in port for repairs and maintenance. According to Conrad, the YRBM barges will provide pier-side living accommodations capable of berthing 199 mixed-gender personnel and messing for 300 personnel. Each barge is approximately 151 feet by 41 feet.
Spaces aboard the barges include medical offices, classrooms, workspaces, laundry rooms, storerooms, and lounge areas. Their design incorporates functional spaces that allow the sailors to work, sleep, and eat comfortably.
The first barge is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in the first quarter of 2024. Currently, Conrad is under contract to build five of the barges for the Navy.