Contentious Boston shipyard surrenders to Navy in skirmish

Seldom is an American naval vessel taken hostage in an American port. But when the Navy canceled an $8.5 million overhaul contract here Saturday, it found its ship, the USS Connole, blocked in its berth by cranes and barges. The scrappy Boston Shipyard Company was determined not to let the ship, or the contract, get away without a fight.

The standoff ended yesterday morning as the frigate was pushed out into foggy Boston Harbor by three tugboats. But it took a federal court order and negotiations in Washington before the Navy got its ship back.

Comdr. Dan Davidson, Navy spokesman in Boston, says the contract on the frigate was canceled because ''the Navy determined that the shipyard was not performing up to the specifications of the contract.''

Work was behind schedule, he says, even though the ship had been at the yard only since Sept. 10. ''There is no reason to allow substandard work to continue, '' he says.

But as the Navy was preparing to pull away from the dock Saturday, shipyard workers moved cranes in around the ship's fragile radar mast and pushed a barge in behind the ship.

The Navy went to court Saturday night to win the ship's release. But it wasn't until Monday afternoon that the cranes and a barge was moved away from the ship. Poor weather conditions forced the ship to remain at the dock Monday night.

Meanwhile, William Kenney, president of the shipyard, was in Washington Monday trying to win back the Navy's favor.

Mr. Kenney says in his discussions with Navy officials, ''quality was not the issue.'' But, he admits, ''we have made some mistakes.''

Shipyard officials had maintained that the loss of the Connole contract would cause the yard to close down, putting all 480 employees out of work.

But in addressing the shipyard workers yesterday morning in the cavernous boiler shop, Kenney said: ''Our salvation is how we do from now on.''

The yard is presently overhauling a Coast Guard vessel and is scheduled to begin repairs soon on a floating dry dock for the Navy.

Kenney says the shipyard will show the government that both ships can be overhauled according to specifications, and will be delivered ahead of schedule. ''I've made that commitment,'' he says.

He says the Coast Guard is concerned about their ship ''and our collective attitude toward government.'' He counseled his employees not to view the government as ''the adversary.''

Kenney declined to say whether he had personally ordered the blockade of the Connole. But he said that he ''wouldn't have had the opportunity to make the case in Washington, if we didn't do what we did.''

Commander Davidson says the Navy has not decided what company will take over work on the Connole. In the meantime, the contested ship will be docked next to what, in the long run, is sure to remain Boston's most famous vessel - the USS Constitution.

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