SAN DIEGO SHIPBUILDERS BEMOAN FOREIGN COMPETITION, U.S. POLICY

SAN DIEGO SHIPBUILDERS BEMOAN FOREIGN COMPETITION, U.S. POLICY

New contracts are a rarity at this Navy port's six shipyards, leaving dry docks empty and workers wondering if they'll become the next victim of a national shipbuilding slump.

Shipbuilders blame their problems on a blurred national shipbuilding policy, foreign competition, the flight of the West Coast's commercial tuna fleet to other nations and the federal defense budget.And they say no relief is in sight.

Frankly, all these things have contributed to making our life miserable, just miserable, said Irving Refkin, president of PDS Inc., a San Diego-based subcontractor to the waterfront ship repair industry. I'm afraid that unless something is done, the industry here will shrink if not entirely disappear.

Repair and overhaul contracts in the San Diego region dropped from $277 million in fiscal 1985 to $182.9 million the following year.

Since 1982, the high-water mark for the industry, San Diego has lost 20 percent of its operating yards and more than 7,000 employees have been cut

from an 11,000-member work force.

During the same period, the number of U.S. shipyards dropped from 110 with 112,000 workers to 69 with 80,000 workers.

Only one of six shipyards operating along the San Diego Bay waterfront south of downtown San Diego is currently involved in new construction. The rest are involved in repair and overhaul contracts.

Eighty percent of the work done in San Diego shipyards comes from the Department of Defense, and many shipowners complain that their financial future lies in the hands of politicians.

We try real hard to make a dent in the decision-making process, but we have very little luck convincing city officials here that this industry is as important as, say, tourism, Mr. Refkin said. How are we expected to catch the ear of people in Washington?

Shipbuilders also blame the Reagan administration, which they say inadequately enforces the 1920 Jones Act legislation that requires all shipments between U.S. ports be carried on U.S.-made vessels.

As a result, contracts have been lost to foreign builders, said John Stocker, president of the Shipbuilders Council of America in Washington, D.C.

American shipbuilders and repair yards, specifically those on the West Coast, cannot compete with foreign yards because those yards are being subsidized by their respective governments, Mr. Stocker said.

We as an industry cannot compete unless we receive subsidies from the U.S. government or stricter enforcement of the Jones Act, he added.

Shipbuilders also bemoan the Navy's recent tendency to take repair contracts in-house, which they also consider unfair competition because the military doesn't have to post a profit.