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Austal ship building continues after Navy deems it a 'national need' despite coronavirus

The Austal USA shipyard in Birmingham, Alabama.

WILLIAM B. SPARKS/U.S. NAVY

By JOHN SHARP | Alabama Media Group | Published: March 21, 2020

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Tribune News Service) — Delivering military warships is a “national need” that is “unwavering and crucial” to national security and requires Mobile-based Austal USA’s employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, a high-ranking Navy official said Thursday.

Assistant Secretary to the Navy James Geurts, in a letter to Austal President Craig Perciavalle, instructed the company to inform the Navy of problems that might arise while the company continues building ships at its Mobile-based facility. The company employs around 4,000 people and builds its warships in a facility located across the Mobile River from downtown Mobile.

“Given the missions essential functions you perform, while ensuring the safety and well-being of the workforce, I cannot stress enough the importance of accomplishing the missions, and notifying the government of any impediments that are considered likely to interfere with timely accomplishment of this missions,” Geurts wrote.

He said he the Navy understands the coronavirus pandemic presents “a challenge” and that the military branch is “dedicated to working closely” with Austal to ensure workforce safety.

Craig Savage, a spokesman with Austal USA in Mobile, said the company has six ships under various phases of construction. He said that the company is adhering to the strict safety guidelines from Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization by taking “significant steps to distance the workforce for large gatherings.”

“Austal USA’s primary concern is the health and well-being of our workforce,” said Savage. “Austal remains open and operating under close care.”

He said the company’s precautions include travel restrictions for “non-essential employees,” review of recently traveled employees, comprehensive facility sanitization, social-distancing, and moving to virtual meetings whenever practical.

“We’re continuing to monitor developments and updating our response accordingly,” Savage said.

Austal, as a defense industry contractor is considered an “essential critical infrastructure” employer, as defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Other industries considered critical include medical and health care, food and agriculture, telecommunications, information technology systems, transportation and logistics, energy, water and wastewater, law enforcement and public works.

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