U.S. shipbuilders can live with Congress' decision to earmark $50 million next year in federal loan guarantees for ship construction and shipyard modernization projects, the head of a U.S. shipyard group said.

"It's not really correct to say that we got less money than we anticipated," said John Stocker, president of the Shipbuilders Council of America, in a phone interview Friday."We never expected (House and Senate defense appropriations negotiators) to end up appropriating $200 million" for the financing guarantees that are a major element of the shipyard promotional initiative pushed by House maritime leaders and the Clinton administration, he said.

There was initial consternation expressed by some shipyard sources at the $50 million figure approved by House and Senate conferees who hammered out the final $240 billion defense appropriations bill last week. The House version of the bill had envisioned $200 million in loan guarantees and another $100 million for research into shipyard production technology.

But the final total for both items in the defense bill came to $97 million. Meanwhile, another defense bill that authorizes Pentagon programs - but not actual outlays - had set loan guarantees at $147 million over three years and research money at $50 million.

"I'm not at all surprised the appropriators provided $50 million" in loan guarantees, Mr. Stocker said. "That's only the Defense Department portion."

When other loan guarantee funds are added to the pot, he said, "We'll end up with $247 million over the next three years."

And $100 million of that total should be available in fiscal 1994, he said.

Shipyard loan guarantees and research funds are part of a three-stage congressional effort to reform and revitalize the maritime industry that includes tax changes and subsidies for ship operators and shipyards.